Jonathan Wilson was recently featured in the Des Moines Register Storytellers Project, sharing his story with approximately 150 fellow Iowans at the “Scandal” event at Noce in downtown Des Moines. He was one of six speakers at the event. You can listen to Jonathan’s story, and those of the other storytellers on the Des Moines Storytellers Project Website.
When Jonathan Wilson’s story unfolded, he was an attorney, active member of the community, churchgoer, and dad. He had served twelve years on the Des Moines School Board, advocating for a quality public education for all Des Moines children. At a special school board meeting called to discuss the controversial topic of “Homosexuality and the Public Schools” in January 1995, he was prompted to make a public announcement declaring that he is gay. Listen to Jonathan’s story.
At the time, Jonathan was a partner attorney at the Davis Law Firm with a well-established practice focused on helping clients with real estate, contract, and business matters. Prior to the special school board meeting, he had a frank conversation with the president of the firm at the time, Arthur Davis (who was later that year elected Mayor of Des Moines). He told Arthur what he was going to do and that he expected to start winding down his practice. He couldn’t imagine an attorney could be out and have a thriving practice.
Arthur explained that as a Jewish Democrat, he was sure there were people in Des Moines who didn’t want him as their attorney because of those things, there were people who turned to him specifically because he was Jewish and a Democrat, but mainly people were just looking for a qualified lawyer who could help them. Arthur told Jonathan that he should expect the same response. He was welcome and encouraged to continue working at the Davis Law Firm. Arthur was confident that Jonathan would continue to have a successful practice because he was an excellent attorney dedicated to the firm’s clients.
Arthur knew what he was talking about. Jonathan lost his re-election bid for the school board in the wake of coming out, but his practice continued to grow. As a public figure and the first out gay attorney at a major Iowa law firm, he was then able to speak out for lesbian and gay individuals throughout the state. He advocated the Davis Law Firm to adopt policies recognizing the same-sex partners of gay and lesbian employees, and he formed the First Friday Breakfast Club, a non-profit organization bringing together gay, bi, and trans men to reduce prejudice and discrimination in the state. Since that time, the organization has given more than $250,000 in scholarships to high school students who have worked for equality and justice in their schools and communities.
Today, Davis Brown is a workplace where trailblazers are appreciated, and diversity is acknowledged and valued. Female attorneys, LGBT attorneys, and attorneys of color help the firm better serve our clients and the community. It is thanks to people like Jonathan Wilson that the firm is as welcoming and active in the community as it is today.