In 2007, a group of attorneys formed Shearman & Sterling’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (“LGBTQ”) inclusion network. Its mission was, and remains today, to foster LGBTQ leadership and to provide an inclusive environment for all of the firm’s personnel.
The group is named “Sterling Pride” in tribute to one of the firm’s named partners, John William Sterling.
Sterling’s legacy as an accomplished lawyer has long been respected by historians, his contemporaries and the legal community at large. This Pride Month, we pay respect to and celebrate John Sterling’s whole self in a way that he could not—either socially or legally—during the 19th and early 20th century.
John William Sterling graduated from Yale College in 1864 and from Columbia Law School in 1867. Sterling began his legal career as the youngest law clerk in the office of celebrated attorney David Dudley Field, Jr. and became a business and legal advisor to leaders of industry, serving as lawyer to William Rockefeller, one of the founders and president of Standard Oil, and advising Consolidated Gas (now Con Edison) during years of formative growth and reorganization. Sterling’s business acumen and legal skills lay the foundation for the strong client relationships that Shearman & Sterling is known for today.
While Sterling was in his mid-twenties, a few years before he would help form the firm of Shearman & Sterling LLP in 1873, he made the acquaintance of a man named James Orville Bloss. Bloss, a successful cotton broker, would later become the President of the New York Cotton Exchange.
While records remain scarce, insights into the relationship between Sterling and Bloss can be gathered from a biography of Sterling written by fellow Shearman & Sterling partner and close friend, John Anson Garver. In the biography, published by Yale University in 1929, Garver writes: “Mr. Sterling never married, but soon after his admission to the bar [in 1867], he formed the acquaintance of a young cotton broker about his own age, Mr. James O. Bloss.” Garver goes on to explain, “Like Mr. Sterling, [Bloss] never married; and the two lived together for the remainder of their days, with widely different tastes and yet with an understanding that held them together for nearly fifty years.”
Sterling’s relationship with Bloss also helped to cement Shearman & Sterling’s foothold with clients in the New York financial industry. Of note, Bloss introduced Sterling to an eminent financier named James Stillman. Garver notes that “[i]t was Mr. Bloss who brought these two men together.” Following this introduction, James Stillman would become “Mr. Sterling’s lifelong friend.” James Stillman served as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of National City Bank of New York, which eventually became Citibank, and his trust in John Sterling’s legal abilities laid the foundation for the longstanding Shearman–Citibank relationship that exists to this day.
Upon his death in 1918, Sterling was entombed in a mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery. Bloss was given the use of the home that he and Sterling built together and shared together to enjoy for the rest of his life. In his will, Sterling provided that only two people be entombed with him: his sister, Cordelia Sterling, and James Bloss. Bloss died less than six months thereafter.
Stories about relationships like Sterling and Bloss’s demonstrate that LGBTQ lawyers have historically been embedded within the legal community. While we do not know how Sterling would have self-identified in 2018, the historical record reflects a life partnership shared between John Sterling and James Bloss. Celebrating this history broadens our understanding of the meaning of LGBTQ identity and honors the diversity that has always existed within the legal profession.
What’s more, embracing this history cultivates a deep sense of pride, belonging and confidence to LGBTQ members of the legal community today. Until recently, the history of the relationship between John Sterling and James Bloss had remained opaque. In sharing this history, Shearman & Sterling reflects its abiding respect and appreciation for the contributions that the firm’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer forebearers have made to the firm’s history and successes.
Today, Sterling Pride serves as the firm’s global LGBTQ resource for attorneys and alumni around the world. Since its founding in 2007, Sterling Pride has played a key role in bringing about important policy changes for Shearman & Sterling’s LGBTQ employees, has contributed to the firm’s recruiting and retention efforts and has contributed to the advancement of the current and next generation of leaders in the LGBTQ legal community.
In addition to their work inside the firm, Sterling Pride members have worked with organizations such as Immigration Equality to advocate for LGBTQ and HIV-positive asylum seekers and with TLDEF (the Transgender Legal Defense Fund) to assist transgender and non-binary community members in changing their legal name to reflect their chosen name.
Sterling Pride has partnered with clients and PFLAG to host training programs on how to be effective allies and advocates for the LGBTQ community and recently co-hosted a panel with OPEN Finance on intersectional LGBTQ identities.
In November 2010, Shearman & Sterling attorneys became the first law firm to contribute to the “It Gets Better Project” by creating a firm-sponsored video containing messages of hope and affirmation to LGBTQ youth.
In 2014, the firm launched a sister program, Sterling Pride Ally, in order to raise awareness, share information and encourage dialogue both within the firm and among broader legal and business communities about advancing an inclusive environment where LGBTQ colleagues can bring their whole selves to work.
Shearman & Sterling LLP has received a perfect score from the Human Rights Campaign since 2010 and has been consistently named as a Top Law Firm for Equality Honoree in the Corporate Equality Index Survey. The Human Rights Campaign currently lists Shearman & Sterling LLP as one of the Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality.