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

She believes that law firms were actually more accepting than students think, but that they too often hid behind the prejudices of clients, or the assumption that clients are homophobic, racist or sexist. "They were very often wrong," said 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."

When she became National Director of Pro Bono Students Canada, she encouraged 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," said 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."