This month marks LGBT+ History Month, an annual celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and non-binary history, including the history of LGBT+ rights and related civil rights movements.
Seth Levy, partner at the Los Angeles office at Nixon Peabody, tells WIPR about being a proud member of the LGBT+ community and what more needs to be done to promote diversity and inclusion (D&I) within IP.
What does LGBT+ History Month mean to you?
Most diverse communities share a history that’s passed down through families, from one generation to the next. But LGBT people generally don’t come from LGBT families. And so, history isn’t learned through stories and traditions at home. LGBT history month is vital—not just for educating people and honouring those who paved the way, but also for educating LGBT youth about the generations who came before and the legacy and lessons they’ve left behind.
What attracted you to a career in IP?
I’ve always had an affinity for science and medicine but didn’t see myself staying in a laboratory or treating patients. I found the intersections of these disciplines with business to be fascinating, especially during a period marked by enormous innovations in healthcare and academic research.
IP sits right at the interface of these areas. I’ve enjoyed spending the last 25 years working with organisations large and small in the academic and life sciences fields.
Have you experienced any barriers or setbacks specifically related to being part of the LGBT+ community?
I’ve been fortunate to have supportive friends, family and colleagues throughout my career, and especially being based in California, have had few negative experiences relating to my LGBT status.
Being part of the LGBT community means that one is continually “coming out”—to new colleagues, new clients, and others. Early on in my career, I tended to avoid discussing anything personal to avoid repercussions if anyone was uncomfortable with my LGBT status.
As time went on, I realised the importance of cultivating professional relationships which are meaningful and genuinely personal. And, frankly, I decided that if my status was a problem for a colleague or client, the problem was theirs, not mine.
What more needs to be done to promote LGBT+ rights in the legal profession?
Remarkable progress has been made in the march towards equality for the LGBT community, particularly in parts of western Europe and North America. But we have a long way to go, even in the most progressive places, to change the laws and political environments to ensure that LGBT people are treated fairly, and to destigmatise LGBT status in a variety of settings.
As with other diverse communities, the legal profession needs to continue to diversify its senior ranks, so that LGBT lawyers and other professionals are represented in a way that reflects the broader community. My sense is that the greatest challenge is developing and nurturing patience—diversity will come, but not soon enough.
What impact do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has had/will have on D&I?
The pandemic has seen an increase in the international discussions around D&I initiatives. I’m encouraged that so many organisations are increasingly investing in D&I and prioritising it throughout their operations.
This has also been a time when people are largely working remotely, companies are making decisions about workforce reductions, and recruitment has adjusted to the economic environment. My sense is that these changes will disproportionately impact diverse communities—in particular, communities of colour.
What advice would you offer to a lawyer experiencing difficulty with their sexuality or gender identity?
Every member of the LGBT community has his, her or their own unique experience with these issues and challenges to overcome. I’d encourage anyone to lean first on supportive friends and family or to seek out local organisations that provide supportive resources.
First and foremost, people should prioritise their safety. Not all of us have the privilege of living and working in places where we can take that for granted.
If there is one piece of advice you would give to your younger self, what would that be and why?
I’d assure myself that it gets better. Growing up isn’t easy for anyone: that’s something we all have in common.
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D&I, Seth Levy, Nixon Peabody, LGBT History Month, diversity, inclusion, civil rights