History of Lambda Legal
Founded in 1973, Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ) people and everyone living with HIV through impact litigation, education, and public policy work. Lambda's team of over 90 advocates work out of its national headquarters in New York City and five regional offices throughout the United States: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.
For a half of a century, Lambda Legal has been a trailblazer toward ending inequality against the LGBTQ community and those living with HIV. The organization was its own first client, taking on the New York State government when it refused incorporation as a charitable organization, and winning in the state's highest court. Other notable accomplishments include:
- a successful challenge to a ban on school activity by a gay student group at the University of New Hampshire in 1974;
- winning the nation's first HIV/AIDS discrimination case in 1983;
- establishing the legal precedent that school officials violate the U.S. Constitution when they fail to protect students from anti-gay bullying by fellow students in 1997;
- persuading the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn all remaining sodomy laws in 2003;
- obtaining a historic, unanimous decision in Iowa Supreme Court that denying marriage to a same-sex couple is unconstitutional in 2009, setting the stage for;
- serving as co-counsel in the historic 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case at the U.S. Supreme Court that made marriage equality the law of the land;
- winning a national first federal appellate ruling in 2011 that employment discrimination against a transgender public employee in Georgia was unlawful sex discrimination;
- in 2017, in an Indiana case, obtaining the breakthrough federal appellate ruling that employment discrimination against a lesbian, gay or bisexual worker is unlawful sex discrimination, setting the stage of the U.S. Supreme Court's Bostock decision in 2020.
Current Context for Lambda's Work
Today, Lambda Legal serves as a firewall against the escalating attacks on the LGBTQ+ community and people living with HIV while continuing to push forward towards a world where LGBTQ people and those living with HIV are respected, protected, and celebrated. Lambda's mission is advanced through both impact litigation and public policy advocacy in four areas:
1. Continuing to protect LGBTQ+ identities and relationships by, among other things, protecting the freedom to marry and the benefits of marriage for same-sex couples; safeguarding other, significant relationships; and ensuring access to official government-issued identity documents that accurately reflect one's gender identity.
2. Continuing efforts to expand and defend protections against anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination within existing laws and developing and supporting efforts to enact new protections at the federal, state, and local level through the passage of new legislation and other policies.
3. Continuing to challenge policies and practices harming the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ people and individuals living with HIV, such as by reforming antiquated laws that impose disproportionate penalties on people living with HIV or that restrict access to medically necessary transition-related care for trans people.
4. Continuing to challenge anti-LGBTQ+ bias in the justice system by challenging judicial nominees with track records of bias against LGBTQ+ people or people living with HIV, by defending vulnerable LGBTQ+ people in government custody (including youth in child welfare and juvenile justice systems), and by developing and distributing anti-bias training for judges, court personnel, and attorneys.
Responding to a mercurial and demonstrably anti-LGBTQ+ administration has presented specific challenges since 2016. Lambda can no longer count on a receptive federal administration and they have had to respond forcefully and quickly to numerous instances of policy changes that overtly threaten LGBTQ+ people of all ages and people living with HIV. Under newly-appointed CEO Kevin Jennings, who took the helm of Lambda Legal in December 2019, the organization is working to develop a new strategic plan, with pro bono help from Bain Consulting, to help guide it as it prepares for its 50th anniversary in 2023.