February 18, 2012
Founded in 1973, Lambda Legal (LL) describes itself as “the oldest and largest national legal organization whose mission is to safeguard and advance the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people [LGBT] and those with HIV.” The organization pursues this objective by means of education, policy work, and impact litigation—whereby LL’s legal experts carefully select cases that have the potential to change or reinterpret existing laws pertaining to the rights of the aforementioned categories of people. Rooted in the premise that an “overwhelming climate of prejudice against gay people” pervades American society, LL’s work covers a number of areas:
* The Fair Courts project “provides tools and information to counter harmful attacks on the courts that threaten LGBT and HIV-related civil rights.”
* The Marriage, Relationships, and Family Protections project employs a broad range of litigation, education and advocacy strategies to promote domestic-partnership benefits and secure the legal rights of same-sex couples to marry and become parents. LL cites the particular importance of the 2009 Varnum v. Brien case (in which LL participated), where the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that denying marriage rights marriage to same-sex couples was unconstitutional.
* The Reproductive Rights and Sexual Health strives to counter the efforts of “reactionary religious and political groups” that are “working to expand the ability of individual health care providers, health care institutions and insurers to limit access to health care for LGBT people and people with HIV based on health care providers’ religious beliefs and prejudices.”
* The Same-Sex Relationships (SSR) project seeks protections for LGBT people “whose relationships are not formally recognized by the government.” This project promotes decision-making rights for LGBT people’s partners in such matters as medical emergencies, funerals, inheritance, and the disposition of loved ones’ remains. Further, the SSR initiative deals with “discrimination in housing or public accommodations” and “fair treatment” in areas like employment benefits, government assistance, taxation, and domestic-violence protection.
* The Transgender Rights project promotes the passage of federal, state and local laws to protect “transgender people” from “rampant workplace discrimination,” “challenges to their parental relationships,” denial of “quality healthcare free from discrimination,” and “difficulties in obtaining appropriate name and gender designations on their identity documents.”
* The Youth project “works to ensure that all LGBTQ young people can be safe, respected and free from discrimination and harassment” at school and in other settings.
* The HIV and Health-Care Fairness projects pursue “impact litigation, education and advocacy to combat misconceptions, stigma and bias and to ensure that [HIV-infected] people are treated fairly by employers, health care providers and others.”
* The Seniors project “defends the rights of LGBT and HIV-positive seniors who face discrimination related to their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status, including discrimination by staff and residents at senior centers; denial of housing; denial of the ability for same-sex couples to share a room in an assisted living facility or nursing home; disrespect of gender identity including while incapacitated or at death; and denial of equal Social Security benefits and survivor benefits as compared to their heterosexual counterparts.”
* The Government Misconduct project is founded on the premise that “law-enforcement officials continue to target LGBT and HIV-positive people for abuse,” and challenges “criminal laws directed at or disproportionately applied against members of our community.”
* Proyecto Igualdad is LL’s outreach and education effort in the Latino community. Most notably, this project seeks to include LGBT immigrants in proposed immigration-reform measures. It also recruits Hispanic National Bar Association members as legal activists for LGBT issues.
* The Rights-in-the-Workplace project seeks to promote federal- and state-level “sexual-orientation and gender-identity anti-discrimination laws.”
Headquartered in New York City, LL has four branch offices located in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles. In addition to its paid employees, the organization also maintains a national network of volunteer cooperating attorneys. Further, it operates a legal help desk to respond directly to queries from those who need assistance with matters related to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, “gender identity,” and gender “expression.”
LL’s executive director is Kevin Cathcart, who holds degrees from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Northeastern School of Law. From 1984-1992, Cathcart served as executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) in Boston. Prior to that, he was a staff attorney at the North Shore Children’s Law Project.
Among LL’s national sponsors are a number of major corporations, including Merrill Lynch, Microsoft, UBS, the Levi Strauss Foundation, LexisNexis, Mercedes-Benz, Pillsbury, and Wells Fargo.
Note: Lambda Legal boasts of the role it played in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court case—where the Court voted to overturn all remaining state sodomy laws—calling it “the most important legal victory to date for LGBT equality.”