June marks the beginning of Pride Month, an annual global celebration to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall uprising that helped launch a movement to outlaw discriminatory laws and practices against LGBTQ+ Americans.
Sidley and its global offices join in this celebration. Throughout the month, Sidley will host virtual events, share stories of the firm’s history of support for the LGBTQ+ community, highlight our own LGBTQ+ lawyers and show our solidarity in the spirit of Pride.
We invite you to explore this page to learn more about the firm’s LGBTQ+ initiatives and support for LGBTQ+ lawyers.
Sidley sponsors and recruits at the Lavender Law Conference & Career Fair each year. To enhance the pipeline of LGBTQ+ law students into the legal profession, Sidley also supports OUTLaw and other LGBTQ+ affinity groups at law schools across the country.
Past events have included:
- A virtual networking dinner hosted by the Chicago Diversity Committee for LGBTQ+ law students at Northwestern, Harvard, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, and the University of Chicago.
- A pre-OCI networking reception and mentorship program for Northwestern OUTLaw students.
- A panel for University of Michigan Outlaws on the topic of being "Out in Big Law" with Sidley lawyers in Chicago.
- Attend the LeGal LGBTQ+ Career Fair in New York.
Sidley’s incoming first-year LGBTQ+ lawyers receive “LGBTQ+ Buddies,” who serve as an informal network of mentors and role models in their practices.
LGBTQ+ lawyers also participate in the firm’s Diverse Mentoring Program (DMP). The DMP pairs all diverse associates with senior partners in their practice areas for skill-building work assignments, direct feedback, career coaching, and client-relationship development. The goal of the program is to encourage the development of relationships with partners and clients that are essential to success in the practice of law. The DMP also includes a fifth-year career development conference which gathers a “board of advisors” from among the partners with whom the associate works frequently, their mentors and a member of the Associate Evaluation and Compensation Committee to discuss the associate’s skills, relationships and career direction.
In our London office, Sidley is part of the Interlaw Diversity Associate Mentoring Program which pairs Sidley mid-level LGBTQ+ lawyers with senior in-house counsel. The programme is structured over 10 months in 2022 and will include mentoring meetings every four weeks, bi-monthly skills training, and reverse mentoring.
Once LGBTQ+ lawyers join the firm, Sidley invests in their talent and development through a number of initiatives. The Diversity Committee has taken steps to combat social isolation and help new LGBTQ+ lawyers integrate themselves into the firm and legal profession. The committee regularly hosts local social and educational events to support lawyers who identify as LGBTQ+. These include programs on key legal cases, film showings, speakers from LGBTQ+ bar and advocacy groups and more. Quarterly teleconferences for all LBGTQ+ lawyers in our Hong Kong, U.S. and UK offices facilitate cross-office networking and business development. LGBTQ+ partners also personally host happy hours and small gatherings for LGBTQ+ lawyers and their families throughout the year. Through our Partner Up! program, associates receive a quarterly reimbursement for an informal networking activity with a Sidley partner or senior counsel.
Sidley lawyers provide pro bono services in a range of matters of significance to the LGBTQ+ community, including marriage equality, political asylum and immigrants’ right cases for openly gay, HIV+ or transgender clients, as well as adoption/parental rights cases. We have worked on cases for Immigration Equality, the National Immigrant Justice Center’s LGBTQ+ Immigrant Rights Initiative and Whitman-Walker Health, among other organizations. In honor of Pride Month, below is a collection of the firm’s pro bono cases that highlight Sidley’s advocacy and support for the LGBTQ+ community.
Achieving Justice for LGBTQ+ Veteran
A Sidley team successfully represented a U.S. Navy veteran in petitioning the Board for Correction of Naval Records to retroactively upgrade his discharge status to Honorable. Despite an impeccable service record, our client was discharged from the Navy in the late-1990s under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy simply because he is gay — he received a “general (under honorable conditions)” discharge. Discharge upgrade petitions are used to correct the record with respect to the Department of Defense’s previous reliance on a clearly discriminatory policy. The change to an Honorable discharge characterization makes our client eligible for GI Bill educational benefits and reduces barriers to employment.
Sidley Wins Asylum for LGBTQ+ Client
A Sidley team obtained asylum in New York Immigration Court for an LGBTQ+ client who fled persecution in Cuba. While in Cuba, the police arrested or detained the client over 15 times in addition to fining and physically and verbally abusing our client for being transgender — all of which began when the client was only an adolescent. Our client’s last encounter with the Cuban police occurred following the client’s participation in an LGBTQ+ march. Our client was arrested and jailed for a week, beaten, and threatened with five to eight years’ imprisonment.
In addition to an application for asylum that included country conditions evidence, multiple affidavits in support, and expert reports by a country conditions expert and a psychologist, the Sidley team also filed an application for relief under the Cuban Adjustment Act on behalf of the client. Notably, Sidley was able to obtain asylum for the client in a matter of months, even though the process can sometimes span several years.
LGBTQ+ ASYLUM MATTERS
Sidley lawyers represent LGBTQ+ and HIV-positive immigrants who are seeking asylum in the United States.
Recent representative examples of the cases our lawyers handle include the successful representation of a gay, HIV-positive man from Venezuela who was persecuted on account of his sexual orientation and political opinion. Now living safely in the U.S., he is married and has access to HIV medication.
Sidley also represents another man from Venezuela who is gay and HIV-positive and faced torment from the police, mistreatment from school administrators, and isolation from his family. In order to avoid persecution, he was forced to hide his true identity while living in Venezuela. In addition to receiving critical HIV treatment in the United States not available in Venezuela, he is now living in the U.S. as an openly gay man and is awaiting adjudication of his asylum application.
The firm also represents a gay woman from Iran who recently completed her university studies in the U.S. She is afraid to return to Iran because it is illegal to be gay there, and she faces threats such as torture, forced gender reassignment, and other persecution if forced to return.
If you are interested in learning more about Sidley’s LGBTQ+ asylum cases, please contact Kelly Huggins.
Sidley accepts asylum matter referrals from Immigration Equality in New York to provide advice and legal services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-positive immigrants seeking refuge, fair treatment, and freedom in the United States. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Jim Arden.
A SUPREME COURT WIN FOR LGBTQ+ EMPLOYEES
Sidley drafted SCOTUS briefs on behalf of The Williams Institute in a trio of cases examining the question of whether workplace discrimination on the basis of either sexual orientation or gender identify violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In each of the cases, the plaintiffs were fired because they were gay or transgender. The Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA Law, is dedicated to conducting independent research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.
In a major victory for LGBTQ+ rights, on June 15, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court held in a 6-3 ruling that LGBTQ+ employees are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
FIGHTING FOR LGBTQ+ RIGHTS
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and seven of the world’s top law firms, including Sidley, have joined forces to form a groundbreaking alliance to combat LGBTQ+ discrimination and obtain LGBTQ+ equality at home and abroad through strategic litigation. The mission of the alliance is to pursue cases that will help shape state and federal laws, regulations and policies and the application of constitutional principles. This historic effort will complement HRC’s ongoing legal work and partnerships with other legal and civil rights groups. Among the media outlets that published articles on this initiative, and Sidley’s role, Time magazine quoted Carter Phillips who noted that HRC “is a long-standing pro bono client and this next stage of collaboration reinforces Sidley’s deep commitment to advocating for diversity and equality.
“Your pro bono legal support is invaluable in our fight for full LGBTQ+ equality!”
- Nicole Greenidge-Hoskins, Senior Vice President and General Counsel Human Rights Campaign
A VICTORY AGAINST BIAS
Sidley won asylum for a gay man who fled Nigeria for the United States after facing over a decade of persecution because of his sexual orientation. The team assisted with the asylum application, including the country conditions report, and helped the client prepare for his asylum interview and appearance before an immigration officer.
SEEKING JUSTICE ON BEHALF OF OLYMPIAN CASTER SEMENYA
Before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), South African middle-distance runner and two-time Olympic champion, Caster Semenya, had challenged a rule by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) requiring her to undergo hormonal drug interventions to address naturally occurring testosterone production. When she lost the case, she turned to Sidley for help in appealing the CAS ruling before Switzerland’s Federal Supreme Court. The Sidley team succeeded in suspending implementation of the eligibility regulations against Ms. Semenya. However, in July 2019, a single judge of the Swiss Supreme Court denied Ms. Semenya’s request to maintain the suspension of the CAS ruling in place during the entire appeal proceedings. While this means that Ms. Semenya will be unable to compete internationally while her appeal is pending, she said, “this will not deter me from continuing my fight for the human rights of all of the female athletes concerned.” The Swiss Supreme Court is expected to hear further submissions before deciding on Ms. Semenya’s appeal.
SHIELDING THE RIGHTS OF TRANSGENDER INDIVIDUALS
Sidley filed a complaint on behalf of Lambda Legal and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in connection with changes that were made to the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) Transgender Prisoner Guidelines. The revisions would place prisoners in facilities corresponding with their biological gender, rather than based on their gender identity, endangering the safety and well-being of transgender prisoners.
“I was deeply impacted by my Sidley Fellowship at the American Civil Liberties Union. While sharpening my litigation skills, I had the opportunity to advocate for gender equity in the workplace and the fundamental human rights of LGBTQ+ individuals. I learned from a dynamic and supportive team about different legal strategies for working toward social justice in marginalized communities.”
- Yasmine Agelidis, Los Angeles
MOVING FORWARD FOR EQUALITY
Sidley secured asylum for a Ugandan refugee who received death threats because of her sexual orientation. The team, working together with the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, helped in filing the asylum application, preparing the client extensively for the asylum interview and appearing with her before an immigration officer.
We’re proud of the fact that Sidley was the first law firm in the United States to become a national sponsor of Lambda Legal — and our support continues today. The firm also sponsors a number of other LGBTQ+ bar associations and organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, Equality Illinois, Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival, London’s Interlaw and the Hong Kong Gay and Lesbian Attorneys Network.
Leading LGBTQ+ advocacy groups have recognized Sidley’s efforts to create an inclusive firm. In 2021, Sidley received a “perfect” score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for the 14th year in a row. In 2017, Equality Illinois named Sidley as a “top law firm for LGBT inclusiveness and equality” for the eighth time. Sidley lawyers have been included on the National LGBT Bar Association’s list of “Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40” from 2012–2017.