Blake Johnson, JD 2012
I believe that the best way to impart a sense of LGBT equality and rights is to be open and living your regular life in the presence of people who are making big, sweeping decisions for our country.”
BS in Health Administration and Policy, Spanish Minor, Creighton University
Career Before Law School:
The Nature Conservancy, Human Rights Campaign, Political Consultant/Campaign Worker
"I realized I was gay. By second grade, I knew the word for it." Raised in a close-knit conservative Catholic family in Texas, Blake Johnson says, "It was tough growing up, because you definitely had a sense being gay didn't fit in." It wasn't until he was 20, on a study semester abroad in Ireland, that he told close friends and family his secret. His friends were supportive, but his family had serious concerns.
Things change. Today, Blake is national student cochair of the LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transsexual) Bar Association, an affiliate of the American Bar Association. In between doing his coursework at Vermont Law School, he is phone-conferencing across the country with other members to change the political and legal climate through education and advocacy. As cochair of the VLS Alliance, he organized a well-attended candlelit vigil to demonstrate support for gay teens facing harassment. Its theme, "It gets better," has played out in his own life: his mother now raises funds for LGBT advocacy groups and his father counsels other LGBT parents.
Ten years down the road, Blake would like to be working in a civil rights division or heading a nonprofit that works for LGBT, immigrant, and voter rights and environmental justice -a change from a decade ago when he entered Creighton University, a Jesuit college in Omaha, with the goal of becoming a doctor or a priest. After his junior year in Ireland, he returned to Creighton, dropped out of his fraternity in the face of hostility, and overcame administrative hurdles to get the campus's first Gay Straight Alliance started.
After graduation, he worked a year for The Nature Conservancy in Omaha before being trained by the Human Rights Campaign to work in political campaigns. He was assigned a Democratic congressional candidate in a swing Denver suburb. "We lost horribly, but after it was done, I knew clearly I wanted to be in politics," he says. "As a regular guy, having access to policy-makers is important, especially when you're just a regular guy who is gay. I believe that the best way to impart a sense of LGBT equality and rights is to be open and living your regular life in the presence of people who are making big, sweeping decisions for our country." He adds with a chuckle, "Of course, it helps to work tirelessly to get good politicians into office."
In the following years, working largely in fund raising, he did just that: he helped raise $4.2 million for Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and over $3 million for Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, and also consulted on fundraising for legislative candidates in Colorado, the state he now calls home. "I will disagree when people say all politicians are corrupt or out for themselves," he says. "They are some of the most incredible people I've had a chance to meet in my life. By demonstrating commitment, discipline, and integrity, they've had a profound impact on the way I live my life."
The fact that many of his fellow politicos were attorneys persuaded Blake to pursue a career in law; VLS was an easy choice for him for its environmental and civil rights programs and community feeling. "Students are supportive of one another here in a way that I would challenge any other law school to even come close to-and they're committed to their ideals in a way that makes working and studying a lot easier," he says.
That support swung into place during the 2010 National LGBT Bar Association conference in Miami, which seven VLS students attended-one of the largest delegations. When Blake decided to run for the national student cochair against two opponents, VLS students worked the floor to buttonhole votes. "I'm not sure it was all that tough an election, but we did campaign and the victory was earned," he says. "I just felt someone from VLS needed to run because VLS cares so much about LGBT and civil rights issues."