Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

A Matter of Pride

If you are reading this, you are likely a member of the MSBA.  As an MSBA member, you naturally have read and memorized the organization’s bylaws.  Being able to recite the bylaws, in their entirety, on command, you naturally enough know that every fourth year the incoming president is a person nominated by the MSBA’s Assembly, the organization’s policy-making body.  Historically, this position has been thought of by many as “the diversity position,” which really isn’t entirely accurate and in any event, the MSBA makes the point each year as the nomination process gets underway that we value diversity in our volunteer leadership every year, not just one out of every four.

The last time an Assembly nominee became president was 2009, when (now Magistrate Judge) Leo Brisbois took the helm.  Leo had been very active within the Native American legal community, in addition to the MSBA itself.  During Leo’s presidency, I recall reading his President’s Page columns (not remotely contemplating the possibility that I would be doing them myself someday) and noting that he often used his columns to share with readers words or concepts from Native American culture that informed his work, his perceptions of the association, and more.

The “Diversity” Nominee

Now it’s my turn to be the “diversity” nominee, and to write these columns.  There has been some discussion, I imagine, of the fact that I am the first president of the Association from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) legal community, and while that may well prove exciting for a while, I suspect that when historians of the future ponder over the meaning of the 2013-14 Bar year—as they surely will—this fact will not necessarily loom that large.  Nevertheless, following in Leo’s footsteps, I wanted to consider whether there was something from my involvement with the LGBT community that I could use as a “theme” that might appear in my columns, as he did with his writings.

Initially, I had thought about using each column as an opportunity to reflect on the deep meanings of the lyrics from Lady Gaga songs, as they relate to the MSBA, or perhaps to explore recent legal developments coming out of places like Provincetown, MA, or Key West.  Your hard-working MSBA staff gently dissuaded me from both ideas, and similarly nixed the installation of a disco ball in the third-floor atrium of City Center.  Disappointed, I returned to the proverbial drawing board … and then the solution hit me.

While the official presidential term of office began on July 1, the ceremonial transfer of awesome power took place at the Day 9 event in Brooklyn Center a few days earlier on June 27.  As it turns out, the “modern” phase of the LGBT-equality movement began on June 28, 1969, in conjunction with three days of rioting in New York City following a police raid on a Greenwich Village bar called the Stonewall Inn.  (In his inaugural address this year, President Barack Obama mentioned Stonewall in the same breath as Selma and Seneca Falls, a pretty amazing thing to think about.)  A year later, marchers across the country came together to commemorate the event with events bearing a fairly new label: they were “gay pride” marches.  Over four decades later, Pride celebrations continue to take place, particularly in June, carrying that idea and that energy forward.  In the Twin Cities, our Pride celebration took place June 29-30, right after Day 9.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Pride Writ Large

As I thought about the fact I would become president at roughly the same time as a few hundred thousand of my closest friends came together to celebrate Pride, I realized that if I wanted to do something like what Leo did a few years ago, the concept I would import from my experiences in the LGBT community to my service to the Bar was:  pride.

The MSBA has well-over 16,000 members, and is the recognized voice of the entire Minnesota legal community.  That’s 16,000-plus people who pay dues to this organization, and presumably each has their reasons for doing so.  While it is certainly plausible that some of our members pony up their dues each year because they expect to get tangible, concrete benefits back that are worth at least that much, I want to believe that for the bulk of people, membership is not fundamentally about a mere transaction: “I pay x, and receive back x+y in dollar-value of benefits.”  It’s my hope that members of this organization recognize that there are reasons to join, and to maintain their membership, that go beyond a dollars-and-cents calculation—that are less tangible, but meaningful nonetheless.

It’s my hope that in this Bar year, each member will take a moment to consider how they would finish the following sentence:  “I am proud to be a member of the Minnesota State Bar Association because ____________.”

If, considering that statement, your response is to think, “why, yes, I am proud to be a member of the MSBA because I get a great deal on insurance,” well, I can’t stop you.  Members do get a deal on insurance.  But I will encourage you to keep thinking.  Bearing in mind the repeated warnings I have received in Bar-president school that I should expect the unexpected to come up this year, it is my hope to use this column to reflect on some of the reasons I am proud to be an MSBA member, and to invite you to join me in that.  Deal?

Why are you proud to be a member of the MSBA?

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Phil Duran

Phil Duran was 2013-14 president of the Minnesota State Bar Association. A Minnesota resident since 1997, he serves as legal director for OutFront Minnesota, an LGBT advocacy organization, and advises nonprofit organizations as staff attorney for MAP for Nonprofits, both based in the Twin Cities.