Fighting for Equality

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This lawyer and nonprofit leader advocates for positive social change and empowers the oppressed.

“For as long as I can remember, even back to high school, I’ve been intellectually and emotionally committed to civil rights,” said Jamie Baskin. “The idea that a group of people can be denied what others take for granted, whether it’s marriage or employment discrimination, is both weird and abhorrent.”

Baskin, who grew up in San Antonio and has practiced securities litigation (on behalf of plaintiffs who were taken advantage of by Enron, for example) for many years, has a very personal connection to LGBT equality. His 23-year-old daughter, Liza, came out to him four years ago on a trip back to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where she recently walked for her Bachelor of Arts degree in Gender Studies.

As Liza recalled it, while she was nervous about coming out to her father and everyone else in her life, it was not based in a fear of rejection. “Two things concerned me—I thought that being a lesbian meant that I had to fulfill the stereotypical image of a lesbian, and I was slightly embarrassed to make a statement that contained the subtext of ‘I am intimate with women,’” said Liza, adding she knew her father would be supportive. “I was in a state of scared euphoria about my rapidly changing existence.”

Baskin’s involvement in the community extends to other areas of his life as well, including his faith. Raised in the Presbyterian church, Baskin and his wife, Liz, decided several years ago to convert to Judaism. The Anti-Defamation League, which was founded in 1913 as an organization “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all,” works in partnership with many LGBT civil rights organizations nowadays. Baskin is the co- chair of the ADL Austin chapter’s Civil Rights Committee. At Congregation Beth Israel here in Austin, the incoming president of Baskin’s congregation is a gay man.

“As an ADL board member, I’ve been witness to Jamie’s dedication to advancing social justice for all, and I’ve admired his intellectual curiosity and giving nature,” said Karen Gross, community director for the ADL in Austin. “He comes from a place of ‘yes’ and follows up with ‘and how can we get there?’ Plus, he’s just a whole lot of fun to be around.”

Indeed, upon meeting Baskin—despite the fact that he worked for three years on the Enron securities fraud case that ultimately led to a $7 billion settlement—the last thing you would think is “lawyer.” His plainspoken nature and tendency to share funny stories puts you at ease. Two years ago, while celebrating his mother’s 85th birthday in San Antonio, he told her that Liza is gay. Her response was, “She’s my granddaughter and I love her.” This past year, he told her that he and his wife had converted to Judaism. “I said, ‘I could’ve come out last year and said, ‘Liza’s gay and we’re Jewish, but I gave you the easy one.’ She got a big laugh out of that!”

A graduate of Austin College in Sherman, Texas, where he currently serves as a trustee, Baskin majored in American Studies before attending UT for law school. Currently “of counsel” to the firm Scott, Douglass & McConnico, LLP, and vice president and general counsel of Patient Conversation Media, Inc., Baskin considered teaching as an alternate profession.

As he contemplates retiring (a few years off), he may get more deeply involved with a specific nonprofit or he might go back to school. As of now, no big family outings (recent trips included Argentina and India) are planned until after the election; his wife, who has also worked in nonprofits for many years, is deeply involved in President Obama’s re-election campaign.

“Growing up, I literally never heard a word of prejudice from either my father or my mother,” said Liza, who hopes to attend New York University to earn her master’s degree in an interdisciplinary program that encompasses gender, politics and society. “I never, ever thought he would have an issue with (my sexual orientation). I actually think that he’s excited that I’m gay instead of being disappointed like some of my friends’ parents.”

Asked why LGBT equality is so important to him, prompting him to be Federal Club Council member of the Human Rights Campaign, he said, “My flip answer? I’d like my daughter to be married sometime. The real answer—it’s a civil rights issue.”

With allies like Baskin, the movement’s civil rights goals will be easily achieved.

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