After storming the streets of New York City as an AIDS and gay activist, Pam Shime ('95) entered U of T law school to find a decidedly meek environment. As the only out lesbian in her year, she joined Out in Law, a gay and lesbian student organization. There were only about 10 members.

Pam Shime '95
Pam Shime

Still, she says they made an incredible impact, just by being visible. "Out students teach the whole law school because they humanize difference. In coming out, they're role models because it requires integrity, honesty and, unfortunately, still courage. But these are all important qualities for a lawyer."

Shime, who now teaches courses on sexuality and law at U of T and is the faculty advisor for Out in Law, says that even a decade later and with numerous gay lawyers as role models, law students are still reluctant to come out professionally. "They often assume big firms are homophobic."

She believes that law firms are actually more accepting than students think, but that they too often hide behind the prejudices of clients, or the assumption that clients are homophobic, racist or sexist. "They're very often wrong," says Shime. "Also, if a firm stands up and tells a client, 'this is the lawyer who can help you,' clients would rarely refuse that help."

As a National Director of Pro Bono Students Canada, she encourages law students to play a more activist role and come forward with strategies on how to make the profession more accessible - not just to gays and lesbians but for visible minorities and the disabled.

"No one's going to invite you to the table," says Shime. "You just have to step forward with ideas. But I believe there's a lot of good intention at the law school around these issues and goodwill at firms, but people often don't know how to address issues or change the way they work."