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Monday, June 18, 2007

UB’s OUT Law Rides Back into Town

By Steve Charing

When Matt Feinberg (pictured) recently met to talk about OUT Law, the University of Baltimore School of Law’s lgbt student association, you could easily visualize his arguing a case in a courtroom. He was dressed in a sharp business suit, had a confident stride, friendly personality and an ability to clearly express himself. And behind his glacier-blue eyes, one can immediately sense the passion he has for the lgbt community and his organization of which he is president.

OUT Law was resurrected during Coming Out Day this past October 11 after a four-year hiatus. "Our paramount goal was to create a place for lgbt students and their families to call home at UB," Matt Feinberg, 25, a rising third year law student, told Baltimore OUTloud. "Certainly there are great ‘outside resources,’ but law school ends up becoming your life, and you don’t have the opportunity to use those outside resources as much as you would like. We needed a resource in the school, and the formation of OUT Law was the natural solution to that need."

Added Professor Odeana R. Neal, the group’s faculty advisor, "The resuscitation of a group focusing on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues is important not only for the University of Baltimore School of Law, but for the citizens of Maryland as well."

On Coming Out Day, according to Matt, OUT Law distributed information about coming out as a member of the lgbt community, being gay in Maryland, same sex marriage, educational safe havens, community events and resources and some other tolerance-based brochures.

The group is open to all gay and straight supporting students in the University of Baltimore and beyond. "OUT Law is pretty much a group for everyone," Matt said. "We are a resource for the students, the school and outside UB, but a lot of our focus is on legal issues."

OUT Law’s mission statement says their goals are to "foster acceptance, promote education and awareness and advocate on the University of Baltimore Campus and in the community at large on legal issues facing members of the LGBT community, LGBT families, and their allies."

A key priority is to educate the students and the community. "We are dedicated to promoting our message," Matt emphasized. "To educate is most of the battle. Education promotes tolerance, which hopefully will lead to equality."

The education initiative also points out areas of law that are not covered in class. Said Prof. Neal, "Law students are often not trained in dealing with legal issues that lgbt people face regularly."

As part of this effort, OUT Law is compiling a pamphlet of cases, law review articles, issue statements, news blurbs and articles, commentary, and editorials and submitting them to professors for certain subjects. "This way, if nothing else, we have made the information available to the professors," said Matt. "If they choose to use it in class, great. If not, we at least made them aware."

One of OUT Law’s two vice-presidents, Stacie Harris (pictured), is a mother of three children, ages 8 to 14, with a warm, natural smile. Stacie has found happiness with her lesbian partner Shamika Hawkes over the past three years.

Besides her several jobs that includes being a substitute teacher in the Baltimore County Public School System as well as an undergraduate at UB, Stacie is involved primarily with coordinating events and social functions for OUT Law. "We want to provide a safe haven for the community," she said. And as part of her responsibilities, Stacie is also promoting the Office of Diversity within UB. She will be a peer advisor at the school in the Fall.

OUT Law’s other vice-president and a founding member, April Nelson, is responsible for outreach beyond the walls of UB. In that capacity she sees connecting with the larger community as essential. "A key goal is increased partnerships with our straight allies among the student body and faculty who are a crucial part of the work in changing the perception of lgbt issues as ‘gay issues’ to ‘equal rights issues,’" she said.

During the short timeframe since its reincarnation, OUT Law has been a viable, active organization and saw its membership increase from 12 founding members to a total of 40 making it among the largest groups at UB. Matt Feinberg had succeeded Julie Ridgeway as president, whom he says "really took the burden of starting this group on her shoulders and made us what we are and paved the way for us to grow."

There have been some major events recently that have certainly added prominence to the group. "Our primary purpose has always been visibility," April points out.

At a same-sex marriage debate held on April 10, which was co-sponsored with the UB Federalist Society, faculty advisor Professor Neal spoke on behalf of same-sex marriage while Professor Amy Wax from the University of Pennsylvania spoke against it. Over 100 people attended the event.

In addition, there was a speaker panel, which featured Sharra Greer, Director of Law and Policy for the ServiceMembers Legal Defense Network, who discussed the consequences of the military’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy.

There was also a panel on "LGBT Issues in the Classroom" that featured Mark Scurti, a well-known attorney in the lgbt community; Professor Margaret Johnson; Chris Edelson of the Human Rights Campaign; and Dr. David Haltwinger who is Director of Chase-Brexton.

And just last month, OUT Law sponsored the First Annual COBALT (Celebrating Our Baltimore Area LGBT Trailblazers) Awards, where they honored Judge M. Brooke Murdock of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City and Mark Scurti. Judge Murdock had ruled favorably in the marriage equality lawsuit, whose ruling was stayed pending a decision from the Maryland Court of Appeals. Both were honored as UB distinguished alumni for their support and efforts on behalf of the lgbt community.

"We look forward to another year of sponsoring panel discussions and bringing in national speakers to address topics affecting lgbt families," said April Nelson. Such plans include an event surrounding the on-campus interview program whereby Army and JAG corps representatives interview perspective law clerks.

This will be an opportunity to make a statement against the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy. "We feel that allowing a group to interview on campus that makes discrimination a part of their daily mission isn't acceptable," Matt Feinberg explained.

OUT Law will also hold a World AIDS Day event, and will have a table at the National Coming Out Day. They will also have a presence at the orientation for incoming students for the first time. And, of course, there will be the 2nd annual COBALT awards when they will honor 2-3 leading members of the community.

While trying to balance their busy academic, professional and personal schedules, the officers and members of OUT Law are attempting to make lives better for the broader lgbt community. In such a short time, the group is already successful with a bright future ahead.

Anyone interested in seeking volunteers from OUT Law, co-sponsoring an event, nominating someone for a COBALT award (doesn’t have to be a UB alumnus) or to obtain additional information, may contact the group at ubalt.outlaw@gmail.com.

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