“I’m not sure than being a gay lawyer in Nashville is much different than being a gay accountant, architect or banker,” says Maria Salas. “I doubt my clients care much about my sexual orientation as long as I stop their home foreclosure or wage garnishment and get them a little relief on their credit card or medical debt.”

Pragmatic and down to earth, Salas has run her practice since 1995, representing debtors in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 cases almost exclusively. She also is a member of the American and Tennessee Bar Associations, Tennessee and Nashville Lawyer’s Associations for Women, the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, and the American Bankruptcy Institute, and she received the Nashville Bar Association Pro Bono Volunteer of the Year Award in 2001.

But just in case you didn’t think she was accomplished enough or involved in her community, Salas has just been elected to the Nashville Bar Association (NBA) Board of Directors.

“I’m honored to have been elected by my peers to help lead the Nashville Bar Association for the next 3 years,” she says. “My area of expertise is bankruptcy, so I’m sure I will stay involved with the NBA bankruptcy court committee.  My other areas of interest include solo lawyer and small firm practice issues, the practicing parent group, and, of course, diversity in the legal profession.”

As an out lesbian in a largely conservative field, Salas has a deep interest in promoting diversity.

“Early in my legal career as an associate attorney in a medium sized law firm, I wasn’t out to all my colleagues for fear of the impact on my advancement at the firm,” she reveals. “There wasn’t then and isn’t now any federal or Tennessee state employment non-discrimination law protecting GLBT people. However, fast-forward almost 20 years in my career and almost all, if not all, of the largest law firms in town have GLBT affinity groups and many have firm employment non-discrimination policies.” 

Salas is a founding member and current board member of the Stonewall Bar Association of Tennessee, which supports LGBT legal professionals: “I believe the attorneys and paralegals, both gay and straight, who are Stonewall Bar members are promoting diversity in the legal profession just by speaking out, being organized and being active in our law firms and in the local legal community.”

Salas also served on the Human Rights Campaign board of governors and board of directors from 1997 to 2008, during which time she says “our country saw a huge shift towards LGBT equality."

"“I think I’m most proud of being part of the board leadership that oversaw the development and emergence of HRC Foundation programs," Salas says. "Programs such as the Religion and Faith Project and the Family project. As the parent of a six-year-old, I am particularly excited about HRC’s 'Welcoming Schools' program that addresses family diversity and bullying issues in elementary schools.”

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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