State lawmakers around the country introduced over 525 anti-LGBTQ+ bills during the most recent legislative session, and more than 70 were signed into law, according to the Human Rights Campaign. In the midst of this surge of discriminatory bills, groups such as the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s OutLaw Legal Society are stepping up to provide timely legal support and advocacy for the local LGBTQ+ community.

Established in 2009, the organization is composed of about 50 students, faculty, and staff members at the university’s William H. Bowen School of Law.

Through events known as rainbow clinics, the society works with local community organizations, law firms, and library systems to offer pro bono services to low-income individuals in the state who need assistance with LGBTQ+ legal issues, including name and gender marker changes.

To help support these efforts, the Arkansas Community Foundation recently provided OutLaw with a $15,000 grant that will aid in the development of a tool kit for attorneys that explains how to navigate gender- and name-change legal processes. 

Zach Baumgarten, JD
Zach Baumgarten, JD

“[The tool kit is] mainly about educating folks on what the processes are, where you would go to do the things that you need to, what documents you can and can’t change, things like that,” says Zach Baumgarten, JD, staff adviser for OutLaw and program director of Bowen’s Veterans Pro Bono Services Center. “So really focusing on helping clients know what their rights are.”

The two-year grant will also support a variety of continuing legal education and professional development events focused on LGBTQ+ issues in Arkansas for law students and attorneys. These programs will provide participants with the knowledge and skills they need to represent LGBTQ+ clients effectively and advocate for their rights.

Maddie Arey
Maddie Arey

In addition to local outreach, OutLaw also provides community and connection for LGBTQ+ students and allies on campus. The society hosts several annual networking events, including a volleyball tournament for incoming students and a “Friendsgiving” dinner for students who are unable to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with their families. Maddie Arey, incoming OutLaw president and third-year student in the law school’s part-time program, says these events provide a much-needed space for LGBTQ+ students to feel supported and to connect with others who share their experiences.

Approximately 16 percent of the incoming 2024 class of law students identify as LGBTQ+, the highest percentage the school has ever seen, says Baumgarten. This uptick in representation comes at a time of heightened political challenges, and Arey and Baumgarten emphasize the importance of establishing a robust support network for LGBTQ+ students.

“I think it’s important to have OutLaw, just in the law school space, period,” says Arey. “Especially where we are in these times, it is good to have a space for students who are a part of the [LGBTQ+] community or want to support the community to be able to do so in a very safe and welcoming environment.”

This article was published in our July/August 2023 issue.