McGeorge School of Law

Profile: Jo Michael

Jo Michael
Jo Michael

Class of 2012

Legislative Manager, Equality California
Area of Practice: Capital Lawyering
Undergraduate: University of Southern California (USC)

Jo Michael, '12, got an early start to his advocacy career. In high school, he and a friend co-founded their school's Gay-Straight Alliance.

Michael continued working in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, including as a "No on Proposition 8" field organizer, and eventually becoming a legislative advocate.

After graduating from McGeorge School of Law, Michael joined Equality California's Sacramento office as a legislative fellow. In May 2015, he was promoted to legislative manager. The Los Angeles-based civil rights organization advocates for the LGBT community in California and beyond.

As Equality California's in-house lobbyist, Michael helps shepherd bills through the legislative process. From 2013 through 2015, Michael says he has worked on 19 pieces of legislation from conception to law. He also works with state agencies that are tasked with implementing Equality California's legislation, ensuring they have the necessary support to make laws work the way they were intended.

Last year, Equality California advocated for a bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that will for the first time allow some state agencies to collect demographic data on sexual orientation and gender identity.

This is groundbreaking for the LGBT community, Michael says, especially for those who are transgender. A lack of data means "our community does not count. We are not counted so we do not count. ... Any challenge that people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual face, transgender people often face to an even greater degree."

Creating policy that improves people's lives is rewarding, Michael says. What he finds most challenging is educating people about who LGBT people are, especially transgender people.

"It's particularly challenging in the context of doing legislative work in the Capitol," he says. "That can be a significant hurdle ... to make clear there is no 'gay agenda.' It's about making sure people are not discriminated against and not excluded from the places other people enjoy access to on a regular and daily basis. It's about equality and being able to have justice as opposed to being able to have anything that's special or different."

At McGeorge, Michael earned the Capital Certificate in Public Law & Policy (since renamed the Capital Lawyering Certificate of Concentration) . Much of his work outside the classroom focused on the LGBT community. In addition to being vice president for two years of the Lambda Law Students Association, he was McGeorge's clinic coordinator for the student-run LGBT Referral Clinic, which gives attorney referrals, mostly to low-income LGBT people.

In recognition of his work in the LGBT community, Michael, who came out as transgender at McGeorge, twice earned the school's Jeffrey K. Poilé LGBT Civil Rights Scholarship. The scholarship had a significant impact on his career, he says, inspiring him to keep working on behalf of the LGBT community.

In 2015 the National LGBT Bar Association honored Michael as one of 40 legal professionals under 40 whose work has "demonstrated a profound commitment to LGBT equality."

Making California a place where LGBT people can achieve full equality propels him to continue his work.

"The desire and drive to do that work and to be able to address the biggest issues that are still obstacles is what continues to inspire me," he says.