This is an abridged version of a keynote address I delivered at the University of Kentucky’s OUTLaw chapter banquet earlier this year. It’s a tough time to be a law student right now, especially if you’re in Kentucky’s LGBTQIA+ community. I wanted to tell students how powerful they truly are, and to give them a vision for the future that is both hopeful and realistic. This isn’t just for law students and lawyers, but for anyone who is having a hard time seeing a path forward.
In 2016, after Trump got elected, I got a lot of questions about “what will happen to marriage equality.” I’d like to read you a little excerpt from an op-ed that I wrote at the time to address those questions:
“For President Trump to undo the progress made by Obergefell and its predecessors, a number of improbable things would have to happen. First, Trump would have to appoint at least two Supreme Court justices to make any real difference. . . . Suppose, however, that one of the older pro-LGBTQIA+ justices, such as Justice Kennedy or Justice Ginsburg, were to die, or retire, during Trump’s tenure? Even then . . . the Court would then have to reverse its own interpretation of the Constitution (and) an opinion like that would threaten the legitimacy of the Court, something which troubles even the most conservative of jurists.”
Here we are six years later and that piece reads like satire. It’s as if someone hit a rip from the world’s biggest bong, peered into the future, and said “you know what would be funny, let’s write this up like it could never happen, just to mess with people.”
Buddhist philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh died last year, but part of what he taught (and I’m grossly paraphrasing here) is the idea that: “Whatever you think, you might be wrong.”
Well, I was wrong. I underestimated the effect of Trumpism on the courts and on society overall. I don’t have much to say in my defense, other than there is a certain naïveté that comes with being a white, middle-aged male lawyer, who’s had everything pretty easy, and who has been entrenched in the system for so many years.
See, I was taught that change is supposed to happen through the courts in a linear, straightforward manner: you find a client, you file a lawsuit, and the courts fix it. Presto — social justice is achieved…