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  • July 07, 2021

    Angela Harden: What It Means To Be 'Out' as a Legal Professional

    On the board of directors of the LGBT Bar Association of Wisconsin, Angela Harden has a passion for the law and its ability to shape cultures, communities, and lives for the better. Find out more about Harden and the association.
    Angela Harden apple picking

    Angela Harden, left, takes a selfie with her wife, Elizabeth Haws, after picking apples at the Peck & Bushel Apple Orchard in Colgate, in fall 2020.

    July 7, 2021 – Meet Angie Harden, secretary of the LGBT Bar Association of Wisconsin, an organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ+) legal professionals and their allies.

    This profile is part of an ongoing series introducing you to the leaders of Wisconsin law-related organizations that serve diverse communities.

    Founded in 2014, the LGBT Bar Association seeks to provide a place for LGBTQ-identified legal professionals to network, convene, and learn from each other.

    What events shaped your decision to become a lawyer?

    People always joked when I was a kid and said, “That girl is going to be a lawyer someday.”

    Turns out they were right. After my childhood dream of playing professional basketball died in high school (let’s face it, I was just “OK” at the sport), I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. I always knew that I found politics, current events, and the law interesting, so in college I majored in political science with a focus on pre-law. It was there that I found my passion for the law and its ability to shape cultures, communities, and lives for the better.

    What were some of the challenges that you faced in your development as a lawyer?

    The biggest challenge that I have had to overcome as a young lawyer is remembering that I am just as capable as my tenured opposing counsel sitting at the next table. It’s easy to be intimidated by lawyers that have years (or decades) more experience than you, but I always try to remember that I am here for a reason, and that my client is depending on me to give it my best.

    How has membership in your association helped you grow as an attorney?

    Outside of the legal profession, I have always had a support system of LGBTQ friends and family to lean on, confide in, and model myself after. When I entered the legal profession, I found myself in new world where I was unsure if anyone was “like me.” The LGBT Bar Association of Wisconsin provided me with a network of people who understand what it means to be an out professional, and who have navigated the often difficult journey of bringing your whole self to work.

    What is it about your association’s mission or values that speak to you?

    We understand the value that diversity of thought and presence can bring to the legal profession, and we work to advocate for and to uplift those voices. We provide an opportunity for our allies and other diverse legal professionals to learn about the LGBTQ community, and to become an ally as we work to obtain a more equal and just society.

    One of the most exciting parts about our organization is the access we provide to the diverse legal community. For example, each year we partner with the other affinity bars to plan and host the Diversifying the Bench Mixer. Members of the different affinity bar associations are able to meet, mingle with, and learn from the diverse leaders of our profession. It’s an event that we look forward to every year.

    What does it mean to be 'out' as a legal professional?

    Being an out legal professional means more than being a part of the LGBTQ community. It means having the courage to bring your whole self to work. It means making your sexuality part of your identity. It means understanding that you may have to navigate situations that your colleagues do not.

    But there is so much more to it. It also means that you bring a unique (and valuable) perspective to your firm and its clients. It means that you can have a positive impact on firm culture. It means that you are afforded the opportunity to be a leader.

    I have chosen the latter, and am fortunate to work at a firm that values both my legal abilities and my identity as an out legal professional.

    About the LGBT Bar Association of Wisconsin

    • Number of members: 60
    • When organized: 2014
    • Primary mission:
      • to increase the visibility of LGBTQ individuals and allies within the legal profession;
      • to foster a sense of community among LGBTQ individuals and allies within the legal community and beyond; and
      • to bring awareness to LGBTQ issues throughout the state.
    • How to learn more: visit lgbtbarwis.org and facebook.com/lgbtbarwi.

    What challenges/obstacles does your organization face?

    The law has played such an intricate and bold role in the history of the LGBTQ community. While societal pressures and expected norms have always created hurdles for our community, the crux of our communal struggle is rooted in the law. Still, to this day, the LGBTQ community is not seen as equal, and our fight to obtain equal rights is both necessary and unwavering.

    I can proudly say that the LGBT Bar Association has played a role in the long fight to rectifying the wrongs of the past. For example, the LGBT Bar Association was the lead signatory on an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court advocating for equal rights under Title VII in the paramount Bostock v. Clayton County case. In fact, I am a co-drafter of the brief.

    What will it take to bring greater diversity and inclusion to this profession?

    Two things.

    First, the legal profession needs to value diversity. Not just for metrics and data, but for the richness that diversity of thought, culture, and background bring to the legal profession. Diversity cannot be a message – it needs to be rooted in action.

    Second, diverse individuals need to know that they will be valued in the legal profession. They need to know that there are seats at the table, and that law firms and legal entities understand the value that diverse lawyers bring to their business and the clients they serve.

    Judge Maxine White, Chief Judge Mary Triggiano, and Judge William Pocan, a member of the LGBT Bar Association.

    The LGBT Bar Association partners with other specialty bar associations to host the Diversifying the Bench mixer event in March. At the March 2020 event are, from left: Judge Maxine White, Chief Judge Mary Triggiano, and Judge William Pocan, a member of the LGBT Bar Association.

    On a personal note, what are you looking forward to in the coming year?

    I am looking forward to the world opening back up again. Spending a year without friends or family was very tough on everyone. It feels great to start getting back to our normal lives. I’ll never take eating in a restaurant for granted again!

    I am happiest when …

    I am spending time with my wife, Elizabeth Haws, exploring new places. We love to travel to different cities in the United States and experience the different food, music, and culture. Most recently, we spent a week in Philadelphia. I can never eat a cheesesteak again (unless I go back) because it was just that good.

    In Case You Missed It

    Find out more about these Wisconsin law-related organizations and the leaders that serve diverse communities:

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