A Decade of Justice: Defending Equality 2010-2020

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December 30, 2019

We are the largest legal organization in the United States fighting for full equality for LGBTQ people and everyone living with HIV. This has been our sole purpose since our founding in 1973. And while the specific battles in our overarching march towards justice have varied over the years, we have stayed true to this mission. We made no exception in the twenty-teens, and indeed, this was an incredibly momentus decade in advances won for civil rights.

As we approach the end of this decade, we’d like to take a moment to review some of Lambda Legal’s greatest hits.

2010: Langbehn v. Jackson Memorial Hospital: Acknowledgement of Same-Sex Families in Medical Settings

Although a federal district court rejected Lambda Legal’s lawsuit, ruling that no law required the hospital to allow her and their three children to see her dying partner, Janice Langbehn and Lambda Legal continued to work with other LGBTQ organizations and officials at Jackson Memorial Hospital to change hospital policies on visitation and respecting the wishes of same-sex couples and their families.

Because of her work, President Obama called Janice Langbehn personally to apologize and as a result announced his plan to ensure LGBTQ patients and their families are respected in hospital visitation policies.

2011: Glenn v. Brumby: Employment Rights for Transgender People

In 2007, Vandy Beth Glenn informed her boss at the Georgia General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Counsel that she planned to proceed with gender transition. Her boss fired her on the spot.

We filed a federal lawsuit, and ultimately, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling that the Georgia General Assembly discriminated against Vandy Beth Glenn in firing her. This remains a cornerstone federal ruling to date supporting the rights of transgender employees.

2012: Couch v. Wayne Local School District: Students’ Rights to Free Speech

In April 2011, Maverick Couch, a high school student in Waynesville, Ohio, wore a T-shirt with a rainbow Ichthys, or “sign of the fish,” paired with the slogan “Jesus Is Not a Homophobe” in observation of GLSEN's National Day of Silence and the school principal threatened him with suspension. We filed a lawsuit on Maverick’s behalf and the school conceded in one day. Our victory affirmed students’ rights to free speech.

2013: Hollingsworth v. Perry: Marriage Equality in California

Lambda Legal acted as amici and assisted with trial preparation in a case contesting Proposition 8, which halted same-sex marriages in California. The Supreme Court ruled that proponents of Prop 8 had no right to appeal the district court’s ruling blocking the law and restored the freedom to marry in California.

2014: Rhoades v. Iowa: Fighting HIV Criminalization

Lambda Legal represented Nick Rhoades, a man living with HIV who was sentenced to 25 years in prison and made to register as a sex offender after a one-time sexual encounter in which he used a condom. The Iowa Supreme Court reversed his conviction, recognizing that the scientific understanding of HIV transmission is evolving and HIV-positive individuals who have a suppressed viral load as a result of effective treatment may pose little risk of transmitting the virus.

2015: Obergefell v. Hodges: Marriage Equality Nationwide

#LoveWins! In a historic decision that included Lambda Legal’s case Henry v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry violates the U.S. Constitution. This decision invalidated all state statutes and constitutional amendments barring same-sex couples from marriage.

2016: Brook S.B. v. Elizabeth C.C.: Non-biological Parents’ Rights to their Children

Brook and Elizabeth were together for seven years, and they planned for and had a son together. When Elizabeth cut off contact abruptly in 2013, Brook filed for custody and visitation. The case made its way up to the highest court in New York State, who ultimately issued a groundbreaking ruling, finding that non-biological parents have the right to seek custody and visitation.

2017: Hively v. Ivy Tech: Employment Rights for LGB People

In August of 2014, Kimberly Hively sued Ivy Tech Community College, arguing that the school violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when she was fired after being seen kissing her then-girlfriend in the parking lot of the school. In a groundbreaking 8-3 decision, the full Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation violates federal civil rights law.

2018: Passion Star a/k/a Zollicoffer v. Livingston: Rights for Incarcerated Transgender People

Passion Star is a Black transgender woman who was incarcerated in male facilities. We represented her in filing a lawsuit alleging prison officials failed to protect her from sexual and physical abuse.

In 2018, we secured a favorable settlement for Passion Star, sending a strong message to prison officials that sexual assault and violence against LGBTQ people who are incarcerated will not be swept under the rug.

2019: Gore v. Lee: Fighting for Transgender Rights

This year, we filed a lawsuit in Tennessee, making it the fifth jurisdiction in which we have challenged an existing categorical exclusion preventing transgender people from correcting their birth certificates.

Accurate identity documents are extremely important. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, almost one-third of transgender individuals who showed an identity document with a name or gender marker that conflicted with their perceived gender were harassed, denied benefits or services, discriminated against, or assaulted.

This filing builds on our victories in Puerto Rico, Idaho, and Kansas where we secured victories in court that prompted necessary policy changes.

We look back at this selection of our victories from this decade not with a sense of finality, but renewed vigor and commitment.

In the 2020s, we commit to redouble our fierce efforts of defending and securing equality at all turns. We will resist any rollbacks of our hard-won rights.

You can help us live out this commitment to our values. All generous new or increased gifts given before the close of the decade will go twice as far in supporting our trailblazing, essential work to come.