Mark Leinauer, a doctoral candidate in the Jurisprudence and Social Policy program, has been chosen as the seventh recipient of the Philip Brett LGBT Studies Fellowship for graduate students doing LGBT-related research in any field.

“Mark’s project is a ground breaking study of bias against gay and lesbian parents in child custody cases. His research is expected to contribute significantly to an under-studied area of social psychology while tackling legal issues that, given the current political climate, are likely to loom ever larger,” said a faculty recommender.

Leinauer looks to the Civil Right Movement for historical precedents. He remarks that “marginalized groups achieved formal equal rights in many areas, yet substantive discrimination remained. The struggle for LGBT equality is similar.” Leinauer looks for anti-gay discrimination in family court proceedings, noting that the forum is ripe for bias. “Family court judges enjoy wide decision-making discretion and are typically not required to record their reasoning.” Mark investigates, among other psychological factors, the role of “disgust” in anti-gay bias.

Leinauer earned a JD from Washington University in St. Louis and practiced law for eight years. Observing child custody cases involving an ‘out’ parent deepened his concern about implicit bias in the judiciary. Coming to Berkeley in 2003, Mark obtained an MPP at the Goldman School of Public Policy and then enrolled in the JSP doctoral program, deeming it “uniquely” suited to his interest in strengthening empirical research in both legal and social science fields.

Encouraged by faculty advisors Catherine Albiston and Victoria Plaut, from Berkeley School of Law, Mark mapped out a rigorous three-part data collection plan to examine all existing custody cases in the U.S. with a gay father or lesbian mother. He interviews attorneys and large cohorts of parents in San Francisco and St. Louis; runs experimental models to find correlative data; examines factors (including non-rational considerations) that may contribute to differential outcomes; and is developing a protocol to test the efficacy of counter-bias measures that progressive court systems might adopt.

Asked how the Brett Fellowship will move his research forward, Leinauer explained that being able to offer stipends will increase the numbers of survey participants, thereby improving the statistical validity of his evidence and analysis.

What’s next? While completing his dissertation, he aims to publish preliminary results of his work in peer-reviewed legal journals. And his career goal? “To teach in a law school with a strong research orientation, particularly one with connections to psychology and public policy,” Mark quickly replied. “If I could teach anywhere in the world, it would be at Berkeley.”

Established in 2009 as a grassroots initiative by campus faculty, staff, students, and friends, the Philip Brett LGBT Studies Fellowship is Berkeley’s only endowed fund to support graduate students in LGBT-related research in any field. It honors the memory of Philip Brett, an eminent music scholar, now considered a pioneer of queer musicology, who taught at Berkeley from 1966 to 1991.  Each year, a multi-disciplinary faculty committee selects the Brett Fellow from student applicants from a diverse range of academic programs. Application deadlines are in March.

See previous winners. Support the Philip Brett LGBT Studies Fund.