In Re Thom
We were forced to become our own first client. When Bill Thom filed our incorporation paperwork as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, a panel of New York judges blocked our application because, in their view, our mission was “neither benevolent nor charitable.” We appealed and won—then got to work representing other members of our community in court.
Gay Students Organization v. Bonner
After a group of gay students at the University of New Hampshire began sponsoring events on campus, the governor threatened to defund the entire university if the organization continued its “socially abhorrent activities.” Lambda Legal sued and won, securing the students’ right to be treated like any other group on campus.
People v. West 12 Tenants Corp.
Pioneering AIDS researcher Dr. Joseph Sonnabend opened a clinic in Greenwich Village to treat people living with HIV. His neighbors responded by trying to evict him, arguing that the presence of his patients would lower property values. In the nation’s first HIV-discrimination lawsuit, Lambda Legal teamed up with the New York attorney general’s office to stop his eviction. And Dr. Sonnabend was able to treat patients in his clinic for years to come.
Bowers v. Hardwick
Michael Hardwick was arrested in his Atlanta home for engaging in private, consensual sexual activity that was illegal under the state’s sodomy law. He took his fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld Georgia’s law. In response, Lambda Legal helped develop a successful strategy to dismantle sodomy laws in state courts across the country.
In re Pitcherskaia
When Alla Pitcherskaia spoke out against Russia’s treatment of LGBTQ+ people, she was arrested, beaten, and forced to undergo conversion therapy. When her application for her seeking asylum in the US was denied, Lambda Legal stood up for her. Our work with Alla established the precedent that undergoing forced conversion therapy constitutes persecution that can be entitle gay people to asylum in the United States.
In re Guardianship of Sharon Kowalski
Sharon Kowalski and Karen Thompson were together for four years when a car accident upended their lives. Kowalski was paralyzed. Her parents de ella—refusing to acknowledge their daughter’s partner de ella—moved her into a nursing home 200 miles away and barred Thompson from visiting. Lambda Legal filed an amicus brief in the case, and Thompson won the right to bring Kowalski home after eight years
Baehr v. Miike
Ninia Baehr and her partner, along with three other same-sex couples, all had their marriage licenses denied by the state of Hawaii. Lambda Legal helped secure a decision that said the state has no valid reason not to allow same-sex couples to marry. Although that ruling was eventually overturned by a state constitutional amendment, it proved that marriage equality could in fact be won in the courts.
Henkle v. Gregory
Derek Henkle was in the ninth grade when he came out. Almost immediately, he was harassed, threatened, and beaten. Rather than holding his attackers accountable, school officials punished Henkle by forcing him to transfer. Lambda Legal took on his case. We secured the largest-ever pretrial award of its kind, required his school district to implement sweeping new policies to protect students from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and established that LGBTQ+ students have a First Amendment right to be “out” at school.
Lawrence v. Texas
More than a decade after the Bowers v. Hardwick decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Georgia’s discriminatory sodomy law, two men were arrested in Texas for having consensual sex. Lambda Legal argued on their behalf, taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a historic victory, the Court struck down the Texas law and reversed the Bowers decision, declaring all sodomy laws unconstitutional.
Dunbar v. Foot Locker Inc.
Kevin Dunbar’s coworkers at the Foot Locker stores in Columbia, South Carolina, bullied and harassed him for being gay. When Dunbar spoke up about his treatment, he was fired. Lambda Legal defended Dunbar in court and secured a major settlement—winning not only monetary damages for Dunbar but also workplace reforms across the state, including more vigorous anti-discrimination training.
Knight v. Schwarzenegger
California’s landmark domestic partnership law, which Lambda Legal helped to draft, protected thousands of same-sex couples. But this law faced an uncertain future when California voters passed Proposition 22, an anti–marriage equality measure. The courts needed to decide whether the domestic partnership law was in conflict with this newly passed ballot initiative. With our partners, we successfully defended domestic partnership from the vicious right-wing attack.
Glenn v. Brumby et al.
After Vandy Beth Glenn announced she would be living openly as a woman and started gender-affirming medical treatments, she was fired from her job in Georgia’s state government. Lambda Legal took on her case and secured a court ruling that declared her firing unconstitutional. It was the most important ruling in federal court to date supporting the rights of transgender employees.
Historic Double Victory at the Supreme Court: U.S. v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry
When New Yorker Edie Windsor lost her partner of more than 40 years, she was forced to pay estate taxes that straight couples didn’t have to. Across the country in California, two couples—Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, and Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo—were denied marriage licenses due to a state ballot proposition that banned same-sex marriage.
On the same day, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed both of these acts of discrimination. The Court struck down the core of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which banned federal recognition of same-sex marriage, and restored the freedom to marry in California. Lambda Legal submitted friend-of-the-court briefs in both cases.
Obergefell v. Hodges
James Obergefell lovingly cared for his husband, John Arthur, through his final years with ALS. Their home state of Ohio, which did not recognize same-sex marriage, refused to print Obergefell’s name as surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate. In a historic decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Ohio’s policy and other discriminatory state laws and constitutional amendments across the country. Lambda Legal was part of the legal team that secured this victory, which made marriage equality the law of the land.
The Work Ahead
Our work is far from over.
Today, these hard-won advances are under threat across the country. In recent years, we’ve seen hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced. Discriminatory bills such as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” have become law. Parents and doctors are being criminalized for providing gender-affirming care. With your support, Lambda Legal will continue to protect our community from these attacks and keep making the case for equality.