Social Justice & The National LGBT Bar Association: Interview with D’Arcy Kemnitz, Executive Director

D’Arcy Kemnitz brings more than twenty years of social justice and non-profit experience to her role as the Executive Director of the National LGBT Bar Association. 

Under her leadership, The Bar has become the largest, most recognized organization of LGBT legal professionals in the country. D’Arcy has orchestrated a coalition of 25 + local, state, and regional LGBT bar associations, dozens of LGBT law student associations, and overseen the annual “Lavender Law” Conference and Career Fair with thousands of attendees each year. 

She is a frequently quoted expert on LGBT legal issues, appearing in media outlets including The ABA Journal, ABC News, Time Magazine, and others. She is a distinguished graduate of the University of Wisconsin, including, the Mitchell Hamline University School of Law. She is an experienced speaker on a number of issues related to LGBT rights and the law.

NP: What is the current main policy focus of the LGBT Bar Association?

Kemnitz: Our main policy focus at the moment is the LGBTQ+ Panic Defense, which is a legal strategy that asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity/expression is to blame for a defendant’s violent reaction, including murder. The panic defense has been really picking up momentum in 2021, Iowa, Virginia, Maryland, Nebraska, Florida, Oregon, New Mexico, Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Massachusetts have all introduced LGBTQ+ panic defense legislation this year and the LGBT Bar has been hard at work to ensure that this legislation is passed in all eleven states. 

At the federal level, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) re-introduced the Equality Act in the United States House and Senate in February 2021, which would prohibit discrimination in the jury selection process on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Maryland just passed two LGBTQ+ rights bills, including one banning the LGBTQ+ panic defense in cases of manslaughter or murder. The panic defense has been relevant in Maryland for decades, most notably in the cases of Dykes v. State (1990), Allen v. State (2015), Finnegan v. State (1976), and Lucas v. State (2001)Bias and prejudice against LGBTQ+ people continue to be pervasive in our justice system, and the LGBTQ+ ‘panic’ defense allows their attackers to escape the criminal sentences that would otherwise be imposed on them were it not for the sexual orientation or gender identity of their victims.

Earlier this week, Vermont passed our LGBTQ+ Panic bills making it the 13th state to do away with this relic from the darkest of ages.

NP: Could you tell us a little about the Lavender Law conference and social justice?

Kemnitz: Right now, we are in the midst of preparing for our annual conference and career fair, Lavender Law, which will be held from July 28-30th 2021. 

Last year we welcomed over 2,000 attendees representing some of the largest firms in the country to recruit from our out and proud LGBTQ+ law student ranks. Indeed, we hosted Fortune 500 corporations, and government and non-profit organizations to recruit as well. We also rolled out a new webinar series in 2020, Lavender Link, that provides opportunities to learn about the intersecting issues that affect LGBTQ+ legal professionals! 

We intend to continue to focus on justice and advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community.  While politics remain volatile in this nation, we will continue to need the next generation of lawyers and advocates to ensure that the arc of the moral universe – although long – bends toward justice.