CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A Plaza Midwood attorney, with a long history of representing LGBTQ+ clients, said she’s always ready to celebrate pride month in June and is not taking progress for granted.
Connie Vetter is a lawyer in her 27th year of practicing. The Plaza Midwood resident has a pride flag flying on her patio, which she said is common for the month of June.
“It’s important to represent because I am able to. I have a supportive family, and I am able to in my work. It’s just, it’s part of my identity, both personally and professionally,” Vetter said.
Vetter explained that her personal experiences and life’s work are intertwined.
Joined by her girlfriend, Rebecca Beasley, Vetter said the two are enjoying life as the pandemic loosens its grip on American life. Beasley, who is bisexual, and Vetter have been dating for a few months.
“You know, little bit of travel, time with friends, catching up, and then just — spending time, she’s got two dogs, so, spend time with the dogs. I mean, we really have a boring life,” Vetter joked.
They are looking forward to Charlotte’s future, especially its sports scene, as Beasley has season tickets to the Charlotte Football Club inaugural season, something Vetter joked she’ll have to get used to attending.
And as they look to Charlotte’s future, Vetter is keeping a careful eye on the various legal fights, debates and decisions affecting the LGBTQ+ community in the city and North Carolina.
“It is something to keep up with, LGBTQ law is not something to dabble in,” Vetter said.
The pride flag does not just fly at Vetter’s home, it is a part of her office signage. The Plaza Midwood office, located on The Plaza, is where she uses her nearly three decades of experience as an attorney specializing in LGBTQ+ law.
“I love what I do, I love my clients, I love getting to help them and educate them and help them protect themselves and their families in the law,” Vetter added.
Her business started in Charlotte 27 years ago. After dabbling in criminal law briefly, she decided to dedicate her adult life to LGBTQ+ law and advocacy.
“I have seen us going from our behavior being criminalized to marriage equality, to recognition this week from the White House,” Vetter reflected, saying there were times the work can be discouraging.
Nevertheless, she persists in her goal of advancing LGBTQ+ causes and legal protections.
“I sit on a committee working on legislation to help the law catch up. Not only just with same-sex couples but with grandparents rearing children, aunts and uncles or other people rearing children who are not legally recognized. So, as soon as we get a legislature that we feel would be amiable to updating the law to 2021 or in the near, distant future then we’ll go ahead and propose that legislation,” Vetter said, referencing issues with legal guardianship of children, especially among same-sex couples.
The latest legal battle is just one of many Vetter has gone up against in her career. As the nation’s thoughts and opinions on the LGBTQ+ community change, Vetter said it has an impact on laws and legal protections.
“I have gone from clients who are in the closet, or they are out of the closet and their family is not supportive, to parents telling their children they need to come to me to do their documents,” Vetter said with a smile.
Helping the transgender community
Now, she said the latest legal challenges are taking place among the transgender community.
“One of the things I’ve seen an uptick of here in the last few years are parents of young children, who are transgender, non-binary, coming in to do name changes for them,” Vetter said as an example of legal issues facing the transgender community.
And, she said it is not always easy.
“Well the current attack is on the transgender community, absolutely, both socially and legally,” Vetter continued.
“We’ll always have things to work on, I mean, we’re working with the city now to get non-discrimination for goodness sake,” Vetter added.
The name change process and sexual marker change process can be time-consuming, costly and confusing. Some states, Vetter said, do not offer sex marker changes to transgender people.
“Some people feel like they always have to have an other. And you know, there’s always been an other. Through the years of this country, there’s always been an other. And, as lesbians and gays have become more acceptable, it seems like the ‘other’ has really become transgender,” Vetter said. “So we, as a community and a society, need to be working together and working on legislation for our transgender community, our transgender siblings.”
To change a sexual marker, clients have to go through the state they were born in, no matter where they live currently. Vetter said she helps her clients understand the home state process and helps as much as she can from here in North Carolina.
To change your legal name, outside of the more common married name change, is also complex and can be daunting, according to Vetter.
Applicants must post a public notice of their intended name change in a courthouse for 10 days, turn in criminal background checks from the state and FBI, turn in two affidavits from character witnesses and pay fees. The process can be done without an attorney, but Vetter said people often use an attorney to help navigate the process.
She’s made it a priority to help, taking pro bono cases and sometimes offering reduced rates.
“I’m from the Midwest. We count our pennies. I try to assess if somebody needs a little help, and I’ll do it for them. You know, I still have to make my living, but I certainly can help in any way that I can,” Vetter said with a smile.
Vetter's career path
After graduating college, Vetter realized she wanted to go to law school to learn the right tools and rules to fight for equality and progress through protests and legal action.
However, it is not the only way she helps her community. In fact, her drive to help other members of the LGBTQ+ is what inspired her move to Charlotte.
As she finished law school in Boston in 1993, she was finishing an internship in Charlotte and realized the opportunity to serve the community as an openly out lawyer. That was something less common in the American South at the time, than it was in Boston, according to Vetter.
“I realized that I could stay in Boston and be one of many out LGBTQ attorneys, or I could come to Charlotte and maybe really be able to make a difference. Because I’m an out lesbian. I’ve been able to be out in my practice my whole career,” Vetter said, emphasizing the positive interactions she’s had with Charlotte residents over the years.
Even her decision to go to law school was driven by determination and a desire to help with the law behind her.
Once moving here, she went to work, using her professional and free time to educate attorneys, clients and the community on frequently changing LGBTQ+ law.
“When I first got here and started my practice, I was on a bar committee. We have to do continuing legal education,” Vetter said.
Vetter said she suggested a CLE on lesbian and gay law. The Bar approved, but wanted to change the name. Vetter said she did not fight them at the time.
“We did it, it was well attended. A few years later they called me and asked me if I would do it again. I told them I would if we called it what it actually was and they were fine with that. And, they do it every few years now,” Vetter said, remembering proudly.
Also, she said the impact of being an openly out lawyer is clear in her case files. Vetter said 70 to 75% of her current clientele identify as LGBTQ+.
“My activism even just includes creating what I hope is a safe space for a parent to come in and say, ‘I need to change my child’s name to match who they are,” Vetter continued.
For her, it’s putting pride into practice, and she has a lifetime of experience.