MoFo Proud: John Smith

MoFo is proud of our LGBTQ+ lawyers and the contributions that they make to the firm and our communities every month of the year, but Pride Month is an especially exciting time for the firm as we come together to celebrate LGBTQ+ history, culture, and politics. During this month-long Q&A series, we’ll hear from a number of MoFo lawyers about what Pride Month means to them.

John Smith is co-head of Morrison & Foerster’s National Security practice, and a member of the Global Risk + Crisis Management Group and Investigations + White Collar Defense Group. Prior to joining the firm in July 2018, John served as Director of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), where he played a central role in developing, implementing, and enforcing U.S. government sanctions requirements. His inherent knowledge of economic sanctions, enforcement, and national security brings unmatched value to his clients and to the firm. He recently spoke to us about his experience as a diverse lawyer and what Pride Month means to him.

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What does Pride Month mean to you? How will you celebrate this year?

For me, Pride Month is both a solemn and joyous occasion. On one hand, it is a time to honor the strides that we in the LGBTQ+ community have made over the years and to recognize the very long road we still have ahead. On the other hand, it is a time to celebrate the freedoms that we have gained in recent decades. I often recall the introverted, ashamed, and terrified Southern Baptist Midwestern boy that I was — a boy who could not even conceive of an “out” lifestyle — and marvel at the profound societal changes that have occurred in my lifetime. I will celebrate this year privately with my partner and our friends and publicly by taking part in a MoFo co-sponsored seminar in Tokyo, where I will discuss my experience as an LGBTQ+ official heading OFAC, the U.S. government’s economy sanctions agency.

If you could have dinner with any pioneer of LGBTQ+ rights, who would it be and why?

I’d dine with Frank Kameny who, like me, was a gay man who wanted to serve in the U.S. government. Following his military service in World War II, Kameny began a U.S. government civil service job in Washington, D.C. in the 1950s, but he was fired from that position simply because he was gay and, unlike most closeted men of his generation, he sued, taking the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although he lost, he and a friend later went on to form the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., with the mission of advancing protections for LGBTQ+ persons in the U.S. government, so that only a few decades later people like me could have a long and rewarding career serving the United States.

What words of wisdom do you have for the next generation of aspiring LGBTQ+ lawyers?

My advice would simply be, “Be out and proud.” Throughout my career with the U.S. government, the United Nations, and now MoFo, I have been inspired by LGBTQ+ role models who have blazed so many pathways before me; pathways that I aim to continue treading. Younger lawyers and professionals frequently seek my career advice and guidance, likely due to a perceived lack of LGBTQ+ leaders in management and other roles in many organizations. I’ve found that by being open about who you are and speaking your mind about potential opportunities and obstacles can not only make you a better leader, but a valuable resource for the next generation of LGBTQ+ lawyers.

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Learn more about MoFo’s ongoing commitment to championing LGBTQ+ equality in the legal field and beyond.