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Trina Grillo Retreat Inspires Change

April 04, 2011

The 13th Annual Trina Grillo Public Interest and Social Justice Law Retreat “Human Rights at Home and Abroad” gathered law students and activists at the University of San Francisco School of Law on March 25 and 26.

Law students and activists gathered at the opening reception of the 13th Annual Trina Grillo Public Interest and Social Justice Law Retreat.

The retreat, co-sponsored by the Society of American Law Teachers and a consortium of West Coast law schools, honors the memory of former USF law professor Trina Grillo.

“I am honored to have the task of setting the stage for today’s retreat and I would like to do so by answering the question: who was Trina Grillo and what does she mean to us today?” Dean Jeffrey Brand said. “The answer to that question inspires us to understand the responsibilities that come with our privileged positions as educated professionals and to use the tools of our profession to make a difference in the world…. My sense is that today we gather not to lionize Trina, but to use her example as a way to look within ourselves to gather the strength to maintain our focus on the difficult struggles in which we engage.”

The retreat featured panels on the use of international human rights law in the United States, the battle for immigration reform, the consequences of American war crimes, the impact of the economic downturn on the working classes, and the fight for indigenous rights.

Retired Navy Commander Beth Coye, who graduated first in her class from American University’s School of International Service and was one of the first women commanding officers of a shore command, delivered the keynote address. Early in her career, Coye was instrumental in creating military opportunities for women. A lesbian, she took early retirement in 1980 after a difficult period as commanding officer during which she was required to discharge eight gay men and women from military service.

Retired Navy Commander Beth Coye

“It was an agonizing decision. My deepest roots from birth were my family and the United States Navy, but after 21 years of having to hide my sexual orientation I felt I had little choice,” Coye said. “In order to maintain my integrity and sanity, I needed to say goodbye to a professional relationship with the United States Navy. Unlike my work for military women, I could not be my true self and speak up and out for the rights of military gays and lesbians.”

Since retirement, Coye has played an important role in the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy, which was struck down in 2010 but still remains in effect until the Pentagon certifies to Congress that the military has met certain conditions. Coye is military advisory council to Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a nonprofit committed to the elimination of DADT. She also edited We Are Family Too, a collection of 37 letters and biographies of military service members affected by DADT. The book was presented to a Pentagon committee charged with studying the outcome of DADT repeal and to members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

“Those are 37 powerful letters,” Coye said. “I was particularly hit by the West Point women grads because I think I helped women get to the academies. To read those stories of West Pointers—who not only were women and got through West Point but then they had to leave because of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’—very powerful.”

The retreat was organized by Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Erin Dolly with assistance from Program Assistant Jillian Fish and other law school staff and faculty.