The struggle for human rights is a story rife with dramatic events, heroic leaders and even common folk caught up in the whirlwind of social change. Think Selma, Stonewall and Woodstock. Think Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King and Matthew Shepard.
But working alongside these events and actors are countless others who transform the symbolism and drama into concrete, everyday reality – the volunteers at the AIDS hospice; the community organizers in the inner city.
And the lawyers. Especially the lawyers. Because in a country based on the rule of law, it takes lawyers to force society to take seriously its founding ideals of equality and freedom for all its members, not just a chosen few. And do it in a permanent, enforceable way.
Jill M. Metz is just such a lawyer. From the very beginning of her law practice in the ‘70s, she has focused on improving the lives of LGBT people through a legal system which, in the beginning at least, worked actively against her and the cause of social justice.
Jill has been a fixture on the Chicago LGBT scene for more than 40 years. Just mention her name at an event in Chicagoland which focuses on these issues and you’ll see heads nodding and hear tales of her legal derring-do on behalf of this community. And yet, for someone so widely known, her personal story often goes untold because she likes it that way. But, understandably, people want to know the story of someone who has made such an impact on the lives of thousands in this area.
The daughter of a civil engineer dad and a stay-at-home mom (who later returned to work as part of the burgeoning women’s movement), Jill grew up in Detroit with her two sisters and brother. Her Dad planted the seed of her activism at an early age by repeating over and over she could do anything she wanted in this world if she worked hard enough. More broadly, he instilled the idea that women can do anything they want, just like the guys. Or at least should be able to do anything they want.
It would take a gifted high school teacher and Jill’s own sense of curiosity to lead her to the conclusion that her father’s dream would need the law to back it up – not just for women but for all people, especially those of non-mainstream sexual orientation, such as herself.
While still at law school, she worked at several area firms where she immersed herself in the trenches of real, live courtroom law. It was there she saw firsthand the discrimination which LGBT individuals faced when they found themselves caught up in the legal world. She saw the scared men who were arrested for lewd behavior at the Forest Preserves because they were shamed by society into secrecy. She saw the mothers who lost custody and visitation rights if they dared admit they were gay in a divorce proceeding. She saw the agony of partners denied the right to consult with their loved one’s doctors at the hospital or give any input into their loved one’s care just because they were a homosexual couple.
When it came time to open her own practice, there was no question what area of the law she would focus on. And while she is hardly the only LGBT lawyer in the country, she is one of only a handful who have been fighting so long for LGBT rights.
In the beginning, she had to be crafty in using the tools of the law, which favored heterosexuals, for the service of the LGBT community. After all, this was a time when it was a crime just to express homosexual love for one another in a physical way, and when the idea of possessing the full rights and benefits of marriage seemed impossible even to imagine. She got around much of that through devising durable powers of attorney, taking cases to Chancery Court, and continually thinking outside the legal box.
While she has notched many notable courtroom victories, a few stand out as mileposts on the road to equality. Early in Jill’s career, she had as case in which a lesbian lost custody of her child to the child’s elderly father during a divorce. The mother was denied visitation if there was just one other female in her house. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois, Jill won her argument that such a restriction was too onerous to be enforced. This was the start of a career-long relationship as a cooperating attorney with the ACLU.
Another case involved a gay man who conceived a child with a straight woman, who then changed her mind about co-parenting the child and fled with the baby. With Jill’s assistance, the court required the mother to put the father’s name on the birth certificate, set up visitation, and share legal custody. This was a significant legal victory at the time.
There would be others. But, with time, Jill realized that merely working within the existing law would not be enough. The law itself would have to be changed. That’s why in 1999 she became more involved with the work of the ACLU of Illinois, joining its Board of Directors. Jill currently serves as the President of that Board, a position she has held since 2006.
Jill worked tirelessly for the passage of the Illinois Civil Union Act that became effective in 2011 and the Illinois Marriage Fairness Act that was signed into law in 2013. Since passage of the IL Civil Union Act, she has become a sought-after speaker on subjects pertaining to that Act and the IL Marriage Fairness Act, such as estate planning, probate, adoption, and domestic relations law, including same sex marriage, custody and financial matters. Organizations which sought out her comments included Morningstar.com, the Illinois Governor’s Office of the General Counsel, and the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, in its series “Money Matter”.
Today, Jill lives quietly with her partner of 23 years in the Lakeview neighborhood, where she likes to garden and live as normal a life as she can, given her workload. And while in a post- Obergefell vs. Hodges world it may seem as though the war has been won, Jill knows differently: that the epic battle for human rights continues, and it will take lawyers such as herself to win it.
- Illinois, 1978
- U.S. Supreme Court, 2013
- Loyola University Chicago School of Law, Chicago, Illinois
- J.D. – 1978
Honors and Awards
- Business Leadership Award by the Lesbian and Gay Chamber of Commerce, 1998
- Andersonville Matthiasson Award by the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, 2006
- Inductee to the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame, 2006
- Legal Legend: From Stonewall to Lawrence by the Alliance of Illinois Judges, 2013
- Edward J. Lewis II Pro Bono Service Award by the Chicago Bar Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Chicago Bar Association, 2014
Professional Associations and Memberships
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois, President of Board of Directors
- Lesbian and Gay Rights Project of the ACLU, Former Chair
- Chicago Special Service Area #26, Commissioner
- Chicago Bar Association, Member
- CBA Lesbian and Gay Rights Committee, Former Legislative Liaison
- Illinois State Bar Association, Member
- Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, Former President
- Stonewall Democrats, Former Treasurer
- March 20, 2015, sponsored by The Chicago Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section’s Executive Council, presented on the Illinois Marriage Fairness Act and probate law at the event Changes in the LGBT Community: Live, Life & Love.
- July 15, 2014, Jill M. Metz was awarded the Edward J. Lewis II Pro Bono Service Award by the Chicago Bar Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Chicago Bar Association.
- June 17, 2014 at 6:15 pm, sponsored by The Center On Halsted, Jill Metz delivered the keynote address at the State of the LGBTQ Union program. To see photos and videos of this presentation, visit Windy City Times, or go to www.youtube.com/watch.
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