The personal is political for Turman

  • by Katie Dettman
  • Tuesday June 24, 2008
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Attorney Julius Turman is active in Democratic politics<br>and serves on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. Photo: Jane Philomen<br>Cleland
Attorney Julius Turman is active in Democratic politics
and serves on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. Photo: Jane Philomen

For one grand marshal, helping lead the parade Sunday is worlds away from where he began his life. Julius Turman was born in Montgomery, Alabama and grew up in Lansing, Michigan. He moved to San Francisco in January 1998.

"I moved to San Francisco because I wanted to get away from snow, I wanted to be able to live a more open and accepting lifestyle, and I always wanted to live in California," he said.

Turman, 42, has been practicing law since 1992, and currently practices labor and employment law at the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. In the past, he has worked as a federal prosecutor and was the lead attorney for the complainants in the racial discrimination case against Badlands bar in the Castro.

In that case, which broke wide open in June 2004, several people filed discrimination complaints against Badlands owner Les Natali. Natali denied the charges. After a 10-month investigation, a report by staff at the San Francisco Human Rights Commission found that the bar was discriminating against African Americans. But the findings were never official because then-Human Rights Commission Executive Director Virginia Harmon never officially signed off on the staff report.

Subsequently, a mediated settlement was reached between the complainants and Natali. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Earlier this year, Mayor Gavin Newsom appointed Turman to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission and last month, the San Francisco Pride Board named Turman a community grand marshal for this year's parade.

"My work in the community focuses around inclusion," said Turman. He served as the first African American president of Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom, which is the oldest and largest regional LGBT bar association in America. He was also the first African American to be co-chair of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. He is currently co-chair of the club with Susan B. Christian, who is also African American.

Turman is on the board of the Bar Association of San Francisco and, as part of his role with the bar association, co-chaired the Equality Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues, which released a groundbreaking report last year on creating ways to make LGBT attorneys feel more acceptance in law firms and legal departments.

Turman's work in the LGBT, African American, and legal communities focuses on combating discrimination and promoting equality.

"I think that there are stereotypes that exist among both African Americans and about LGBT persons," he said.

"People expect that I am to exhibit certain types of behavior, certain types of attitudes and when we rely on stereotypes, we rob people of their individuality, we rob people of their own unique voice, and we rob the greater community of their ability to express the interest that individual groups have," he said. Turman said that he has experienced discrimination because of both his race and his sexual orientation.

"As an African American, I think that people have an automatic belief or challenge to me on the grounds of competence. So I have to work that much harder to prove that I have something to contribute. It's not always fair but it certainly is tiring."

"As a gay man, I think that especially in times like this, when LGBT persons are experiencing a time when we should be much more integrated into policy and community and culture in San Francisco, we're under attack by people who would deny us the same rights as others: marriage, and a political voice, and an inclusive ENDA, and all the things that others expect to have but we have to fight even harder for. We're criticized for fighting for what we want."

Turman was referring to last year's decision by the Human Rights Campaign to drop gender identity protections from its signature piece of legislation, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. That move resulted in more than 300 local, state, and national LGBT organizations forming the United ENDA coalition to push for an inclusive version of the job protection bill.

Turman works on several fronts; as the Alice Club co-chair, he works to support those candidates the club is working to elect. He has endorsed Democratic candidate Barack Obama for president, and encourages others to vote for him in November.

"I have been an active member [of the Alice Club], raising my voice, asking the people whom I help elect to office to be accountable to me and to my community and asking them to do what's right," he said. When asked if he has plans to run for elected office, he replied: "I don't have any plans to run for public office, but I have great plans to always ask questions of people who want to represent us. I have great plans to contribute to people who represent us as much as possible."

Turman is very excited about Pride. He said that he is "quite honored" to serve as a grand marshal. "I hope that at least for one day, it brings focus to me as a black gay man to tell other black gay men, 'we are part of this community. What we do and what we think matters and it's something to be proud of.'"

"I see Pride as an opportunity for me to say to all those people who have helped me along the way and all the people who have recognized me in this way, 'thank you very much,'" he said. "I don't do what I do for recognition or for prizes, but because I care and I want to thank people for caring right back."

The Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition will host a reception for Turman Friday, June 27 from 6 to 8 p.m. at CAV Wine Bar and Kitchen, 1666 Market Street.