WMU-Cooley Law School recognized Pride Month with a virtual Community Conversation on Monday, June 5, featuring Preston Mitchum, an attorney, advocate, and activist for Black and LGBTQ+ rights.
During the event, Mitchum, founder and CEO of PDM Consulting, a multi-purpose consulting firm focused on the power of Black people, LGBTQ+ people, and youth, spoke on the history of Pride Month, anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, and how law students and lawyers can take action in support of LGBTQ+.
“Nothing is wrong with being a LGBTQ+ person,” said Mitchum, who is gay. “Something is wrong with how society responds. There are many LGBTQ people, even if they don't use that that terminology, who really want to be confident in who they are. But they understand just how ostracized, stigmatized, and criminalized LGBTQ people are. So, for some of them, they stay in this proverbial closet, and for many others, even when they do come out or invite people into their personal lives, they're still met with a stigmatic and oftentimes visceral responses, and so I find it very important to always start with nothing is wrong with being LGBTQ. The problem that we're solving for and the problem that's being identified is how society responds. How is that society responding to people? How do we create a braver or more safer spaces for people to show up and be fully authentic in who they are?”
Mitchum gave an overview of the Pride Month landscape, which started in 1970 – a year after the Stonewall Riot in New York City – by and with community as a protest specifically against decades of police violence and uprisings.
“Pride, in its purest form, was a riot,” he said. “It is, it was and it should always be recognized as a riot so we can also recognize the many assets associated with it and why that riot was necessary in the first place. It’s especially important that we recognize that not only is June a celebration regarding LGBTQ people, it is also a time that we recognize the last freed Black people in the United States and what we now know to be Juneteenth.”
Mitchum explained anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is being pushed at an alarming rate throughout the country with over 300 bills in 2022, and a record over 540 bills already in 2023. He went on to share the many ways lawyers, law students and the public can take action to support LGBTQ+ people, including youth: educate yourself, listen and learn from others, speak up against injustice, support marginalized communities and build coalitions.
“One thing I do want to underscore is the importance of really challenging case law, the importance of really challenging what we see,” said Mitchum. “And it takes time. You don't just take a case to court because you're angry. There are decades of jurisprudence. You have to review it, research it, figure out what makes sense. Is this the right court? Is this the right circuit? There are a lot of dynamics at play so you don't do decades-long of damage. That is something I want to say to law students and legal professionals: challenge the profession, challenge the law, and be very mindful and thoughtful who could be negatively impacted if you don’t.”
With over 10 years of legal and policy experience, Mitchum has served nonprofit organizations in a variety of leadership roles to help bring out the voices of historically oppressed audiences, including director of Federal Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project; URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity; Advocates for Youth; the Center for Health and Gender Equity; Center for American Progress; and the National Coalition for LGBTQ Health. Additionally, he has served as an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center and American University Washington College of Law, where he taught LGBTQ Health Law and Policy, and Sexuality, Gender Identity, and the Law, respectively.