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Pride Month Staff Highlight 2024: Jeffrey Webb, Directing Attorney for Impact Litigation

Jeffrey Webb, Bet Tzedek’s Directing Attorney for Impact Litigation, shares his beautiful and compelling journey this Pride Month. He opens up about coming out in the ‘80s, finding community and solidarity, navigating the legal field in his early days as someone who was openly gay, experiencing and overcoming discrimination, his LGBTQIA+ advocacy, life with his husband and two children, and much more.

“My coming out journey began in the ’80s. I say journey, because coming out never ends. People just assume you are heterosexual and presume that my spouse is a woman until I set the record straight, so to speak. Like many gay boys, I was beaten up, bullied, and teased as a kid because people thought I was gay, and I was petrified that they might find out that I actually was gay. Fortunately, when I came out, I had a supportive family and supportive friends. I remember the first time I truly felt queer joy when I walked into a gay venue and was finally surrounded by my people. That was indescribably affirming.

To this day, when I hear songs by Erasure, the Pet Shop Boys, or New Order, I’m immediately transported back to those early out years. It was loads of fun, but also a scary time. It was still somewhat early in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. One wrong choice with a date felt like it could become a life sentence, since there wasn’t a treatment yet. Friends died. Those of us who survived were emboldened by Act Up to really get out of the closet and have our voices heard to fight governmental inaction. I joined the 1987 March on Washington. From there, I went on to head up the school-wide LGBTIA+ group as a grad student at the London School of Economics after law school. It’s much easier to be out in a country where nobody knows you.

I wasn’t out in my first job, clerking for a federal judge. I had a friend in law school who came out to his firm after receiving an offer after a summer program, only to see that offer withdrawn after he came out. I’d learn years later that my judge’s daughter was a lesbian, and so I might not have had anything to worry about. When I first started practicing law, I decided to be out. I remember, when working as a junior associate, a client was saying incredibly homophobic things. A partner who was a mentor of mine and an early ally back then thankfully intervened. I remember being the first associate to bring a same-sex date to a firm event and managing the wide range of reactions from supportive to, let’s just say, not so supportive. I think taking that step may have made things easier for the next LGBTQIA+ associate who decided to take a risk and bring a date. Eventually, I became the first partner at the firm who had been out as an associate. Times do change. 

Throughout my career, I have tried to advocate for the community. I served on the board of the West Hollywood Homeless Organization, mentored junior LGBTQIA+ lawyers in affinity groups where I worked and through LGBTQIA+ bar associations, and led teams of lawyers working on amicus briefs for marriage equality. (I even have a dog named “Windsor” after the successful litigant in United States v. Windsor that held that it is unconstitutional for the government to discriminate against same-sex marriages.)

On the personal front, I ended up marrying that guy I took to the firm event. We’ve been together over 30 years. We were among the earliest cohorts to build an LGBTQIA+ family. Along the way, we regularly encountered people asking where our twin boys’ mother was, indignities at immigration checkpoints challenging our family status, and perplexed teachers who couldn’t figure out what they should have the boys do for the Mother’s Day art project. For over 18 years, we took our children annually to the LGBTQIA+ Family Week in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where they were able to see countless families like ours. The boys grew up in a much more accepting world than my generation. 

Nowadays, people feel comfortable coming out much younger, and the spectrum of identities is wonderfully continually expanding. There’s been so much progress that younger members of our community seem to think we went from Stonewall to acceptance years and years ago, and that folks of my vintage had it easy. That’s really not true. There was a whole lot of hate, rampant discrimination and mistreatment, and lots of fighting. But the battles people fought were very much worth it. We’ve come a long way and today, unlike that petrified gay boy I used to be, I’m happy to say that I’m proud to be a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. Happy Pride!”