(This post is part of a series highlighting the finalists for Dallas LGBT+ Bar Association’s 2020 Justice Award. The award recipient will be announced in late January 2021.)
Charles Gearing was president of Dallas Association of Young Lawyers (DAYL) in 2019 and Robert Tobey was president of the Dallas Bar Association (DBA) in 2020. The DAYL in 2019 and the DBA in 2020 formalized “Sister Bar” relations with the Dallas LGBT+ Bar Association. Tobey and Gearing were jointly nominated for the Justice Award as leaders and LGBT allies who worked to bring the LGBT bar association into the broader legal community. We profile and interview both of them here.
Charles Gearing is an attorney in Dallas who has been practicing law for eleven years. He and his wife Rachel, who is a healthcare attorney, live in Dallas with their two rescue dogs. They started their family four years ago when they got married. They’re both committed to community service, and they met volunteering at a homeless veterans clothing drive for the DAYL. To ensure that their lives reflect their values, Charles ran on the issue of inclusivity beyond paper for his board positions with the DAYL.
As part of his commitment to inclusion, Charles tried everything in his power to make all feel welcome. This culminated in fall 2019, when the DAYL—with Charles as President—voted nearly unanimously to amend their by-laws to give a voting seat to a representative of the Dallas LGBT Bar Association, cementing DAYL’s role in history as the first organization to give a voting seat to the LGBT group. Both organizations were grateful to see the Dallas Bar Association follow suit when it awarded a non-voting seat to the Dallas LGBT Bar in 2020. In making the decision to extend a voting seat to the Dallas LGBT Bar Association, DAYL had hoped that it would set a precedent and lay the foundation for other bar associations. It is probably what Charles is most proud of in his ten years of service.
Robert Tobey is the 111th President of the Dallas Bar Association. His term focused especially on the issues of Diversity and Inclusion and ensuring that historically underserved people have a greater access to justice. A giant in the legal profession, he is Board Certified in Consumer and Commercial Law yet still finds the time to be active in many aspects of the socio-legal community. In addition to serving as the President of the DBA, he also served as the Co-Chair of the Equal Access to Justice Campaign (2014-15), and as Chair of the Trials Skills Section (2015). To give back to attorneys in his field, he also speaks publicly on the issues of ethics, ranging from avoiding the pitfalls of malpractice and navigating current digital trends with social media. Because he is a demonstrated leader, we are proud to announce his nomination as a finalist.
Below are Tobey and Gearing’s responses to an interview conducted by association leaders.
What is liberation and what inspires your work?
Gearing: To answer the first part, liberation is the right to self-determine your own destiny. It is the right to not have something immutable hold you back. To not be limited because you’re a woman, POC, sexual minority, etc. No matter who you are, you should have a chance to determine your destiny. An inspiration to my work is the fact that I do not like bullies, seeing bullies pick on people and seeing people afraid and under attack. Beyond that my wife and I both feel a deep sense of duty to the world; we view ourselves as exceptionally privileged to be lawyers with good paying jobs and opportunities and thus we owe it to their communities to try to help remove barriers. It’s not lost on us that we benefit from whiteness. We don’t want the lack of white privilege to negatively affect other people’s lives. We have a heart for the homeless, which is what I worked with for the DAYL in the aid for homeless committee. We do projects (charity) and legal work helping homeless people clear their records so they can have more access to resources. My wife and I are very committed to pro-bono work, and we try to get other lawyers involved and committed to using legal skills to help. To that end, I helped fund a program called the Pro Bono Partners Program. The goal of the program is to connect young lawyers with non-profits in town: Human Rights Initiative, Catholic Charities, DVAP to ensure that young attorneys do more pro-bono work.
Tobey: To me, liberation means having a seat at the table and having a voice in the decisions that are made and the actions that are taken. When I became President of the Dallas Bar Association on January 1, 2020, one of my main goals was to ensure that DLGBTBA got a Board seat with the DBA in 2020. Our Board fulfilled that goal in October and the DBA membership approved it in November. Charlie Gearing as DAYL President in 2019 led the way in this regard by getting DLGBTBA a DAYL Board seat. Over time, I anticipate that the DBA and DLGBTBA will become strong partners in the ongoing fight for equality and fairness. We have a long way to go, but we are making progress and we won’t stop!
Describe a perfect world.
Tobey: A perfect world is where everyone has an equal chance in life starting at birth. Unfortunately, people now have tremendous obstacles to success based solely on their race, religion, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status. To me, racism and prejudice are the biggest problems our country faces today. We all need to work together to help bridge these divides and make the reality of this country much closer to its ideal that everyone is created equally.
Gearing: The answer is partially inclusive of what was said. A perfect world starts from a place where nobody is limited because of who they are. On top of that, a world that is free from abject pain and suffering. A world free of poverty, homelessness, illiteracy. We have a great interest to making sure that nobody is sitting in those circumstances for too long. In a perfect world, people would have access to shelter, opportunity, and all their needs would be met.
What legal barriers obstruct your vision?
Gearing: That’s one of the questions I was mulling on. Under American discrimination law, LGBT persons are not a protected class in terms of employment discrimination, inheritance rights, access to visitation. These disparities need to be corrected so that LGBT persons are legally protected. We don’t have things yet like universal healthcare, public and affordable housing access to everybody, and this causes a lot of homelessness. The world is getting better everyday and we’re getting closer.
Tobey: The legal system does not take a linear path. There are ebbs and flows in the law as cases are presented to different judges and appellate courts in different times and political climates, so the biggest barrier is patience. Over time though, the trend is in favor of progress.
Where do you see your organization in 5 years?
Tobey: The DBA is a very diverse body. I have been practicing law since 1980, and the profession looked very different then than it does now. The trend towards even greater diversity will continue. Firms are working hard at building diversity, and I believe these efforts will pay off to a greater degree in the next few years. It has been a slow process, but in a weird way, I believe the pandemic will accelerate the trend.
The DBA has and always will provide lawyers with great CLE at the lowest price, help them build referral networks, and help its members become leaders in the profession and the community at large. In 2020, we pivoted from being a physical bar association to a virtual one in a matter of days. I know the DBA will be able to handle any challenge that it will face in 2021 and beyond.
Gearing: I’ll tell you where I hope DAYL is. I hope it is even more inclusive and open than where it is now. We’ve made a lot of progress in the 5 to 10 years that I was involved. There is always more work to be done to make diverse young lawyers feel more included than where we are. Beyond that, DAYL is going to grow into a greater resource for young lawyers in town. DAYL has done a fantastic job for offering lawyers community opportunities and volunteering opportunities, and it’s heading towards giving young lawyers more engagement for community service. Lawyers have certain skills and access that others do not, and so uniquely lawyers can engage the legal system and advocate for better conditions in a way that charity by itself may not. For example lawyers can contest eviction or contest custody hearings that are unjust, and while other forms of volunteerism are important, lawyers have a unique access in helping people with our law degrees because only attorneys can do that. DAYL is one of the premier orgs in the nation. They regularly win awards for the work that they do, and they’ll continue to be the gold standard for junior bar associations nationally.
How can people contribute?
Gearing: Over the past ten years young lawyers ask this question in one way or the other, both as a lawyer and as a person. The most urgent thing for DAYL to do is contribute to legal justice organizations as often as we can with our time, money, votes—or whatever we have—to ensure accessibility of legal representation for anybody that needs it. There are all sorts of groups out there such as the Equal Justice Initiative by Bryan Stevenson and Human Rights initiative that one can contribute to. On top of that everybody needs to make a conscientious effort to be better to one another, to fight in every big and small way, to spread compassion and kindness, expand opportunity, get closer to a more perfect union in every little way. It is a choice that we can make every single day, to be more concerned with our neighbors, to be more magnanimous.
Especially in Texas, where sometimes freedom is taken to mean to be free to NOT be concerned, I’m hoping that we take the freedom to mean that we are more concerned about others and our neighbors. My wife and I have a vision of ourselves to be more engaged and to give right until they take our last breath. There are lots of volunteerism opportunities to engage in to work to make the world better. There are small incremental activities but they add up. If you do them in succession for a while they add up and become more worthwhile.
Tobey: Simple—get involved! The days of sitting around and waiting for someone else to make things happen are over. Nothing will get done without the efforts of everyone. At the DBA, we have 30 Sections and 29 Committees. There literally is something for everyone, so please jump in and make a difference to the profession and the community at large!