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Gloria Allred gets personal in dazzling speech to feminism-focused law club

The Lawyers Club of San Diego hosted a civil rights icon at its annual dinner as their feminist-minded membership marked one year since the fight for bodily autonomy found new urgency.

SAN DIEGO (CN) — Attorneys dedicated to the cause of advancing the status of women in the law and society made a thunderous statement Thursday night to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that eviscerated federal abortion rights in America.

In their annual dinner, the Lawyers Club of San Diego invited trailblazing civil rights attorney Gloria Allred to deliver the keynote address — an hourlong speech that covered decades of contributions to the ongoing fight for women's equality from the founding partner of Allred, Maroko & Goldberg.

"Have we come a long way," Allred asked the crowd of more than 600 lawyers, judges and civil rights advocates. "Or do we still have a long, long way to go?"

As she joked about business cards laced with a substance that would shrivel up the genitalia of any man who crossed her, the Philadelphia native who turns 82 in just over a week was delicately bawdy in her delivery — fitting for the first female member of the Friar's Club, a distinction she won in 1986 after bringing a discrimination complaint with the California Franchise Tax Board.

Allred took to the stage at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel after a brief introduction by Mikhak Ghorban and Christine Fitzgerald, co-chairs of that evening's 2023 annual dinner event. After quipping that 30 seconds was not enough time to introduce the club's guest of honor, the women instead played the trailer for the 2018 Netflix documentary "Seeing Allred."

Warming up the crowd for the speaker's winking account of historic equality battles that would follow, the trailer spotlights a scene from Allred's cameo in a 2000 episode of the "The Simpsons" where she is blithely identified as "Shrill Feminist Attorney."

Earlier in the reception, as the club founded in 1972 inducted its incoming board of directors, the group swore, not only to always be on time for court, but to "always wear the name of feminism and feminist with pride."

Shannon Finley, the outgoing Lawyers Club president and a shareholder at Pettit Kohn, noted in an interview that the group was founded after a run-in with sex discrimination similar to what Allred endured when the Friar's Club in New York refused to give her a lunch reservation. The club had a policy in those days of refusing to seat women before 4 p.m.

"A lot of folks think of that as ancient history, but it's really not that long ago," Finley said of the era in San Diego when some of the women who would go on to found the Lawyers Club protested the men's only lunch policy at the downtown Grant Grill.

The Lawyers Club of San Diego is dedicated to feminism in its mission, but its name is deliberately broad — what Finley called a "thoughtful choice of name" for a group that wants to encourage male allies.

Speaking about one of her earliest court battles on the front lines of civil rights, Allred recalled representing a lesbian couple who were barred seats in the "romantic section” of a Los Angeles restaurant.

Like Rosa Parks, the couple weren't being told not to ride the bus, just to sit in the back of it. As they stewed over with whether this slight rose to the level of legal redressability, Allred says one asked: "What would Martin Luther King Jr. do?"

The answer: "He would want us to call Gloria Allred."

Allred's unhurried telling of some career highlights conjured up the press conferences where she pushed California Governor Jerry Brown to appoint more women judges in the Golden State as well as her latest civil settlement on behalf of a beauty queen shut out of the Miss Universe competition because of a 70-year-old provision that barred contestants who have given birth, are currently pregnant or even became a parent through adoption.

She plugged her representation of gay couples in the fight for marriage equality, a $58 million sexual harassment verdict against the billionaire Alki David, and the $5 million she won for an actress who was hired to play a "sexy man-stealing seductress" on "Melrose Place" and then fired after she became pregnant.

At least one client of Allred's was in attendance at the dinner Thursday: Irene McCormick Jackson, who brought Allred local prominence in San Diego when she took on the city's then-Mayor Bob Filner for career-long sexual harassment of his staffers.

Allred saved her own story as a survivor for last, taking the audience back to a time in American history before Roe v. Wade secured the reproductive rights for women.

This time last year, days after the Supreme Court reversed Roe with the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Allred wrote for Variety about undergoing a back-alley abortion in California after being raped at gunpoint in Mexico. She noted Thursday how every prediction she made about the aftermath of Dobbs has already come to pass.

As with those warnings about the growing limitations to health care, Allred stressed that the plan of action remains the same: to "remember in November," to support Planned Parenthood and to keep fighting.

"Always remember," Allred wrote in Variety and reiterated on Thursday, "all of the women who died or will die from illegal and unsafe abortions and pledge to do what Mother Jones urged us to do, 'Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!'"

Fitzgerald, the co-chair of Thursday's dinner and an attorney at Robberson Shroedter, noted in an interview the resonance of these historic moments intersecting.

"It was incredibly uplifting and timely for where we are with respect to the rights of women, minorities and the LGBTQ+ community," Fitzgerald said.

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Categories / Civil Rights, History, Law

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