Jonathan Freidin featured in OUTside Influence, published by the Federal Bar Association’s LGBT Law Section
Advocacy Within the Courtroom and Beyond: A discussion with Jonathan Freidin
By Sergio E. Molina
Over the course of his developing career, Jonathan Freidin has perfected the art of juggling responsibilities, and has done so to the benefit of both his clients and of the South Florida LGBTQ+ community. While working with Freidin Brown, P.A.—a Miami based law firm—Mr. Freidin has handled some of his team’s most complex medical negligence and whistleblower cases. But Mr.Freidin’s passion for advocacy has also led him to the apex of civic involvement and policy advancement as the Chair of the Board of Directors of SAVE, Inc., South Florida’s leading organization
dedicated to promoting and protecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. In light of his experience, Mr. Freidin took some time to share with me some of his thoughts on the current landscape of LGBTQ+ issues both within the courtroom and beyond.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What does one of your workdays look like, and what level of involvement, if any,does it offer you with the LGBTQ+ community?
Thanks for interviewing me. I am a lawyer at Freidin Brown, P.A. in Miami – we are trial lawyers, and most of my day
involves representing victims of medical malpractice and serious personal injuries, as well as whistleblowers who are
exposing government fraud. I am openly gay, and came out shortly after law school while I was clerking for a judge in
the Southern District of Florida. I’m very fortunate to have a job that not only allows me the flexibility to be engaged with the LGBTQ community, but also supports my involvement. My clients are from all walks of life, and because of my civic involvement with the LGBTQ community, many of the calls and referrals I get are from people who identify as LGBTQ.
Are you currently associated with any service organizations outside of work? If so, which ones, and
what inspired your involvement?
I am currently the Chair of the Board of Directors of SAVE, Inc. (formerly “SAVE Dade”), Florida’s longest-serving LGBTQ advocacy organization. In addition to the fact that my parents always demonstrated to my sister and me the importance of making the world and our community a better place, I am inspired by my own internal drive to seek fairness. I’ve had that since I was young. I think many lawyers share this desire for fairness and equity; that’s what we hope for when we walk in the courtroom, right? And that’s something that inspired me to get involved with SAVE, since they have a rich history of fighting for equality and opening the hearts and minds of the general public to the LGBTQ community.
Between work, SAVE, and recent news, what are some of the big-picture LGBTQ+ issues–current or upcoming–that are on your radar at the moment?
The bulk of the work I do with SAVE is focused on electing pro-equality candidates for public office and I deeply believe
that this is one of the most important challenges facing the LGBTQ community. Without pro-equality office holders, we
will never move the needle forward on eliminating conversion therapy bans, on achieving HIV decriminalization, on securing workplace protections, and on countless other important initiatives. Those are major things that we need to get done.
With regard to these issues, what role do you think that attorneys can play in advocating for more inclusive legislative protections for the LGBTQ+ community?
LGBTQ lawyers and their firms are an incredibly powerful lobby. Start by reaching out to your local organizations to find out what their current initiatives are and where they need help. Then turn to your firm for support. Will they financially support a local LGBTQ advocacy organization? Will they issue a public statement of support for LGBTQ workplace protections or a conversion therapy ban? And of course, open your own wallet and get your colleagues to do the same! One of the reasons we’re respected as a political force is our advocacy training, but another important factor is our ability to fundraise.
Narrowing our focus on the legal community, would you say that there was strong LGBTQ+ representation in law school?
I guess it could always be stronger. I was at the University of Florida Levin College of Law in Gainesville. It was an accepting environment, but it’s still in Gainesville. But remember, it has been 8 years since I was in law school. Things have changed so much even over those last several years. All schools of higher education should take a look at what University of Miami Law School is doing with their OutLaw group as a model on how to support the LGBTQ student body by matching them with mentors in the legal community. And those of us who are now in the legal community should be willing to reach out and spend some of our time mentoring LGBTQ students.
Do you believe that there are any hurdles that exist today for LGBTQ+ legal practitioners? If so, what are they?
Of course there are. Many people don’t realize that in most jurisdictions it is legal to fire employees just because they
are gay, lesbian, or transgender. And this equally applies to lawyers. So LGBTQ attorneys in some places still face the
issue of not being able to be themselves, often changing the way they speak, act, or appear, out of fear of disapproval or of being fired. This is why advocating for change is so important. There seems to be mixed experiences regarding being out in the legal environment (especially when many decisions in this profession are left in the hands of others whose
opinions we might not know).
With this uncertainty, do you think that greater visibility for LGBTQ+ lawyers is something that the legal community can benefit from and should encourage? If so, why?
I can’t tell you how important it was to me, as a closeted young lawyer clerking for a federal judge, to see someone like Judge Darrin Gayles appointed as the first openly gay black federal judge. That sent a message to young LGBTQ lawyers that it is possible to reach the highest ranks of our profession without regard to sexual orientation. But there is still a fear held by LGBTQ law students and young lawyers around the country, a fear that they’ll be at a disadvantage in the courtroom and in the board room. We need to change that, and one way is to have greater visibility in the legal community.
Recently, there have been growing calls for a judiciary that is more reflective of the diversity we see within our nation. What are your thoughts on LGBTQ+ representation in the courts, and what, if anything, can be done to increase the number of LGBTQ+ individuals
serving on the bench?
We’re so fortunate in South Florida to have a roster of fantastic LGBTQ judges, but there can always be more. In Florida, one way we can increase LGBTQ representation on our courts is to encourage qualified candidates to apply and run for judicial seats and help get them elected! This is part of my work with SAVE – getting LGBTQ and pro-equality judicial candidates elected. And because the Governor appoints many state court judges and our Senators (along with the President) have a huge hand in appointments of federal judges, this underscores the need to elect pro-equality officials at all levels.
What do you think law schools, bar associations, attorneys, and law firms can do to encourage more
LGBTQ+ individuals to join the legal community?
One of the best ways to give back is to be a leader when it comes to LGBTQ issues. If you’re a law firm, do you encourage LGBTQ students to apply for summer associate positions? If you’re a bar association, do you have any events that honor the LGBTQ legal leaders? And if you’re a lawyer, be proud of who you are so that you can be an example of success for future LGBTQ lawyers who might be watching.
In light of your experiences, what advice do you have for future generations of LGBTQ+ attorneys?
It sounds cliché, but be true to yourself and to your values. If you’re in a job where you don’t feel comfortable being
open about who you are, then it may not be the best place for you. And once you have climbed the ladder of happiness
and success, don’t pull that ladder up behind you. Remember to lend a hand to others who may be coming up behind you. The goal is to make this world a more hospitable place for everyone – equally. If you do, you will find that’s the most rewarding part of it all.
For more information on Jonathan Freidin and the work that he does with his firm and for the community, visit his firm profile, linked here.
Reference Link: https://www.fedbar.org/lgbt-law-section/