Arthur Leonard for 40 years has been one of the most important and most-read chronicler of the LGBT rights movement. In 1979, as the founder and president of the City’s Gay Lawyers Association Leonard began reporting judicial decisions involving LGBT rights and slipping them in the monthly mailer—this was the start of LGBT Law Notes. Originally a two-sided photocopied sheet of paper, LGBT Law Notes is now a monthly newsletter with a circulation of thousands. Leonard remains the Editor-in-Chief of the newsletter and performs the bulk of the writing.
Leonard grew up in Oneonta, New York. His father was his high school geometry teacher and his mother was a librarian. At an early age his parents who steered him towards historical biographies—most notably his childhood hero Abraham Lincoln. Leonard was the editor of his high school paper and wrote articles for the Cornell Daily Sun as an undergrad. At Harvard Law, he wrote several letters to the editor were published in the New York Times.
By his third year at Harvard Law Leonard was offered and considered a career in teaching, but first wanted practical experience. Leonard moved to New York City where he worked at Kelley Drye & Warren for a year and a half in the firm’s labor law division before being one of the first lawyers hired for Seyfarth, Shaw, Fairweather & Geraldson’s New York office. He worked at Seyfarth Shaw for another three years before joining the New York Law School faculty in 1982.
Leonard saw the fixed schedule of a law professor as an opportunity to contribute to the LGBT conversation. During his tenure he has played an active role in many great legal steps forward for the LGBT community. A 1985 law review article he penned, Employment Discrimination Against Persons with AIDS, 10 University of Dayton Law Review 681–703 (1985), on AIDS discrimination helped form the nation’s response to the AIDS epidemic. Leonard’s work with the Gay Lawyers Association allowed him to participate in nearly all major gay rights cases since the 1980s through committee advisory and strategic meetings. Among his leadership positions, Leonard has served as chair of the Section on Gay and Lesbian Legal Issues of the Association of American Law Schools, chair of the Sex and Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association, trustee of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at CUNY, and trustee of Lambda Legal. His academic writing includes the widely used textbook Sexuality Law.
New York City in 1998 recognized same-sex domestic partnerships. As a member of the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights’ Family Diversity Coalition, Leonard played an important role by countering legal preemption arguments which were being voiced by many members of the New York City Council and the speaker of the Council, Peter Vallone, Sr., when the bill was first introduced in 1989. The preemption memo Leonard drafted was relied on heavily by Council Members Miriam Friedlander and Carolyn Maloney, the sponsors of the domestic partnership bill, and helped reshape the legal discussion of domestic partnerships in New York City.
Music is Leonard’s other great passion. He played the double bass in the Cornell Orchestra, and is currently a member of the International Machaut Society, which celebrates the famous 14th century composer. Leonard has written his own classical pieces. When he is not involved writing or teaching law, chances are you will find him in an opera house.
One of Leonard’s current concerns is the City’s epidemic of homeless gay and lesbian youth. There are a few organizations that provide shelter and support, and those organizations are overwhelmed by large numbers every night. The De Blasio Administration has expanded funding, but Leonard says that it is still inadequate. LGBT youth make up five to seven percent of the overall youth population in the U.S. but 20 to 40 percent of the homeless youth population. One survey in 2011 indicated that there were at least 3,800 homeless youth each night in New York City and close to 1,600 of them identified as LGBT. In the face of this need, New York City has 392 beds dedicated for homeless adolescents.
Leonard is also pushing to expand statewide gender identity as a forbidden ground for discrimination as has been accomplished in New York City. A state Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act has been passed several times by the State Assembly, but remains pending in the State Senate due to resistance from Republicans. He hopes that it will be made law soon.
By: Jonathon Sizemore (Jonathon is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2016).