And here is what I had to say about receiving this honor.
When I was a child, as my brother Stan who is here with me today can attest, I wanted to be an actress. And here I am. In Hollywood. Accepting an award. And so I would like to thank the Academy…I mean the Board of the National LGBT Bar Association…for recognizing the lifetime of work it has been my privilege to pursue.
I’m proud to be in the company of the previous honorees, from Nan Hunter, who received the inaugural Dan Bradley award, through Jon Davidson, last year’s recipient. I will forever cherish my place among them.
I am not the only Dan Bradley honoree this year. For almost 20 years, the Access to Justice Committee of the Georgia State Bar has conferred a Dan Bradley award. This year it went to Phil Bond, who for 15 years has been the managing attorney for Georgia Legal Services in Macon, Georgia. Mercer Law School, Dan’s alma mater, awards two of its students Dan Bradley internships every year. And the Legal Aid Association of California annually grants two Dan Bradley law student fellowships.
So who was Dan Bradley, that from coast-to-coast organizations keep his memory alive? On the National LGBT Bar website, he is remembered as the first chair of the ABA Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities’ Committee on the Rights of Gay People. Here is a little more about him.
Dan was raised from age 5 in a Baptist orphanage in Georgia, separated from his five brothers and sisters. He worked his way through college and law school, and upon graduation in 1967 he joined legal services to work on behalf of migrant farm workers in Florida. He devoted himself to legal work for poor people with no access to civil justice, and when the Legal Services Corporation was founded in 1975 he was named the first San Francisco regional director. The next year he took a leave of absence to work on Jimmy Carter’s campaign. He was asked to play a role in the Carter administration, but he declined, concluding that he needed to keep a low profile. Dan Bradley was a closeted gay man.
Nonetheless, in 1979, he accepted the position as the second president of the Legal Services Corporation. In an interview with the New York Times three years later, after he stepped down and came out, Bradley described the double life he had led. It was filled with what he called “sheer, unmitigated fear.” Every day of it, he told the reporter, was “a terrible agony.”
Ronald Reagan had a plan to dismantle the Legal Services Corporation. Dan Bradley had a plan to stop him. Dan prevailed. Although Dan was personally ready to come out a year before he left public service, he didn’t. He feared it would help LSC enemies in their effort to abolish his agency.
Once he left government, Dan did come out, and he used his public stature to become a prominent gay rights advocate. He served on the boards of national gay organizations and became chair of the new ABA gay rights committee. Dan called on the ABA, at its 1983 annual meeting, to pass a resolution opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Abby Rubenfeld remembers walking past the ballroom where the House of Delegates was meeting and hearing delegates laughing at what they considered the preposterousness of Dan’s proposal.
In 1985, Dan was diagnosed with AIDS. In June, 1987, he led a group of demonstrators who were arrested at the White House protesting Reagan’s inaction in combating the disease. In October 1987, he was a leader of the National March on Washington. Three months later, he was dead --- of AIDS-related complications. He was 47 years old.
Dan didn’t live to see the ABA adopt the resolution he had urged. That happened in 1989. Although there is still no federal protection against discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation, something Dan actively pursued, he would undoubtedly be impressed with the advances in achieving LGBT rights of the last 20+ years.
But he would also know that right now, in his Georgia home town and elsewhere, there are men and women living the same double life he once led, afraid of losing their jobs, or their children, or their lives.
The Legal Services Corporation Dan fought so hard to save lives on, hampered by restrictions he would have hated. It also has, in inflation-adjusted dollars, less than half the funding it did when he was president. State funding and some private funding now provide 70% of the cost of civil legal assistance to the poor. LSC funds are distributed according to census data on where poor people live, but other funding sources are not, causing great disparities in the availability of lawyers. The lowest funded states are in the Rocky Mountains and the south, Dan’s home region, where funding is as low as 1/10th that available in the highest funded states. That’s a lot of poor people without access to civil justice.
I know that Dan would feel a special kinship with those of you here today who work in legal services offices representing poor LGBT clients.
I’ve made family law the focus of my work, with two specific emphases: protecting the ability of LGBT parents to raise their children and not making marriage the legal dividing line between relationships that count and those that don’t. These two passions come together in my opposition to the shocking phenomenon that in some states a child born to a lesbian couple has two mothers if the couple is married, or in a functionally equivalent legal status, but only one mother if the couple is not. Reinvigorating the discredited distinction between “legitimate” and illegitimate children, this time in the context of same-sex couples, is, to say the least, unacceptable.
And speaking of the field of LGBT family law, I would like to give a special shout out to the members of the National Center for Lesbian Rights National Family Law Advisory Council on which it is my privilege to serve. NFLAC consists of family law practitioners from around the country, in friendly states and hostile states, who represent LGBT clients in the formation and dissolution of their families. I have been so enriched by NFLAC members, from whom I hear stories of how LGBT people are actually arranging their family lives, sometimes in ways I could never have imagined. And to law students, if you want to do challenging work that makes a difference, LGBT family law is a growing field. I would like all the members of NFLAC to please stand to be acknowledged.
I wish I had the time to say something about each NFLAC member, but I do want to mention just a few people. Deb Wald from San Francisco, our chair, does more than conceptualize and organize our meetings. She spent much of the last few months organizing the pioneering parents luncheon held yesterday that honored a dozen clients who fought through the appellate courts of their states for the right to raise their children. Bill Singer, from New Jersey, takes the lead every year in organizing the day-long Family Law Institute, which was also held yesterday, that allows over 100 LGBT family law practitioners from around the country to discuss the issues they have in common. Alison Mendel. You are the only person I have ever nominated for the Dan Bradley award – before there was NFLAC, when I felt the work of individual family law practitioners went completely unacknowledged. Contrary to what is written in some publications, NCLR did not do the first second-parent adoption in the country, and it didn’t happen in California. In 1985, Alison Mendel, practicing family law in Anchorage, Alaska, got a judge to sign the first lesbian second parent adoption in the country. Alison still does LGBT family law, and other LGBT rights cases, in Alaska, and she’s looking to hire a new law graduate. Finally, Joyce Kauffman in Cambridge, MA. I have to mention you by name because you were my lawyer. When my ex and I wanted to do a second parent adoption of our daughter but we had long before split up, you made it happen. Thank you.
I’d like to close by acknowledging the members of my family who are with me – my partner Cheryl, my brother Stan and his partner, Brian. Thank you for your love, which turns out to matter more than anything else. Other family members are with me in spirit: My chosen family in Washington DC, and my daughter Lainey, who couldn’t take time off from her job in Boston. My father would have been here, but he died in 1998 at the age of 91. His journey from distaste and despair over my sexual orientation to acceptance of me and acknowledgement of the importance of gay civil rights is a testament to both his love and to the capacity of everyone to change and grow.
The closet almost destroyed Dan Bradley. On leaving the government, he told the New York Times, “I think I helped save Legal Services. Now I have to try to save myself.” Until not a single gay or trans person feels that way, and until HIV no longer infects 20% of men who have sex with men, there’s a lot of work to do.
Let’s do it!