Law professionals discuss gay marriage, LGBT discrimination at Chicago-Kent symposium

Chicago-Kent LGBT law discussion

Photo: Jack Reese.

A play written and produced by an openly gay lawyer and professor preceded a panel discussion about several LGBT issues at IIT Chicago-Kent, the law school of Illinois Institute of Technology.

The LGBT Civil Rights Symposium began in the Governor Richard B. Ogilvie Auditorium of IIT Chicago-Kent  on Friday with a performance of “Repentance,” an original playlette about a gay law student who is considering hiding his sexuality as he enters the job market.

“Repentance” was written by playwright and IIT Chicago-Kent Professor Henry Perritt, Jr., whose previous works include “You Took Away My Flag,” a musical about Kosovo; “Airline Miles”; and “Giving Ground.”

A reception sponsored by IIT Chicago-Kent Lambdas, an organization of gay and straight law students, followed in which symposium participants discussed several LGBT rights issues currently in the media including “the evolving legal landscape of marriage equality” and plaintiff, defendant and judicial perspectives regarding LGBT people in the workplace.

The panel discussion, called “Sexual Orientation Employment Discrimination and the Emergence of Gay vs. Gay Claims,” included hypothetical situations in which various LGBT workers were involved in harassment cases.

Moderator and protagonist of the playlette, William Lopez of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, discussed how he related to his character, Tad, who struggled through an awkward interview in the play when asked if he had a boyfriend or a girlfriend.

“I think this is a real issue because just a year or two ago I went through a very similar thing, interviewing and going through that process of talking about yourself to these people who are supposed to hire you,” he said. “Fortunately or unfortunately I was far more out than Tad was. I was at Lambda, and if I had taken that off my resume I wouldn’t have had anything to show for my three years of law school.”

However, Tad’s interviewers favored a gay attorney, unbeknownst to him.

“As gay people we have the option of keeping that hidden and I think that’s what Tad went through, and obviously he made the wrong decision because his interviewers were extremely friendly and wanted him to be comfortable with who he is and they thought that would be a better attorney at their firm,” he added. “So from Tad’s point of view I think it hurt him, and I think that from my life experiences, it would have hurt me as well.”

Also present at the panel were Hon. William J. Borah of the State of Illinois Human Rights Commission, Scott M. Gilbert of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, and Aaron B. Maduff of Maduff & Maduff, LLC.

Maduff disclosed details about suing Spin Night Club, 800 W. Belmont Ave. in Boystown, on behalf of a former security employee who alleges a manager at the popular bar frequently made sexual advances and verbally harassed him. The suit, filed in 2011, may soon reach trial and Maduff expressed his concern about the jury’s biases as it is a ‘gay versus gay’ claim.

“Spin nightclub is going to go to trial and I’m not dealing with somebody who I think has analyzed the case the same way I have and I’m going to have a jury and, what are they going to do?” he said. “Are they going to be offended at my guy who happens to be gay working at a gay nightclub and is a very professional, straightforward honest person, and on the other side I’ve got a gay manager who is making these kinds of comments and going after people. So I’m gambling. The jury is going to say, ‘I don’t want to hear about these kinds of comments.’ Even if they do have some homophobia, I’m gambling it’s going to work in my favor. But the jury will be unpredictable.”

Perritt, 68, worked in labor and employment law before teaching at Chicago-Kent and writing fiction. His upcoming play, “Goal to Go,” is about a gay NFL quarterback. Perritt ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002 as an openly gay man and knows well the struggles of being out professionally.

“I’ve known I was gay since I was 6, didn’t come out until my mid-thirties, but now I couldn’t imagine living my life any other way,” he said. “But before I came out I was terrified of coming out as a professional lawyer and unfortunately I still see that with other young men. I’ve had some students who have considered going back into the closet. With my fiction, I’m portraying healthy gay relationships in a healthy context. I don’t write about the gay ghettos. I write about gay professionals.”

He added in reference to Maduff’s Spin lawsuit and other gay versus gay claims, “Workplace discrimination is no different in either context, whether gay or straight victimization. Analytically there’s no difference. Yes there is always the chance some bigot will be on the jury but I’ve found and I think this has been shown through history and the civil rights movement that the American people have a tremendous sense of fairness.”