40 Years of Lambda Legal—Part 3: From 2000 to the Present

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January 28, 2013

Previously: Lambda Legal's beginnings and our early victories.

In 2000, Lambda Legal argued for a sheriff's culpability for his acts prior to the murder of Brandon Teena, who was brutally raped and later killed by two men who discovered he was transgender. This case (Brandon v. Richardson County) brought unprecedented visibility to the transgender community and was the subject of the film Boys Don’t Cry. It also strengthened the principle that law enforcement officials must be held accountable for fair treatment of people who are the targets of hate crimes.

Lambda Legal helped convince state courts to strike down sodomy laws in New York, Kentucky, Tennessee, Montana and Georgia.

And in 2003, in the historic case Lawrence v. Texas, we persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn all remaining state sodomy laws. That decision fundamentally changed the legal landscape and is the most important legal victory to date for LGBT equality.

In 2009, we obtained a historic unanimous decision in Iowa Supreme Court, which ruled that denying marriage to same-sex couples is unconstitutional (Varnum v. Brien). This landmark victory makes Iowa the first state in the Midwest to offer marriage equality.

Despite our progress, LGBT people still face discrimination, violence and sometimes tragedy in their lives. We are fighting for the rights of LGBT people and people with HIV across the country: We have marriage equality cases in New Jersey, Nevada and Illinois; we represent a lesbian denied survivor benefits in Alaska; a transgender man denied medical coverage in Oregon; and students denied equality in New York. In fact, Lambda Legal is currently litigating over 70 cases, responding to 500 Legal Help Desk calls a month and providing educational programs and information to help people protect their rights.

Transgender people have always been the redheaded stepchild of the movement. But after my court victory, trans people can no longer be fired for being trans in the 11th Circuit. I have an acquaintance who is currently pursuing a claim with the EEOC and she said she wouldn't have standing without my case, which is a very satisfying feeling.

—Vandy Beth Glenn, Lambda Legal plaintiff. Glenn was fired from her job at Georgia’s General Assembly when she announced she would be transitioning from male to female. Lambda Legal helped prove that Glenn’s dismissal violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection guarantee, and she got her job back.

With the generous support of thousands of friends around the country, what began in 1973 as a couple of volunteers working out of a spare room in a supporter’s apartment has now grown to an expert staff of more than 80 in five offices around the country—New York, Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Our work is vital, and our strategy works: We make the case for equality in the nation’s courts and in the court of public opinion. We make a big impact in people's lives by changing laws, policies and ideas. Until we achieve full equality under the law in every state in this country, we will keep fighting and moving history forward.