By Nicole Israel.
Last summer, the Supreme Court of the United States issued two opinions that drastically impacted the LGBT community. In United States v. Windsor, the Court held that a ban on federal benefits for gay couples is unconstitutional. On the same day, in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Court held that California’s Proposition 8, a ballot initiative prohibiting same-sex marriages in that state, remained unconstitutional.
These decisions caused contentious debate before and after issuance. For John Medeiros, a student at Hamline University School of Law, the debate was personal. As co-chair of the Stonewall Alliance, the LGBT law student group at Hamline, he made sure to bring the conversation directly to his Minnesota campus. At the time, Minnesota was considering its own constitutional amendment to define marriage as solely between a man and woman.
“The past year was a challenging year in Minnesota,” said Medeiros. “In 2012–2013, Stonewall faced two daunting challenges.” First, it needed to raise awareness about Windsor and Hollingsworth. Second, it wanted a coordinated response to the proposed constitutional amendment. Medeiros organized a comprehensive and professional campaign against the proposed amendment.
“We recruited volunteers to register voters,” Medeiros said. This included students of the law school as well as undergraduate and graduate students of the larger university. “Stonewall participated with other Hamline University student groups to create a unified presence on the university campus. Stonewall participated in letter writing campaigns to raise awareness and to request that the university administration take a formal stand against the amendment, and participated in peaceful protests requesting the same.”
In November 2012, voters went to the polls and the amendment was defeated. Following the amendment’s failure, the Minnesota legislature repealed the state’s existing statutory ban on same-sex marriage. In August 2013, Minnesota started performing same-sex weddings.
At Hamline, Medeiros has worked to educate the campus on various LGBT issues. Stonewall is exploring the feasibility of starting a legal clinic for transgender clients. He is also publicizing National Coming Out Day by facilitating communication among LGBT–ally groups at three Minnesota law schools and hosting an event cosponsored by the Minnesota Lavender Bar Association, the state’s bar association for LGBT lawyers and their lawyer supporters. Medeiros serves as a student member of the Lavender Bar Association. He says some of the toughest challenges that LGBT lawyers face are the assumptions and discrimination made by other people.
“Sadly, many lawyers are discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, whether it be by law firms to which they are applying, or by clients who seek their representation, and many LGBT lawyers face being pigeon-holed,” said Medeiros. “By this, I refer to the perception that LGBT lawyers can only work on LGBT legal issues, which we know is not necessarily true.”
Vol. 42 No. 5
Nicole Israel is the student editor of Student Lawyer magazine.