Zekiah Wright is a trailblazing attorney representing LGBTQ workers who have faced unfair discrimination by their employers. They are also the co-chair of West Hollywood’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board. Wright chatted with WEHOville about their coming-out story, what brought them to California and their personal feelings about some of the biggest issues facing the LGBTQ community in WeHo.
Tell us the Zekiah story — where did it all start?
I grew up in Winter Haven, which is a small city between Tampa and Orlando (Florida). And then I went to undergrad at Stetson. And then I went to law school at Florida A&M which is in Orlando and so I spent quite a few years in Orlando working and going to law school. I moved out to California in 2017 and started my own law practice. The motivation behind it was that the prior firm that I worked at, they sort of gave me all of like LGBTQ employees that we were representing and I think the employees were always super appreciative of that. They felt like we could connect on a different level, and I just thought why don’t I start a firm that has that as its goal: to represent LGBTQ-identified employees. And that’s sort of how I ended up here.
What was your experience growing up in Florida?
I knew by the time I got to law school I was sure that I wanted to leave, I just hadn’t identified where. I mean it’s the south, right? So all of the sort of typical things that are associated with the South were pretty prevalent there.
When did you come out?
I came out when I was in middle school, so I want to say maybe 12, 13, 14, somewhere around that time.
And you’re now…?
I am 35.
What was it like coming out in middle school in Florida and in the South back then?
I don’t even think I had the language of coming out. My mom found out, and I was like yeah that’s kind of what I like — I like girls, you know? It was tough. My family is Southern Baptist and so I think for quite a few years it was sort of “just don’t talk about it,” right? That was sort of my family’s approach. And then as I hit my 20s and I was seriously dating someone, I would bring her to different holiday functions and it just sort of became known and people became comfortable around it, and now my mom loves my current girlfriend. She is becoming more versed in language and we have conversations about it and so it’s quite different now. But I think initially it was just sort of like ‘just pray about it and you’ll be cured.’
Do you mind sharing how she found out you were gay?
My older brother overheard a conversation between me and my girlfriend at that time, just talking about our relationship and our interaction, and I didn’t know he was listening. so when I opened the door I was like, ‘Hey what are you doing there?’ and his face was fuming, and he was like, ‘I’m telling mom’ and that’s what she found out.
How did you and your girlfriend at the time meet?
She was my best friend at the time. I was doing a school project at a classmate’s house and she just randomly kissed me and I was just like ‘OK,’ and to her I think she was just sort of joking around, and for me it just meant something bigger. So I remember like being so confused the rest of the time we were there and then calling my best friend. I was like ‘so-and-so kissed me’ and I really liked it and she was just like ‘Oh!’ and that sort of opened up where she was like ‘Well I’m curious too.’ And then that was sort of my first girlfriend who had originally been my best friend at the time.
What made you want to go into law?
I think my earliest memory was watching a politician on TV and him saying that he was a lawyer and talking about whatever topic at the time. I’m pretty sure I was like 7 or 8 and I remember for some school project we had to write what we wanted to be. I wrote I wanted to be a lawyer and I was like 8 or 9 at the time. In my mind I just associated being able to do good with being an attorney, and I was like ‘I want to do that.’
Did you anticipate working on behalf of LGBTQ causes?
Not until I was working at the firm in D.C. did that sort of become what I wanted to focus on. I think after law school I was like ‘I don’t know what I want to do.’ I considered all these different areas and was like ‘No, I don’t like any of these.’ And the firm that I started working for, they happened to do plaintiff-side employment law and they also did some other areas that I really enjoyed doing. And then that’s where it sort of came together in my mind. And at my law school, there wasn’t an LGBTQ bar association, which is crazy because there were so many bar associations for every other interest. There was like animal rights, black students, constitutional law, but there wasn’t an LGBTQ one. So me and a few other law students actually started the first LGBTQ bar association at my law school and I was the founding president of it. I think that maybe planted a seed but I wasn’t quite sure I guess what I wanted to do or how I wanted to bring my personal interests and experiences into what I was doing professionally.
How did how did California come into play?
I wanted to graduate early from law school and so I found this program at Pepperdine where you could just go for the winter months and get some extra credit so you could graduate sooner. And so I came to Pepperdine and I absolutely fell in love with it. The moment I stepped off the plane, my fiancee at the time was with me, and we went to rent a car and we were preparing ourselves to explain that we both wanted to be on the car rental, we were partners, we were female — like that whole thing. And we go in and we told the guy, and he was like ‘OK cool’ and there were no other questions about it. If this was Florida like we’d still be standing there trying to explain to him how we were partners, and so that was like my first experience. Then we walked around Santa Monica and we were holding hands and no one cared and that was just not my experience in Florida. In Florida it was just better not to, because you didn’t want the attention,and so here I was like no one cares, and I think that’s what sealed the deal for me. When I signed up for the California bar, people thought I was insane. They were like, ‘You haven’t gone to law school in California, it’s the hardest bar in the country, why are you doing that?’ and I was like, ‘I have to live there.’ And I took the bar and passed the first time.
Councilmember John D’Amico appointed you to the Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board. What ideas did you bring to him initially?
I think I was really interested in seeing more people of color represented in the city, regarding businesses, on the boards and commissions, and just our interests being considered more. I know me and my friends, we would always come to West Hollywood but we didn’t see a lot of us represented in ownership right or even a lot of the patronage, depending on what bar you’re at. So I was like, ‘We’re here, we’re spending money, some folks live here, but I don’t think there’s a specific interest in keeping us here, OR meeting the needs that we have that are different from other other groups. So I talked to him about that, and he was just like, ‘Yeah, agreed, let’s see what you can do.’
What do you feel have been your greatest accomplishments on the board so far?
I’ll call it a pre-accomplishment. So right before COVID happened, my idea was for us to have a panel with all women of color that were more masculine-presenting and sort of talk about especially in the workplace what our needs are, how they’re different, how we want to be addressed, respected, how to have those conversations with our co-workers. The ideal demographic would have been employers and just folks that are working in professional environments to come listen to this panel. I wanted to go to one of the local restaurants or bars and have sort of a meet and greet where we could really exchange information and sort of serve as a support system for ourselves and folks that want to be on board with supporting us. And so we’ll see once the restrictions are lifted for in-person city activities, how we can get that going. that’s one of the things that I’m really excited about doing.
What’s your take on gender neutral bathrooms in WeHo?
I think the city has the right idea. I don’t understand how people are finding that so problematic. To me it’s almost like a no-brainer. Of course, gender neutral bathrooms. Who cares? We all piss next to each other anyways. We’re not in there hanging out for hours. It seems like such a non-issue for me and I know that it’s been such a huge issue obviously across the country but specifically in West Hollywood. I was really surprised with all of the backlash and community members being really against it. I just think we should move forward. It doesn’t change people’s experience in the bathroom.
What about the controversy over re-painting the crosswalks in the colors of the Progress Flag?
So LGAB, I think we voted unanimously for the progressive flag to take the place of the rainbow flag and I strongly support that. I mean if we’re holding true to the progressive cities mantra and the city’s also doing things to help address things like racial injustice, to me it’s only natural that we’re being inclusive in that way so people feel reflected and somewhat protected. It’s a small gesture that uplifts Black and Brown communities and Trans communities. I think that’s another no-brainer. But I know that it hasn’t been sort of that easy for some of the boards to make that decision for the progressive flag to be the crosswalk flag.
Would you support an across-the-board updating of all the rainbow flags in West Hollywood with the Progress Flag colors?
Yeah I think so. We’re a city of others coming together as one, so like why not celebrate each other?