Coming out party

School hosts first gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender reunion

Stewart Barns with José Gómez
Stewart Barns with José Gómez '80 ('81) and Steve Sayers '81, who belonged to the school's first gay and lesbian student organization founded by Gómez in 1978.

An alumnus from the Class of '68 enters the Ames Courtroom. The gathering is small, and he smiles at the stranger next to him and remarks that the room has changed since he was last on campus more than 30 years ago. "But then so have I," he says. "Did I mention I was married back then?"

It's the first Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Reunion at Harvard Law School. If somehow you missed the news (from the U.S. Supreme Court ruling decriminalizing gay sex, to the decision of Massachusetts' highest court supporting same-sex marriage, to the weekly hour on Bravo where gay judgment rules), you'd learn from the stories of participants, and the fact that some of them have come back to the school for the first time, just how much the world has changed.

"This weekend was about celebration," said Sharon McGowan '00, chairwoman of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Alumni Committee, which organized the event along with HLS Lambda, the school's GLBT student group. "But it was also about beginning that process of reconnecting with alums who perhaps left Harvard Law School having never thought that it was a place where they could have a meaningful life as an alum and an openly gay person."

One Saturday last September, more than 70 alumni came back to make that connection. They attended social gatherings, such as dinner with Dean Elena Kagan '86, and a day of panel discussions, where participants included "out" law firm partners, judges, academics and public interest attorneys, as well as students.

The reunion also marked the 25th anniversary of the school's first gay and lesbian student organization. José Gómez '80 ('81) told audience members about the fall of his 2L year, when he'd returned from a summer in a San Francisco gay rights organization intent on mobilizing other gays and lesbians on campus--if only he could find them. Eventually, thanks to his tenacity and "a white lie" that inflated attendance at their first meeting, the Committee on Gay and Lesbian Legal Issues became an official student organization (and soon had at least as many participants as Gómez had described). Over the next two years, members convinced the school to add sexual orientation to the nondiscrimination policy and to cease providing active assistance to military recruiters. But it took several years before all organization participants felt comfortable appearing in a yearbook photo with an identifying caption.

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