On March 22, Brooklyn Law School’s student group OUTLaws, hosted its first alumni dinner and awards banquet celebrating the historic passage of New York State’s Marriage Equality Act. OUTLaws strives to engage the Law School community in LGBT-related issues. This past year it hosted 29 events, programs, and activities. The dinner served as an opportunity to bring together a community of individuals who continue to fight tirelessly for LGBT rights and honor all judges, clerks, administrators, and other lay people who volunteered their time to open the courts on Marriage Equality Day (July 24, 2011). OUTLaws also presented community service and alumni achievement awards.
The Hon. Rosalyn Richter ’79, New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, was the keynote speaker and was introduced with moving remarks by Professor Liz Schneider. Judge Richter recounted her experience as a student at Brooklyn Law School, remarking that, “it was not easy to be an out lesbian in 1976.” It was a time when the women’s rights movement was in full bloom, but that there were no openly gay individuals in the legal community. She resolved to speak out, joined anti-bias committees, and sought to provide a voice for those who hadn’t had one before. Judge Richter went on to describe how over time, slowly but surely, “the idea of same-sex marriage no longer seemed so crazy.” She explained that change comes slowly in the court system and that “Marriage Equality is a great landmark for LGBT rights.” However, she said, “the dialogue must continue as achieving equality is never easy.”
Ross Levi ’97 was presented with the 2012 Alumni Achievement Award. From June 2010 through March 2012, Ross served as the Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda and Foundation (ESPA) after having worked there since 2000. ESPA is New York’s largest and oldest statewide civil rights organization committed to achieving equality and justice for LGBT New Yorkers and their families. Ross was involved in every state governmental victory ever achieved by the Pride Agenda, including most recently the marriage equality law. Other statewide measures he helped to secure include: the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act; the Hate Crimes Act of 2000; making the state’s 9/11 relief inclusive of same-sex couples; guaranteeing domestic partners hospital visitation, legal authority over a loved one’s bodily remains, access to Family Court and medical decision making authority; and securing over $50 million of funding for LGBT health and human services.
The event was bolstered by inspiring speeches from honorary guest speakers. These included Alphonso David, the Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights for New York State Governor Cuomo, Carlos Menchaca who serves as the LGBT and HIV/AIDS Liaison for the NYC Council Office of Speaker Christine C. Quinn, and a community address from Mickey Heller ’91 of the Brooklyn Community Pride Center.