In conjunction with LGBTQ+ History Month, Richard also shines a light on one of the community’s most impactful leaders
In mid-September, we kicked off Latinx Heritage Month with a remarkable story about the enduring legacy of trans pioneer Sylvia Rivera, written by Lambda Legal Public Information Officer Samy Nemir Olivares. We also highlighted additional queer Latinx trailblazers, past and present.
Now, we turn our attention to Richard Saenz (he/him), a senior attorney at Lambda Legal. Richard leads the organization’s litigation and legislative advocacy in the criminal legal system. He is also the project manager and co-author of “Protected and Served? 2022” a community survey on the experiences of LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV with the criminal legal system.
In a Q&A inspired by our long-running “Meet Our Lawyers” interview series, Richard talks about the Latinx community and its historical figures, offering his perspectives as a gay, Mexican-American, Tejano who grew up in Houston, Texas. He proudly celebrates this month with his husband Alfonso, a Colombian who grew up in Bogotá. Richard is also proud to be part of the Hispanic National Bar Association and in 2018 was named one of its Top Lawyers Under 40.
There is no one singular experience that defines or represents this community. But how would you describe the community in your own words? And what makes you proud to be a part of it?
Our Hispanic, Latinx, Latine community is not defined by borders or defined solely in relation to the United States and colonization. We have existed for millennia, and our contributions to the world are immeasurable. What is powerful about our community and why I am proud to be part of it is the beauty and diversity of our people and our shared histories, cultures, and traditions. We cannot ignore how war, poverty, racism, xenophobia, and machismo has impacted our community. It is through our perseverance and resistance that we are able to celebrate who we are. And we love to celebrate: it is in our food, our music, our art, and our time with family and our community. I am also proud of social progress as it relates to the rights of LGBTQ+ people and the right to an abortion — including recent court wins in Mexico and Colombia.
Please name a person [family, friend, role model, icon, or historical figure] that you want to personally highlight this month. And then explain why or how they inspire you.
As a queer, Latino lawyer, the ICON who has inspired me is Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the wise Latina who has become the voice of the people on the Supreme Court. She is the third woman and first Latina to serve on the Court, and she previously served as a district court judge and on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Justice Sotomayor has lived an extraordinary life and speaks proudly of being a Puerto Rican from the Bronx. Her wisdom scares those who doubt her. The way she withstood the racist and sexist attacks against her is a testament to her character and inspiration to others. On the Supreme Court, Justice Sotomayor is writing for the ages — her words, sadly, in dissent today, on abortion, affirmative action, the rights of criminal defendants, and the death penalty will help guide our fights for the coming years.
Please name a case, social/political movement, or historical event that you think has impacted the community the most — positively or negatively, it’s up to you — these past 10 to 15 years. And then explain why or how.
A legal, social, and political issue that has impacted our community is immigration. For many of us, who are immigrants or have family and loved ones who have gone through the immigration system, this is very personal. In 2020, Lambda Legal and Immigration Equality, along with the law firm Kramer Levin challenged the Trump/Pence administration’s “death to asylum” rule, which would have made sweeping, essentially fatal changes to the United States asylum system. The rule, which was set to go into effect on January 11, 2021 would have made it virtually impossible for most LGBTQ+ people and those living with HIV who are fleeing persecution and seeking a safe haven in the United States to secure asylum. In Immigration Equality v. Department of Homeland Security we were successful in stopping the rule from going into effect. This case is one example of the work we have done in support of our immigrant community members.
To hear more about Richard and Lambda Legal’s work in the criminal legal system, check out this recent episode of “Nueva York” by CUNY TV.
Find our other recent blogs here, including pieces on National Coming Out Day, Banned Books Week, and Bisexual+ Awareness Week.