Dan Clivner on Coming Out in the Legal Profession, Celebrating Differences and LGBTQ+ Allies
“I want you to know that you are valued and not alone on your journey.”
Did you ever have hesitation sharing that you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community at Sidley or at any other point in your legal career?
No. I joined Sidley in 2015, and by that time, I was not hesitant about the fact that I am gay. In fact, the firm warmly welcomed me and my husband, Steve.
When I began practicing law, however, I was far more secretive, personally and professionally. It was nearly eight years before I came out to the partners and associates at my prior firm, who turned out to be incredibly understanding and supportive as well. Steve and I broke numerous barriers simply by being ourselves and attending firm events. Years later, when I was nominated by Chambers for an LGBTQ+ diversity award at Sidley, an octogenarian friend of mine commented on how far the world had come, from being an associate in the closet to “running for gay lawyer of the year!” I didn’t win.
You’re currently a member of the Williams Institute Legal Council at UCLA Law School. Can you tell us about the Institute and your leadership role at the organization?
The Williams Institute is the nation’s top think tank and leading research center on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy. It was established in 2001 with a commitment to producing and disseminating rigorous, independent research to ensure legal, policy and judicial decisions affecting the LGBTQ+ community were led by facts, rather than bias and stereotypes. To highlight one example of the Institute’s impact, their research on the number of same-sex couples raising children was cited by Justice Kennedy as a significant factor in deciding Obergefell v. Hodges.
I joined the Williams Institute’s Legal Council in 2016 to provide pro bono support to the important work of the Institute and, in particular, to connect the Institute with Sidley’s lawyers across the nation. Through my connection with the Institute, I brought Sidley and our lawyers the opportunity to draft and file amicus briefs with the Supreme Court on behalf of the Institute for three consolidated cases addressing whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits workplace discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity.
In your opinion, is there anything else that law firms should do in terms of creating a more diverse and inclusive environment for the LGBTQ+ community within the legal profession?
We are doing far better at increasing awareness and diversity within the legal profession. Law schools and law firms now have affinity groups for the LGBTQ+ community, and lawyers are more open than ever about their sexual orientation. Sidley and other law firms are openly celebrating the 50th anniversary of gay pride. The challenge lies in learning to see and celebrate the so-called differences of diverse peoples as a positive. That happens only through even greater acceptance and inclusion.
What is your advice for allies who want to support the LGBTQ+ community?
All of us seek acceptance. LGBTQ+ allies are a powerful force for good and ultimately change agents. When lawyers who are non-LGBTQ+ (or non-diverse) simply attend events sponsored by affinity groups or ask how one’s partner or significant other is doing, they show support and acceptance. When they take on a pro bono case about an important LGBTQ+ issue, they have an even broader impact. Those small acts — contrasted with the micro-aggressions and awkwardness diverse lawyers often feel like the many times I was asked about my “wife” — make a huge difference to diverse people feeling included and accepted and are a great example for others to learn from and follow.
Is there anything you would like to convey to Sidley’s LGBTQ+ lawyers and others in the legal profession?
I am so grateful for the opportunity to share my views in the hope that it makes the path for others just a bit easier. I want you to know that you are valued and not alone on your journey.