Local Hero: James W. Gilliam

James W. Gilliam

"I am proud to say that I survived many negative experiences, and proud that I was able to turn those negative experiences into advocacy programs that will help others."

James W. Gilliam is the deputy executive director of the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU/SC), and currently oversees all of the organization's LGBT projects. He has revitalized the ACLU/SC's LGBT efforts, particularly in response to the recent increase in bullying and teen suicides in the LGBT community. Mr. Gilliam is an assiduous advocate of anti-bullying legislation and tolerance education in the Southern California community.

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Mr. Gilliam grew up as the son of a single mother in Tennessee, and as a gay teenager, he experienced psychological and emotional anguish caused by bullying from other students on account of his sexual orientation. Influenced by his mother's perseverance and the realities of poverty, Mr. Gilliam developed a profound respect for the power that social programs and community assistance wield in regard to the fundamental aspects of a person's livelihood and their civic responsibility. He became very interested in the law and in community organization; one of his first achievements in these areas came when he successfully spearheaded the first Gay Pride Parade down the main street of Nashville, which was also the city's largest parade ever.

Mr. Gilliam went on to attend Middle Tennessee State University, where he graduated in 2000 as valedictorian of his class. He then obtained his J.D. from Loyola Law School in 2003, Order of the Coif, and worked for the Hon. Harry Pregerson of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. While working as a litigation associate at the firm of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky and Walker LLP, Mr. Gilliam almost single-handedly created the firm's pro bono practice and ensured that its infrastructure would remain long after he left the practice. In 2007, he became the youngest attorney ever to receive Loyola's Pro Bono Alumni of the Year Award, and the practice he created earned the firm special honors in The American Lawyer's prestigious "A-List Pro Bono Scorecard" in 2010. He is also the co-chair of the Sexual Orientation Bias Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. He teaches public interest law at Loyola Law School.

Last September, a young man from Tehachapi, CA named Seth Walsh committed suicide under the duress of nearly daily bullying due to his sexual orientation. Mr. Gilliam, in his capacity as the ACLU/SC's deputy executive director, reached out to Seth's mother, Wendy Walsh, to work personally on her son's case in close confidence with Mrs. Walsh. His efforts ensure that Seth's memory lives on in the formation of an LGBT students' rights project at the ACLU in Seth's name. He currently leads multiple investigations into numerous other school districts plagued by bullying aimed especially at gay students. He continues to educate schools across the state about California laws regarding anti-gay bullying in the hope of creating safe school environments for all teens, regardless of their sexual orientation.


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