Copyright 2000 American Lawyer Media, L.P. The Recorder

April 3, 2000, Monday



BYLINE: David Brown

Jean Love remembers how nervous she felt walking into her first Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom meeting in 1980.

The former UC law professor was by her own description a "baby dyke" who had only come out the year before, and she was about to become a founding member of an organization that would take a central role in advancing the rights of gays in the legal community.

"My knees buckled," said Love, who now teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law.

Love recounted her story for the throng of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered attorneys and their supporters who gathered at BALIF's 20th anniversary dinner on Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero.

The crowd of 700 was peppered with judicial luminaries -- including California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George and members of nearly every bench in the Bay Area -- local law firm leaders and federal, state and local politicians.

That's a far cry from the organization's first meeting 20 years ago, when 16 gay and lesbian lawyers gathered with the primary goal of putting an openly gay judge on the bench.

The surviving founders were honored by the organization on Thursday, and they recalled the group's work on judicial appointments and its early efforts to provide legal services for people with AIDS.

Dining on chicken and cheesecake, BALIF members and supporters also feted two openly lesbian members of the Assembly, Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, and Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, with community service awards for their gay rights work.

Migden, who accepted for herself and on Kuehl's behalf, told the crowd she wasn't going to pull a "Hillary Swank" -- a reference to the Oscar winner who forgot to thank her husband -- and would make a special effort to acknowledge her partner, attorney Cris Arguedas.

The punch line: She forgot anyway.

"Dragapella" divas The Kinsey Sicks -- a drag vocal group that includes a pair of attorneys -- wowed the crowd with a surprise set after interrupting dinner co-chair Laurie Simonson, a Gordon & Rees associate. Simonson was reading an alphabetical history of BALIF's contributions to the gay community.

Q. Todd Dickinson, a former BALIF board member who now heads the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, keynoted the event and marveled at how the gay community's work has opened doors: "Who would've guessed a gay man with a little B.S. in chemistry would become the second gay man in a row " to head the PTO.

Yet for San Francisco Superior Court Judge Donna Hitchens, the evening proved somewhat confusing. She had just read the results of a study that found lesbians have different finger lengths than heterosexual women.

The measurements apparently would have pegged Hitchens -- a longtime lesbian activist -- as a straight woman.

"Oh well," she said, "I've had a wonderful time."

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