In November, administrators at the Scottish Rite Dormitory told University of Texas at Austin freshman Kaj Baker people weren't "comfortable" with her girlfriend coming over. Now, Baker says she has reached a settlement with the private, off-campus, all-women's dorm with the help of pro bono legal representation from Lenore Shefman of the Shefman Law Group.
"I had my father, my partner, community allies, and the media standing by my side through this trying and emotional time," Baker told Refinery29. "The good news is that Scottish Rite Dormitory and I came to a peaceful resolution and have settled this matter. The specifics of the settlement are confidential, but I and my family and friends feel like it was a just outcome and look forward to a better future." She says she is grateful to everyone who's helped her secure a new place to live, including those who donated to her GoFundMe after the incident.
Shefman said that, as a member of the queer community in Austin, she wanted to take on the case in order to help Baker feel less alone on a huge campus, in a state that has a lot of room to grow when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights. She says hers is one of the few law firms in Texas that focuses specifically on helping LGBTQ+ people.
"She was really distraught, and I told her I was there for her," Shefman told Refinery29. "To see a member of the community crying out for support, and to be able to provide that and to remedy the situation [was important to me]. She's super-young and she's in a tender space in a big environment, and we were able to make a difference."
The attorney, who describes herself as a "bulldog" when it comes to fighting cases, explained that the matter did not come to a lawsuit; it amounted to a discussion with the lawyer representing the dorm in which Shefman laid out several requirements on behalf of Baker. While she could not specify the details of the requirements, she said "increased education and awareness were a big component."
Reached by phone, dorm administrators declined to provide comment for this story.
On November 14, SRD director Mary Mazurek and SRD registrar Meshelle Bourne called Baker into their office to talk and said some people at the dorm aren't comfortable with her girlfriend Carlee staying over. They admitted, however, that Baker hadn't broken any rules: According to the dorm's contract, men are only allowed at certain times if they're escorted, but female guests are allowed anytime and can stay overnight.
"We're trying to make sure that everybody — all 315 residents — feels more comfortable," Mazurek said in the meeting with Baker, according to the video by Texas News Channel below. "And sometimes that takes compromise on both sides to do that."
Baker says she and Carlee were targeted for being in a same-sex relationship, and that it came to the point where she wasn't comfortable staying in the dorm anymore. "They told me that from this point forward, I was not allowed to have any guests over," Baker told Refinery29 back in November. "When I asked them why, they told me that my girlfriend and I make people uncomfortable, and that people are not comfortable with my sexual orientation at the dorm. ... I hope that in the future, SRD staff does not use a resident's sexual orientation to justify a guest ban."
She says she is much happier at school now that this is all behind her. "I am really lucky to be at this school because so many people are supportive and accepting of the LGBTQ+ community," Baker said. "I wouldn't change anything about the experiences I've had in my life as a lesbian because it's made me who I am today and introduced me to the group of people I can be myself with."