LGBTQIA+ Law Students

October 13, 2023


Looking back at the changes to gay and transgender rights in the United States over the course of the past 10 years, there’s been a lot to celebrate and a lot to condemn. LGBTQIA+ people have achieved tremendous progress in the 21st century, but they’ve also seen a new backlash and a growing desire to reverse the gains that have been made.

Fortunately, there have never been more opportunities for LGBTQIA+ students to pursue careers in the law. For those interested in taking the work of human rights head on, a law degree is a powerful tool to wield in the fight against discrimination.

Fortunately, there have never been more opportunities for LGBTQIA+ students to pursue careers in the law. For those interested in taking the work of human rights head on, a law degree is a powerful tool to wield in the fight against discrimination.

Legal Landmarks in Gay Rights

The struggle for legal equality and the fight against laws that discriminate against gay and transgender people in the United States has been long and arduous.

The modern gay rights movement is usually traced back to the Stonewall Riots in June, 1969 when several nights of public rioting occurred in protest after the police raided a gay club in Greenwich Village, NY called the Stonewall Inn. These sorts of clubs were regularly targeted by law enforcement for raids in which patrons would be lined up, forced to show identification, and arrested on capricious or trumped up charges. The first ever gay pride parades were held one year after the riot in June, 1970 in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

The biggest legal landmark of the last decade in the gay rights movement was Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, in which the Supreme Court found in a 5 to 4 decision that the due process clause of the 14th amendment requires that all states have to recognize gay marriage: both issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and acknowledging couples who were married in other states. Up until then, only a handful of states had allowed same-sex unions, including Massachusetts, which was the first to legalize it in 2003, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Iowa, Vermont, and Washington.

Professor Joseph Morrissey, the Lambda Legal Society advisor at Stetson University, said he thinks it’s important to step back and look at the big picture when considering the state of gay and transgender rights in the United States today. 

“My partner and I have been together for 23 years,” said Professor Morrissey. “23 years ago we couldn’t have gotten married, it would have been very difficult to have children on our own. Now we’re married, we’ve had children with a surrogate under a statute in the state of Illinois that allows for same sex couples to be on a birth certificate – all of these advances are tremendous, and I think it reflects a national attitude that embraces the LGBTQ population generally.”

Transgender Rights and the Legal Landscape in 2023

While Obergefell v. Hodges put gay rights on a firmer public footing than they had ever had before, in recent years, transgender rights have come into particular focus on the national stage and many efforts by legislators to create or enforce new restrictions on sex and gender expression have centered around transgender people.

Much of this has taken place at the state rather than the federal level. As of the writing of this blog, the American Civil Liberties Union is tracking 496 anti-LGBTQ bills in state legislatures across the country. These bills target LGBTQIA+ people a number of ways:

  • by denying or even pushing to criminalize gender-affirming medical care,
  • by targeting transgender people’s access to public accommodations such as bathrooms and locker rooms,
  • by manipulating the education system to remove books from curricula or prevent educators from mentioning or addressing the existence of queer people in classrooms, and
  • by weakening anti-discrimination law.

See this infographic from Reuters for a more detailed breakdown of the particulars of these bills.

“We are seeing this backlash,” said Professor Morrissey, “and I don’t want to understate what's been going on in the last couple of years and all the initiatives nationwide to try to pull that back. But the progress has been so vast and so quick that I think we have to keep the current pull back in that perspective.”

LGBTQIA+ Admissions at Stetson

In recent years, the number of gay and transgender students at Stetson as well as the number applying to law schools across the country has risen. In the 2022-2023 academic year, 5% of students who enrolled at Stetson Law self identified as LGBTQIA+.

Darren Kettles, the Director of Admissions at Stetson Law, notes that the school has persistently worked to make the school more inclusive and recruit LGBTQIA+ students. They’ve done this even as the state of Florida has received national attention for some of the most controversial anti-trans state legislation in the country.

“Stetson Law’s resolve as a community has not waned,” writes Kettles, “rather we have continued to lean in and expand our effort of teaching, faculty, partnerships and outreach to stand up against those oppressing forces working against the LGBTQ+ community to consider law school in the state. As a community, we will not be dismayed and have advanced and increased our efforts in support of the LGBTQ+ community seeking a legal education in the State of Florida and beyond.”

The Lambda Legal Society

Stetson is also home to a chapter of the Lambda Legal Society, a student-run organization designed for LGBTQIA+ law students and their allies. In the years since the chapter was started at Stetson, they’ve launched pride scholarships, a pride graduation award, events during the academic year that bring practicing lawyers onto campus to mentor students, and programming that deals with health issues and issues of disability and intersectionality.

Stetson alum Nathan Bruemmer, the former president of the Lambda Legal Society and a prominent advocate for transgender rights both in the greater Tampa Bay area and nationally, said the organization is especially active during the summer through its participation in Pride Month and in the St. Petersburg Pride Celebration, which recently overtook Atlanta’s as the largest in the southeastern United States.

If you’re thinking about pursuing a legal career and want to learn more about how Stetson cultivates a welcoming environment for students of all backgrounds, find out more here and apply to the J.D. program today!

Find out more on Real Cases

Check out the latest episode of Real Cases, Stetson Law’s legal podcast, in which we sit down with Professor Joseph Morrissey and Stetson ‘17 alum Nathan Bruemmer to talk about the state of gay and transgender rights today and how these issues intersect with the legal profession more broadly. 


Topics: Real Cases