By Rachel Catt with Bonnie Schriner
“… our similarities far outweigh and exceed our differences.”
As a member of the LGBTQ community and an attorney for LGBTQ families for nearly two decades, I have faced my fair share of disappointment and rejection. It was my desire to fight discrimination and stigmatization against the LGBTQ community, women, people of color, and other marginalized communities that motivated me to attend law school. Being a minority has never been easy. Being a diverse lawyer serving diverse clients is my way of making a positive difference in the world.
While there are more out lesbian attorneys now than when I first started pursuing my legal career, it’s still common for me to feel set apart or different from my female colleagues. And while my family might look different from theirs, I have tried to always remember that our similarities far outweigh and exceed our differences. For those that don’t know me yet, I am a member of the LGBTQ community, but I’m also a professional, a mother, and a spouse. I have hobbies and I go to church. I’m just a regular person and I can relate to all attorneys on many levels, regardless of background.
Unity in Community
Helping LGBTQ and other minority lawyers feel accepted is something I do almost every day. Whether it is merely being a role model to other lawyers who are afraid to come out to their co-workers, or participating in speaking engagements that allow me to talk about diversity and inclusion, or mentoring gay and lesbian attorneys, I take my role seriously. I want to change the legal environment for my LGBTQ clients as well as those working in the legal industry. Change doesn’t happen all at once, but through the small steps each day.
When LGBTQ lawyers are free to be their authentic selves, they are empowered to carve out their own niche. They can be themselves around their clients, other attorneys, and in their office. They can share information about their families around the watercooler like everyone else and display family photos on their desks without fear of harm or retaliation. Like other members of the LGBTQ community, their rates of depression and suicide decrease when they can be open about their sexuality.
Helping LGBTQ attorneys feel accepted is not just my job — it’s yours too. The unity that we encourage in the Colorado legal community will help us all become better colleagues to each other, better advocates for our clients, and better legal service providers to the diverse Colorado community.
Advocacy in LGBTQ Law
Family law is inherently stressful but can be even more so for members of the LGBTQ community. It is my calling to help members of my own community navigate one of the most challenging times of their lives through my divorce and mediation legal services.
I had the honor of serving as president of the Colorado LGBT Bar Association for the 2019 term, which helped increase my profile in LGBTQ family law. It has been remarkable to watch the acceptance of LGBTQ families in our state and in our courts. I am lucky to serve as a resource for other family law attorneys when they have questions about their cases involving LGBTQ issues.
If I had never had the courage and support to come out as a lesbian, I would never have had the opportunity to help others on this level. Being comfortable in my own skin and secure in my identity benefits me and my family, but it is so much more than that. I am a proud advocate for my clients and their families. They trust me to protect them in their case and in our courts. They rely on me for fair access to our legal system and to ensure respect for their pronouns, their rights, and their families. But again, respectfully representing LGBTQ individuals is not just my job — it’s yours too.
I’ll end with a final call to action for Colorado lawyers, all of you — not just the LGBTQ ones. Let’s start working together and be aware of the experience of others. It might be as easy as checking in with the golden rule — if you wouldn’t want it done to you, don’t do it to others. In practice, this ranges from calling someone what they prefer to be called, being intentional about what organizations you financially support, and even the type of photos you choose for your law firm website.
Lawyers have tremendous power and influence in our community and the laws that govern it. From my perspective, as attorneys we can do better. Today, LGBTQ individuals and families remain under constant threat of having their rights taken away with each change in administration. We can intentionally move toward acceptance and inclusion of marginalized groups in our cases, in our businesses, and in our laws. Through alliance and acceptance from all members of our Colorado legal community, our LGBTQ community can move toward greater equality.
Rachel Catt is an attorney with nearly 20 years of experience in all types of family law—from highly contentious scenarios to standard cases. Bonnie Schriner is a lawyer, arbitrator, K-9 trainer, and freelance writer. It was her honor to help with this piece. She is available to train your dog or write/edit your article anytime.