Stetson Law Wins National Award for LGBTQ+ Initiatives

In January, Stetson Law won the Association of American Law Schools’ LGBTQ+ Inclusive Excellence Award. L-R: Law Professor Ellen Podgor; Darren Kettles, Admissions & Student Financial Planning director; and Professor Jason Palmer, associate dean of Academic Affairs.

Reflecting Stetson Law’s deep commitment to diversity and inclusion, the Association of American Law Schools Section on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Issues (SOGII) has chosen the college for its 2024 LGBTQ+ Inclusive Excellence Award.

The recognition follows years of considerable effort recruiting and enrolling LGBTQ+ students, supporting them in their law school journey and beyond, and creating opportunities for them to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community both on and off campus.

“This award is the result of a long, multifaceted campaign to invite the nation’s brightest aspiring legal professionals to build upon the successes of Florida’s First Law School,” said Darren Kettles, admissions and student financial planning director. “To call this accomplishment an honor is an understatement. We are absolutely thrilled and inspired to continue this important work.”

Building on Years of Success

For years, Stetson Law has taken measures aimed at ensuring LGBTQ+ students aren’t only welcome on campus, but supported and celebrated — and that they have opportunities to network and gain experience advocating on the causes that matter most to them. 

Stetson Law Professor Joe Morrissey

“This is huge,” said longtime Stetson Law Professor Joe Morrissey about the award. “We’ve made incredible progress in the last 20 or so years, culminating in Stetson being able to claim well-deserved, award-winning leadership in the LGBTQ+ inclusivity space.”

Morrissey added that much of the credit goes to Kettles, who “has not only communicated to future generations of Stetson lawyers about our inclusive culture, but has also shaped that culture by cultivating more and more diverse cadres of admits.”

Inviting All to Study Law

Under the leadership of Kettles, the College of Law has for years actively invited members of the LGBTQ+ community from around the nation to consider Stetson Law for their legal education, telling them, “You Belong Here.”

The result is a diverse, thriving community of students eager to explore the law through an LGBTQ+ lens.

LGBTQ+ students made up 5% of the fall 2023 entering class. The campus community strives to foster an inclusive, supportive environment to help them succeed in their coursework and in their career pursuits.

“We believe that creating a law school community where LGBTQ+ students feel welcome and have opportunities to thrive will have impacts beyond our campus,” Kettles said. “These students go on to cultivate meaningful careers advocating for the people and causes most important to them.”

Thoughtful Community Engagement

Recognizing the needs and contributions of the growing LGBTQ+ community in the greater Tampa Bay region, the college has for years engaged in community outreach efforts such as marching in and tabling at St. Pete Pride, Florida’s largest Pride parade and street fair. In fall 2023, in partnership with Lambda Legal Society, Stetson Law’s LGBTQ+ student organization, the college hosted a fundraising event culminating in a drag show.

Stetson Law alumnus Nathan Bruemmer

In partnership with alumnus Nathan Bruemmer, the college developed a Name Change Clinic for students, employees and local community members. Students also embarked on a collaboration with the City of Gulfport’s LGBT Resource Center, which included establishing a liaison position for a Lambda member on the LGBT Resource Center’s Executive Board.

Bruemmer, a Tampa native, recently served as Florida’s LGBTQIA+ consumer advocate with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, thereby making history as the first transgender statewide appointee in the U.S. He said the AALS SOGII award has been years in the making — and that it comes at a critical time.

“To protect the rule of law and ensure justice for all, it is imperative for law schools to graduate attorneys from a diverse array of backgrounds who are ready to use their skills to tackle the mounting challenges we face,” Bruemmer said. “Stetson Law didn’t just make me feel welcome; this community ensured that real-world opportunities to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community were woven into my legal education. This is a major reason that I remain connected to this community, and why I am proud to call myself a Stetson lawyer.”

Creating a Home for Diversity

In 2021, Stetson University created the role of Executive Officer for Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion to develop measurable ways of advancing leadership in diversity, equity and inclusion while building a community where members of the LGBTQ+ community feel safe and capable of thriving. Stetson Law alumna Carmen Johnson, who was hired for that role, works tirelessly to identify opportunities for fostering a diverse campus community.

portrait outside of Carmen Johnson
Alumna Carmen Johnson, also Stetson’s executive officer for Diversity, Collaboration and Inclusion

“Whether it’s flying the Pride flag over the campus for the duration of Pride Month or offering courses examining LGBTQ+ issues and the law, Stetson Law is home to concrete actions that not only show students from underrepresented communities that they belong, but that they can use what they learn here to make a difference,” Johnson said. “I am proud yet humbled that we are now recognized as a national leader in this space.”

Relevant, Impactful Programs and Course Offerings

Home to leading scholars in areas pertaining to the relationship between the law and gender and sexuality, Stetson offers extensive coursework in this area, including Law and Sexual Orientation, Feminist Jurisprudence, Reproductive Technology and the Law, Employment Discrimination, Human Rights in International Family Law, and Civil Rights and the Constitution: DOMA/Marriage.

Stetson Law’s Lambda Legal Society actively provides a forum to explore legal issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity. The organization welcomes students of any sexual orientation interested in raising awareness of the issues attorneys face with the increasing number of LGBTQ+ clients who seek legal protection.

Lambda Legal Society engages with the greater community through events such as St. Pete Pride.

In 2021, Lambda became a National Affiliate of the LGBTQ Bar, and in 2023 the organization established an endowed Pride Scholarship. Lambda hosts regular events, including displaying a National Transgender Remembrance Day Memorial, hosting important community discussions such as Intersectionality: Black and LGBTQ+ Communities with nationally renowned LGBTQ+ activist and Executive Director and Founder of Equality Florida Nadine Smith, and offering pronoun pins at tabling events like Diversity Week. In June 2021, the organization spearheaded the raising of the Pride Flag over campus. It flew for the entire month and has done so every June since.

To help students connect their growing legal acumen in this area, Lambda also launched a Student Mentorship Program, drafted a Chosen Pronoun and Chosen Name policy for Stetson students and employees and created an “Inclusive Classroom Training” during Annual Law Faculty Orientation, a comprehensive overview of chosen pronouns and names as well as the college’s expectations towards inclusion.

“There is no community like the LGBTQ+ community, and it is a testament to our resilience that we are one of the largest and most active student organizations on campus,” said Hunter Wolf, vice president of Lambda. “It is incredibly special to be recognized for the work that we have put in to show that Stetson Law is not only an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, but a fierce advocate.”

Supportive Faculty and Campus Leadership

From day one at Stetson Law, students will find professors who are members of the LGBTQ+ community or passionate allies eager to help students develop their legal skills.

Longtime Law Professor Ellen Podgor, former chair of the AALS SOGII Subcommittee, launched an independent student research project highlighting and creating the Past Chairs of AALS SOGII Leadership and Initiatives Project, with plans to publish it soon.

Dean Benjamin Barros, JD

Recently, Kettles served as a member of the Law School Admission Council Annual Meeting and Educational Conference Planning Committee, where he developed sessions aimed at assisting law school admission teams in advancing work on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community.

In the fall, Morrissey was a guest on an episode of the Real Cases podcast discussing attracting LGBTQ+ students to law school in states that appear hostile towards them.

With vision, collaboration and support from executive leadership, Stetson Law will continue to thrive as a place where members of the LGBTQ+ and allies are invited to celebrate their shared passion for the law and for justice for all.

 “When it comes to initiatives promoting inclusion and justice for all, we are just getting started,” said College of Law Dean Benjamin Barros. “We look forward to celebrating our diverse campus community in 2024 and beyond, starting with this award.”

-Kate Bradshaw