By Emma Badger and Kéran Billaud
On Tuesday, several law student organizations gathered together in the Marcia Whitney Schott Courtyard at the University of Florida Levin College of Law to host “UNITY”, an event to honor those lost in the horrific Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.
White paper doves and rainbow-themed flags from the contributing student organizations surrounded the courtyard. UNITY was more than a celebration of those lost. It was an invaluable opportunity to celebrate student diversity and foster a conversation about how to best advocate for marginalized clients as students prepare to join the legal profession.
“Pulse really hit close to home at UF Law . . . so many people from this school are either gay or from Orlando. People of UF Law are going to be the lawmakers of the state, so it’s important to expose them to our community and how we are still oppressed and targeted,” said Benny Menaged, former president of OutLaw at UF and sole recipient of this year’s G. Kirk Humanitarian Award.
While minority students from OutLaw, Black Law Student Association, Cuban American Bar Association, Association for Public Interest Law, and the Latino Law Student Association banded together in this promotion of peace and togetherness, the overarching theme was the inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the future of the legal profession.
Joshua Padilla, 2L and president of OutLaw, headed an impressive procession of speakers that included Dean Rosenbury, Mayor of Orlando John Hugh “Buddy” Dyer (JD ’87), and the remarkable Larry D. Smith, a G. Kirk Humanitarian Award recipient and Orlando attorney, who told his own moving story of being an openly gay lawyer who fought to make sexual orientation an important component in the discussion of diversity in the legal field. Most notably, his story was a reminder that being brave and speaking out on behalf of your values will always promote change more effectively than staying quiet and remaining on the sidelines.
Smith passed the honor of the G. Kirk Haas Humanitarian Award to Menaged during the ceremony. The award is reserved to just one law student per year in the state of Florida. It speaks volumes that this award was given to UF Law student, reflecting the college’s vibrant student community and its respect for diversity.
Menaged, 3L, has helped run a mentor program at UF Law, pairing students together to learn from more-experienced peers. He also helps with philanthropy, recently raising about $2,000 that went to upgrading local playground equipment to accommodate handicap access, and writes for the Journal of Law and Public Policy.
Dane Baley, 2L, viewed UNITY as an important continuation of the many presentations minority student groups have put forth this semester, citing the Black Lives Matter event hosted by BLSA in September.
Unity leaves one with many important questions concerning the future. How does one harness advocacy and use it to affect change? How does one cross cultural boundaries to best represent clients from marginalized backgrounds?
While the community mourned those lost in the Pulse massacre, their names elegantly displayed on twin screens on either side of the stage, Mayor Dyer reminded those in attendance how much progress has been made in local government to protect the LGBTQ community and how the people of Orlando responded with love.
As students and professionals, Levin’s community members can serve as advocates for minority voices immediately, adding to the “UNITY” the world needs, according to Dyer.
“UF Law is a great school, and we were celebrating that. All of the students are supportive and respective of each other,” Menaged said.