Many of the courses she is taking at Rutgers-Camden law school are about the law as it currently is, says Katie Lara. "Sexuality, Gender, Identity and the Law" is different, she says: It is about how social movements change laws.
The course that has Lara and fellow students excited is inspired by what its creator calls "the great civil rights struggle of our era" - for LGBT rights.
Rutgers professor Katie Eyer said she began teaching the elective about a year ago after she was approached by students interested in the law as it pertains to sexuality.
Other Rutgers courses touch upon LGBT issues, but Eyer said she wanted to create one focused on examining the law as it relates to the fight to end discrimination against the LGBT community.
This campaign for equal rights is "one of the fastest-moving causes we've seen in recent years," said Craig Konnoth, Sharswood Fellow and lecturer in law at the University of Pennsylvania law school.
Courses such as the one Eyer teaches are proliferating as the movement for equal rights for the LGBT community accelerates, Konnoth said.
Penn has offered similar courses for about five years, Konnoth said. Drexel has had law courses concerning sexual orientation since the inception of its Thomas R. Kline School of Law nearly a decade ago, according to professor David Cohen. The Villanova University School of Law also has a course on sexual orientation and the law.
At Widener University, professors often integrate LGBT issues into other courses, said spokeswoman Mary Allen.
Temple University has had courses on sexual orientation, identity, and the law for more than two decades, said Leonore Carpenter, a professor in Temple's Beasley School of Law.
"For LGBT students, they often appreciate hearing their own stories reflected in the course material," Carpenter said in an e-mail. "And for students who are entirely unfamiliar with either the LGBT community or the legal issues that affect it, the course provides an opportunity to learn something entirely new."
Eyer said her syllabus was constantly evolving as laws pertaining to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people shift.
Last year, she was unsure whether the Supreme Court would make a decision recognizing the right to same-sex marriage, but with that decision looking more likely this year, she has incorporated the potential implications of that decision into her syllabus.
She said Rutgers' Educational Policy Committee was easily convinced when she approached it about starting the class.
Studying LGBT law also provides broader insights into antidiscrimination law, Eyer said.
For Laura Segel, a third-year law student at Rutgers, Eyer's course underscores how important studying LGBT issues is for every future lawyer.
These decisions impact more than just marriage equality, and if the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality, legal questions relating to reproduction issues, divorce, and other legal disputes will arise, she said.
Segel said the course had shown her how her future career in family law could be affected by LGBT issues. She referred to a lecture on statutes pertaining to reproductive rights as one example of the intersection between family law and LGBT rights.
"It really prompts a lot of thinking into what sort of arguments you could make," Segel said.
Eyer was raised in Merion and Bala Cynwyd. Before graduating from Yale Law School, she interned at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights in Philadelphia and worked at Equality Advocates Pennsylvania.
"As you get into the real experiences of how LGBT people are in innumerable ways disserved, abused, not protected by the law, it can't help but inspire a passion for doing work in this area," she said.
Eyer, who came to Rutgers in 2012, said her teaching was influenced by the cases she's worked on - the best-known being Prowel v. Wise Business Forms, a 2009 case decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in which a gay litigant successfully brought a Title VII sex-discrimination claim. Disability law and employment discrimination are among other courses she teaches.
For Lara, 31, a third-year law student at Rutgers, Eyer is an inspiration. Before Eyer arrived at Rutgers, Lara said, she had read about some of the precedents Eyer helped set in the Third Circuit, which expanded the legal rights of LGBT and disabled employees.
Lara said Eyer's course perfectly aligned with her interests.
In 2012, when Lara traveled to New York to marry her wife, she envisioned herself one day being on the legal team fighting to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing married gay and lesbian couples with regard to federal laws or programs.
DOMA was overturned in June 2013.
Eyer said she realized not all of her students would go on to become LGBT rights advocates, and she designed her course with that in mind. She said LGBT law was the perfect template for teaching students how to move an unfavorable law in a direction that is in their clients' favor.
"That's the type of skill that makes a person a great litigator," Eyer said.