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Committed to the Marginalized and Underserved

J. Ryann Peyton ’08 J.D. has always been interested in improving the human condition, especially the aspects you can’t see: emotion, social cognition, anxiety. Unmanaged, these parts of life silently and invisibly eat away at the fabric of who we are and rob us of a healthy existence. And Peyton, recently named the Colorado Bar Association Young Lawyer of the Year, is focused on serving the whole person, even the aspects you can’t see.

This approach is logical for Peyton. She combines her passion for the social sciences and her legal education at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. With a psychology degree from the University of Denver, Peyton was ready to add a Ph.D. in counseling psychology to her portfolio. She knew the substantive knowledge and skills she learned along this path would allow her to better understand and approach the whole person. But as her discernment continued, she realized additional skills were needed to have the most impact, with a special focus on the marginalized and the underserved in the community. And that’s what she hoped to do with a law degree.

Good news for Peyton – her law degree gave her just that. Better news for Peyton – her law school experience validated that the whole person matters both in the ability to fully participate in society, and in the focus on formation, teaching in and through relationship.

“I knew that a law school founded on the principles of societal reform and working to improve the conditions of the disadvantaged and the underserved would provide the type of legal education I was looking to obtain,” she said.

She continued, “I wasn’t interested in spending three years learning how to make partner in the biggest, most lucrative law firm in the nation. I wanted to learn how to change the community and maybe the world, and I strongly believed UST Law was the place to do that.”

As the legal director for the GLBT Community Center of Colorado, Peyton is reminded of the significant – even lifesaving – value of the center for the citizens of Colorado. Shortly after she started in her new role, following a tour as a family law litigator, a client told her, “If you were not here, I would be dead.” Peyton explained why her work and the work of the community center are so critical. A staggering 41 percent of respondents who participated in a 2012 survey from the National Center for Transgender Equity reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6 percent of the general population, with rates rising for those who lost a job due to bias (55 percent), were harassed or bullied in school (51 percent), had low household income, or were the victim of physical assault (61 percent) or sexual assault (64 percent).

Under Peyton’s leadership, the community center has launched a new initiative to address the life-threatening statistics, and address discrimination in new and innovative ways through training and education. Under a separate LLC, the initiative seeks to create a revenue-generating diversity and inclusion training and education business built in large part on the financial commitment of social venture capitalists. Profits are then reinvested for social impact rather than personal gain. Commitment to social impact is a key part of the organization’s culture and drives business decisions. Working with outside groups to educate, inform and create a more inclusive society “has been a dream,” Peyton said.

Peyton’s work already has had a significant impact on the Colorado community. Businesses such as Children’s Hospital (Colorado), Walmart (15 stores) and the Denver police department have all benefited from the diversity and inclusion training offered by the community center by learning how to improve the culture and quality of life for all their employees. Training reviews from clients are uniformly excellent, calling the program, “inspiring,” “empowering” and an “ethical imperative.” Peyton’s vision includes an expansion of the diversity and inclusion education and training, with aspirations to triple her team in three years.

And if you ask her about best practices for community impact, she will tell you: the whole person. It matters.

Read more from St. Thomas Lawyer.