Just a few years ago, it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for people to show up at Fauver Law Office in Louisville, Kentucky and admit that they had driven across the entire state just to meet with and hire Shannon Fauver, an attorney who has been practicing law for 13 years. They drove so far, they would explain, because they were turned away by other attorneys, who refused to represent them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Every time, Shannon would apologize on behalf of the other attorneys, and inside, her heart would break a bit. No one should struggle to find adequate legal representation because of anti-LGBTQ beliefs, she thought. “I liked to let folks know that we treat everyone the same in my office, no matter what.”
In Kentucky, state law doesn’t explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, so there’s little to block the type of discrimination that some of Shannon’s clients have experienced from other attorneys. But 18 other states do have explicit, LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination laws – and right now they are in danger because of a U.S. Supreme Court case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a baker is seeking a religious exemption from the state’s public accommodations non-discrimination policy. An adverse ruling in the case could significantly damage the protections LGBTQ people do have in many states while also preempting the fairness policies states like Kentucky are working toward.
The discussion around the case reminds Shannon of a story that catapulted her state into the public eye two years ago, when Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis claimed that her religion justified her choice to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite the Supreme Court ruling weeks earlier in favor of the freedom to marry.
“If the Court rules that the baker in Masterpiece has a right to discriminate based on religion, then anyone can use their religion as a basis to discriminate against anyone,” Shannon said. “Religion is never an excuse for discrimination.”
Seeing the Kim Davis kerfuffle in her own state came almost as a personal affront to Shannon. After all, her case was one of the cases considered by the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell, and her work paved the way for the historic decision.
“The first couple of times I saw same-sex couples getting married, it made me cry, because I knew that they couldn’t legally do that before our case,” Shannon said. “I became a lawyer to help people, but I didn’t know something that I would do would ever impact so many people.”
“The first couple of times I saw same-sex couples getting married, it made me cry, because I knew that they couldn’t legally do that before our case. I became a lawyer to help people, but I didn’t know something that I would do would ever impact so many people.” – Shannon Fauver
Now that the movement for marriage has declared final victory, Shannon is still heavily involved in cases concerning LGBTQ equality. Several of her clients are LGBTQ people who have experienced employment discrimination. She also represents clients with wildly different backgrounds, including different ideological beliefs. Whether someone is conservative, liberal, or apolitical altogether, Shannon knows that when she provides a service to someone – serving as their attorney – she is not endorsing their beliefs or their identity in any way.
“I do the best to represent anyone who wants to hire me,” Shannon said. “I represent people no matter their political bent, and even if I don’t agree with their political views. If you pay me, I do my job. That’s how business works.”
“It’s just bad business to discriminate,” she said. “If you discriminate against people, you risk losing your business. And just morally, you should treat people the same, no matter who they are.”
Shannon comes from a family full of attorneys, and she knows that she has an opportunity to create change and correct injustice wherever she sees it. Speaking out against the Masterpiece Cakeshop case is one way that she’s doing that. At her core, she wants to do the right thing, and she wants to help build a world where no one faces discrimination because of who they are.
She summed up her feelings quickly, with the logic and insight of a lawyer who has heard a diverse array of people’s stories. She said, “It’s hard for me as a cisgender, straight white person to watch people get discriminated against and not do anything about it.”