Editor's Note: Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian, a blog and resource directory for LGBT parents. This post is originally published in Bay Windows, New England's largest LGBT newspaper.
OutLaw, the LGBT student group at Boston University School of Law, began in 1978, the same year San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk was killed. Many of BU's current law students had not even been born then. On Nov. 14, however, they gathered with BU Law alumni and faculty at BU's Castle mansion to celebrate the group's 30th anniversary.
Maureen O'Rourke, Dean of BU's Law School, reminded the crowd of nearly 100 that in 1978, Dallas, Happy Days, and The Love Boat were the hit TV shows. A gallon of gas cost 63 cents. Since then, she said, LGBT rights and our society have changed greatly.
Many of the positive changes are attributable to BU Law students and alumni, she added. John Ward ('76) founded Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), which was instrumental in securing marriage equality in Massachusetts. (GLAD shares a 30th anniversary with OutLaw this year.) Ben Klein ('87), also a GLAD attorney, argued the winning marriage equality case before the Connecticut Supreme Court.
Other impressive alumni, said O'Rourke, include Maureen Monks ('84), a founding member of the Massachusetts Lesbian and Gay Bar Association (MLGBA), who was recently appointed to the Middlesex Probate and Family Court, and BU Law Professor Robert Volk ('78), who in 1987 taught the first course in New England on gay and lesbian legal issues. At the MLGBA's annual dinner in September, O'Rourke added, three of the four honorees were part of the BU Law community: Mark Mason ('84), past president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, Vickie Henry ('93), former MLGBA co-chair, and current student Margaret Barusch ('09).
BU's LGBT law students were not always so out and active. OutLaw, originally named BUGALLA (Boston University Gay and Lesbian Legal Association), at first kept a low profile, according to founding member Frank Mockler ('81). Mockler was unable to attend last week's event, but has written a short history of the group for its Web site. In 1978, there was already a group for gay undergraduates, he recalled, and the law students worried that the school would not approve of more than one gay organization. BUGALLA was, however, "an effective support group" and helped make other law students and faculty aware of a lesbian and gay contingent.
"Happily for me," Mockler added, "I was present at the dawn of a new era in tolerance."
Daniel Levin ('09), OutLaw's vice president, credited BU alumni, faculty, and administration for many of the positive changes since OutLaw's founding. "Had people not been struggling for many of the last 30 years, in times that were not as welcoming as ours," he said, "we as current students would not have the experience that we have today." Dean O'Rourke, he said, "sets a tone at the top that is all about being welcoming, being diverse, being encouraging of differences." He noted, too, that BU alumni are making their influence felt far beyond the LGBT community, in all areas of law as well as academia and business.
One alumna who has had an impact inside and outside the LGBT community is Laura Maechtlen ('02), one of the celebration's invited speakers. Maechtlen is an associate in labor and employment litigation at Seyfarth Shaw in San Francisco, and president of the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association (NLGLA).
"OutLaw was responsible for the trajectory of my own legal career," she asserted. When she first came to BU, OutLaw gave her a sense of community that she relied on personally and professionally throughout her law school career.
After graduation, connections from OutLaw and other BU groups helped her secure her current job and led to her being asked to join the board of the NLGLA. As head of NLGLA, she hopes to establish the same sense of community she found at OutLaw, but on a national level.
Through her role at NLGLA, she is also helping to write amicus briefs for the California Supreme Court, challenging Proposition 8. "All of this is where I've ended up after becoming involved in OutLaw here at BU," she explained. Her advice to current law students? "Be a joiner. Get involved."
OutLaw co-chair Chris Valente ('09) said that going forward, OutLaw plans to do even more outreach to alumni and further build the LGBT BU Law community. The group's upcoming events include a discussion on the future of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in an Obama administration. They are also partnering with BU's Public Interest Law Journal on a symposium that will examine LGBT legal issues being discussed in academia.
With a history that goes back to the early days of the LGBT-rights movement, and a present engaged with the current challenges facing LGBT people, OutLaw looks set to have a bright future. The future of the entire LGBT community may be brighter because of it.