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Diversity & Community Services Mosaics Newsletter: Summer 2014
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On June 6th, in honor of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP hosted a presentation by Josh Block, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) LGBT & AIDS Project, entitled: LGBT Youth and Schools: Making It Better.
Mr. Block’s presentation provided an overview of the pressing legal issues facing LGBT students in public schools today, including bullying and harassment, censorship, proms, and the formation of gay-straight alliance clubs.
Kramer Levin’s LGBT Pride Month event is part of the firm’s monthly speaker series, a diversity initiative the firm started more than five years ago. The purpose of these events is to showcase diversity in the workplace and educate lawyers about the importance of a diverse population.
“Kramer Levin has long been a leader on LGBT issues and is committed to continuing its work emphasizing the importance of diversity while battling for LGBT rights in courts throughout the country,” said Lauren Tapper, Kramer Levin’s Director of Diversity.
Kramer Levin has played a leading role in pro bono LGBT rights litigation for nearly two decades, including as co-counsel with the ACLU in matters involving the rights of LGBT students. The firm and Mr. Block represented Ceara Sturgis, a lesbian high school student who was barred from wearing a tuxedo for her yearbook photo. Under the favorable settlement obtained by Mr. Block and the firm, the school agreed to require students to wear a cap and gown for their senior photos, rather than require boys to wear tuxedos and girls to wear drapes. Kramer Levin also partnered with the ACLU to represent Constance McMillen, a high school student in Mississippi denied her right to take her girlfriend to her prom. Not only did Ms. McMillen’s case garner national attention, but Kramer Levin and the ACLU also secured a $35,000 judgment for her (more than the median annual household income in Fulton, Mississippi), as well as assurances from her high school that it would adopt comprehensive non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies. Kramer Levin has also worked with other national LGBT rights organizations, including Lambda Legal and Immigration Equality, on high-profile litigation involving the right to marry, second-parent adoption rights, and asylum rights.
As a staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT & AIDS Project, Mr. Block works on cases ranging from sexual orientation employment discrimination, to relationship recognition for same-sex couples, to students’ rights, to censorship and free speech. Currently, Mr. Block is spearheading the ACLU’s national “Don’t Filter Me” campaign aimed at stopping public schools across the country from using viewpoint-based web filtering software that blocks students’ access to LGBT-related educational materials and online resources.
Kramer Levin’s diversity programs have been recognized by many of the organizations that monitor such efforts, including Multicultural Law Magazine, Vault, The Empire State Pride Agenda, and Corporate Equality Index.