Affecting Change, from the Top Down

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He might not be waving a rainbow flag in your face, but Danny Ramón is, without a doubt, an LGBT advocate. He’s only thirty-four, and he’s managed to find himself at the head of Austin’s LGBT Bar Association and is on the Board of Directors for Equality Texas. He jokingly claims to like long walks on the beach and is a Gemini. Oh, and sorry, gentlemen, he’s taken.

It all started with a dream to get out of his small town. Ramón didn’t know exactly what was pulling him away from his home in Del Rio, Texas: for Ramón, ‘going away’ meant graduating co-valedictorian of his high school class and attending Stanford, where he studied political science.

“I had always envisioned that my college experience was going to include going far away from home,” Ramón said. “In retrospect, I’d love to say that some part of me knew that I was gay and I wanted to get away.”

And away he went. Ramón excelled at Stanford and eventually landed an internship in Washington, D.C. during his last year as an undergraduate. It took moving to another city to fully realize that he was gay. Ramón had denied his attraction to men for his whole life, and even had a girlfriend in college.

“I think I had that naive idea, as many do at the time when dealing with those issues, that I would meet a girl and it would make sense, it would work, it would fit and these other attractions would essentially melt away. And it didn’t,” he said.

Ramón came out to his friends first, and finally his family a few months later. His parents, as traditional Catholics, took it a lot harder than Ramón had anticipated. Fortunately, after a marathon conversation and a weekend apart, Ramón’s family came around. They’re welcoming and supportive now, and treat his partner of five years, Kane, like family.

Fast forward to now: Ramón has since studied law at the University of Texas at Austin, where he found the welcoming community of LGBT law students called OutLaw. He soon became the organization’s president. During his time at UT, Ramon started clerking at Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody and fell in love with the firm, where he has been working ever since he graduated in 2007.

The firm not only accepts that Ramón is gay: they’re proud of it. Ramón’s ties to the Austin LGBT Bar and EQTX are prominently featured on the firm’s website. Not only is he a lawyer, but he has found a way to advocate for LGBT rights in his field and in his professional life.

Serving the LGBT Bar

As president of Austin’s LGBT Bar, Ramón is in charge of a two-pronged effort: educating members of the Bar and the community about LGBT law issues, and providing a common forum for people interested in LGBT legal issues. “Raising the profile of LGBT individuals in the profession,” he explained.

There is always the concern, though, that Austin may happen to be too accepting; that, sometimes, the city doesn’t recognize that there’s a need for LGBT activism.

“We are fortunate in that we are in such an open and accepting city: that can’t be said about other parts of Texas. I feel like we are very fortunate to have that, but with that also comes the idea that maybe there aren’t important issues affecting our community that aren’t being addressed. I feel like part of what we can and are trying to do is identifying those to bring awareness to the rest of the bar, all the other attorneys and to work to say “Hey, there are still legal issues here,’” Ramón explained.

Through the LGBT Bar, Ramón has found a way to engage with a younger audience in the form of outreach. Ramón had a mentor while he was in law school through a Chicano mentoring program, but he had always wished that there was a similar program set up for LGBT law students. This is currently something that the LGBT Bar is working on providing to the younger generation.

The LGBT Bar also worked in conjunction with a handful of other minority Bar associations to create a report card of all of the firms and attorneys in Austin. Participants were asked whether their places of work included sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies, as well as whether they offered same-sex partner benefits. According to Ramón, 70-80% of the respondents cited having supportive policies.

In addition to this report card, the Bar signs on to amicus briefs (written by someone outside a court case to offer unsolicited but helpful information that could help the court come to a decision) where they see fit. The Austin LGBT Bar filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court for the Proposition 8 case. They also hold continuing legal education classes that lawyers may attend to keep in good standing with the Texas Bar. These classes cover anything from employment issues to family law and immigration, with an LGBT focus. The group also holds social events to help LGBT Bar members and members of the greater Austin community get to know each other.

“We’ve begun building momentum, so I’d like to start expanding the scope of what we think we can do, so I’m hoping that we’ll be able to start thinking in bigger events that we can do beyond our standard stuff,” Ramón said.

Helping Equality Texas

The LGBT Bar certainly does have some limitations in regards to how much Ramón is able to accomplish—as if he wasn’t juggling enough as it is!—so that’s where his involvement with EQTX comes into play.

“A couple of years ago, I was on the board of a nonprofit arts group. At a certain point, I just realized that the things I was consistently passionate about were LGBT legal and equality issues, which is no surprise. I had to refocus my energy on those issues,” Ramón explained.

He has always been involved with EQTX, as he worked with them during the 2003 legislative session. Now, as a member of the board of directors, Ramón is able to work with his peers to help make higher-level decisions for the direction of the organization.

“Equality Texas is Chuck [Smith, the executive director] and a staff of only four people right now [including Smith] for the entire state of Texas. If there’s one thing I would love to do, it would be to get the word out about the importance of what they’re doing and to get people to support it, not just with their words, but with their time and with their money,” Ramón said.

Back to basics

All that aside, Ramón is a man of simple pleasures: when he does have two seconds to breathe, he enjoys kicking back and watching TV—his favorite show of all time, not surprisingly, is The West Wing—and spending time with his friends. His boyfriend, Kane, a recent graduate of UT’s pharmacy school, is currently doing a residency at the University of Chicago Medical Center (talk about a smart couple). The two are making it work: Skype and FaceTime are their best friends, and Ramón visits whenever he can. The two are in it for the long haul: their home in, as he calls it, “the gayborhood” is surrounded by other LGBT couples. The two really have it made.

On his successes, Ramón is truly down-to-earth, and his passion for LGBT issues truly shines. “If you couldn’t tell, I love to talk,” he told me as we wrapped up our interview. If you do talk to him about his success, he’ll certainly downplay his role, claiming that he’s very “fortunate,” very “lucky” to be where he is today. This humility is only one of his many admirable traits, and it’s why he is a tremendous behind-the-scenes advocate for LGBT rights in Texas.

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