At the end of June the National LGBT Bar Association released its “Best Under 40” list for 2016, celebrating the work and accomplishments of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied legal professionals. According to the organization, “The National LGBT Bar Association’s list included lawyers from across the country who have distinguished themselves in their field and demonstrated a strong commitment to LGBT equality.”
“I’m incredibly honored. When I first got the notification I just didn’t even know what to say,” said Olivia Hunt, the Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Fellow for Whitman-Walker Health Legal Services in Washington, D.C. “It’s the greatest feeling I’ve had yet, since doing this work.”
Hunt oversees the name and gender change program at the medical and legal organization. People meet with lawyers to begin filing documents with the court to have their names and genders corrected on driver licenses, birth certificates and an array of other documents.
The process is long, and can be made longer depending on things like the client’s living situation or which state they call home. In Washington, D.C., it can take about six weeks. “After that you then get to play a wonderful game of legal whack-a-mole trying to get your name taken care of on every document out there.”
“I go to sleep every night with a smile on my face,” she said.
The 38 year-old loves people watching in the Del Ray area of Alexandria, VA and her favorite thing to do in D.C is visit the Natural History Museum.
Ashland Johnson, Director at Policy and Campaigns at Athlete Ally, prefers to bike by the monument and watch bad crime dramas after more challenging days.
Johnson, at 33 years-old, did not expect to be on the list so young despite being nominated. “I’ve wanted to do LGBT legal work my entire career so it feels great to have that honor,” said Johnson, who has been passionate about this area of law since she began law school. The former Division I basketball player lost her job because her boss discovered she is a lesbian.
Now she works with athletic communities across the country helping to promote LGBTQ equality in sports with a D.C. non-profit organization. “I really do love my job and I’m fortunate for that. I feel that what I do matters which is something that has always been important to me. What I’m contributing to society I feel that it matters,” she said.
Despite the joys of her work, Johnson struggles with the speed of progress. “Policy is very slow so a lot of it is laying the groundwork with public education, changing hearts and minds and maybe down the road you see something change,” she said. “I’ve been doing this long enough to see several really great policy changes, but it’s challenging to put so much into something and see either little movement or no movement on certain policy issues.”
Dealing with issues around privilege and social justice, Barbara Schwabauer is in her dream job. The 34 year-old is a trial attorney with the Civil Rights Division of Department of Justice where she focuses on employment litigation which prevents state and local employers from discriminating based on age, sex, gender, national origin, religion or race.
“It’s truly an honor to be able to represent the United Stated in right’s cases and to be able to vindicate the rights of aggrieved individuals who have been discriminated against because of their race, because of their sex, because of their national origin,” said Schwabauer. “For me, this is work that I’ve always wanted to do and to be able to do it on behalf of the federal government is truly and honor.”
When she isn’t defending the rights of those facing discrimination at work, she enjoys watching the Washington Spirit team play, wandering through the sculpture garden or munching on a beignet from Paul’s Patisserie.