Omar Gonzalez-Pagan (he/him/his)
Counsel and Health Care Strategist
For years, the nation’s best and brightest legal minds have put their skills and passion to work to carry forth Lambda Legal’s mission to advance the civil rights of LGBTQ+ people and everyone living with HIV. In this series, you’ll get to know the people at the heart of what we do.
In this edition of Meet Our Lawyers, you’ll meet Omar Gonzalez-Pagan. Omar is Counsel and the Health Care Strategist at Lambda Legal. He has been critical to our work defending for the rights of LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV, including with their access to health care. In recent years, Omar has relied on the health care nondiscrimination law enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as Section 1557, to push back against health care discrimination, including harmful Trump-era rules and policies endangering the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ people. In turn, that work has strengthened the ACA and solidified it as a powerful tool to advocate for and empower patients.
What brought you to Lambda Legal?
Growing up I was fortunate to witness my parents’ example in public service within the health care and law enforcement realms. In order to follow their example and be true to my values, I became a lawyer so that I could work on behalf of the public interest and to help improve people’s lives. As a gay man and lawyer, I was familiar with Lambda Legal’s storied and groundbreaking work to secure and protect the rights of LGBTQ people and people living with HIV. (I graduated high school just a few days before the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas.) Thus, when the opportunity came up to join Lambda Legal and to dedicate my life to improve the lives of LGBTQ people and people living with HIV, I simply could not pass it up.
What issue or area of the law do you specialize in?
I consider myself first and foremost a litigator, and a jack of all trades in terms of our work. My work at Lambda Legal spans the entirety of LGBTQ people’s lives, from cradle to grave. I am incredibly proud of having been able to achieve important precedents in virtually every aspect of our lives, including education, employment, health care, and housing, and with regards to important and fundamental constitutional rights concerning the recognition of our identities and families. That said, I am also Lambda Legal’s Health Care Strategist. In that role, I work with community and coalition partners on policy and litigation matters involving health care issues, and as an advocate for the Affordable Care Act, particularly as it applies to LGBTQ people. I also work as an internal resource on health care matters. I am proud of the groundbreaking work my colleagues and I have been doing with regards to improving access to health care for LGBTQ people and people living with HIV.
What has been your proudest moment working at Lambda Legal?
It is difficult to think of just one moment that has made me proud of working at Lambda Legal. I have been at Lambda Legal for 8 years and been part of incredible and lifechanging victories, from Obergefell v. Hodges, which brought marriage equality nationwide, to Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., which recognized that sex discrimination laws protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. However, while our work is about achieving groundbreaking and impactful victories that bring about broad change, every case that we bring relies on the bravery and the stories of our clients. Without them, we are not able to do this work. I am therefore proudest of when I can communicate a victory to our clients and see the immense sense of relief and elation that they experience knowing that they have won. I can recall vividly these moments and the immense sense of meaning that they provide.
How have you seen the rights for LGBTQ+ folks advance in your lifetime? What has impacted you the most?
The struggle for civil rights is not linear. In my lifetime, I have seen both incredible victories and intense backlash against our communities. I am also aware of how flawed our system of justice is and how the courts are not—and indeed cannot be—the only answer for LGBTQ people and people living with HIV to not only survive but to thrive. Still, I am an optimist. In my heart I am confident in the ability of the law and our Constitution to ensure the recognition of our rights. In just my time as a lawyer, I have seen the world change for the better and I have seen the litigation work that we do put a stop to many of the actions that threatened the lives, health, and wellbeing of our community. To be sure, the toll of these attacks is immense, but I am reminded every day of how resilient, resourceful, and brave LGBTQ people and people living with HIV are. You cannot do this work and not be impacted by our clients’ strength, resilience, and bravery.
What’s something fun or interesting you would like to share about yourself? If you watch TV, what is a show that you binge for comfort?
I love to travel. And doing this work at a national scale has allowed me to visit many parts of the United States I would not have otherwise. As of now, I have visited 42 of the 50 States. I also love movies. I spend a lot of time reading and writing at work, so being able to escape to a new world through film is very refreshing. I think I am of the people that contributed to the failure of MoviePass. I have watched Spiderman: No Way Home three times already.