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Kenneth Upton

Senior Counsel and First Amendment Strategist
Chicago, IL

Kenneth D. Upton, Jr. is Senior Counsel and First Amendment Strategist for Lambda Legal, the oldest and largest national legal organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of all lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and people with HIV. He provides leadership with respect to all aspects of Lambda Legal’s First Amendment work, including free speech and free association challenges to anti-LGBTQ+ censorship as well as defense against misuse of the Free Exercise Clause to thwart anti-discrimination protections and against further erosion of the Establishment Clause.

Prior to rejoining Lambda Legal in 2024, Upton had served for five years as Senior Litigation Counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, where he litigated against religious extremists and their lawmaker allies who are attacking religious freedom in America. He served as party counsel in cases challenging a Trump-Administration regulation that would allow healthcare providers and employees to use their religious or moral beliefs as the basis to refuse to assist patients, including those who are transgender or seeking reproductive care; challenging Oklahoma’s approval of the nation’s first religious public charter school, which would use taxpayer funding to proselytize students and discriminate in admission of LGBTQ+ students; challenging state and federal funded child-placing agencies who discriminate against potential foster parents who do not share the agencies’ religious beliefs; and defending a school-district policy that requires all official school clubs, including religious ones, not to discriminate against LGBTQ students.

Upton also represented amici curiae or intervenors in cases opposing claims by business owners who claim free-speech or religious-exercise rights to disregard anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ+ customers; supporting a challenge to a state abortion ban on the grounds that it is an unconstitutional establishment of one religious view on when life begins; and challenging Trump-Administration regulations that allow sweeping exemptions for religious entities from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive-coverage requirements.

From 2005 to 2018, Upton litigated and engaged in policy advocacy at Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office in Dallas, Texas. When he left as Senior Counsel after more than 13 years there, he had appeared in more than fifty cases and supervised or had substantial input in scores more. These involved a diversity of issues, such as the freedom to marry, rights of same-sex couples who parent, workplace discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, inter-jurisdictional conflicts affecting the LGBTQ community under state laws, and the intersection of First Amendment speech and religion claims as they relate to sexual orientation and gender identity protection under nondiscrimination laws. Upton also litigated cases involving HIV discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, HIV criminalization under various state statutes, and litigation involving discrimination prohibited by the Affordable Care Act by health care providers and insurers.

Upton has served on the governing council of the LGBT Law Section of the State Bar of Texas and, in 2008, was the recipient of that section’s Norman W. Black Award in recognition of his significant contributions to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and HIV legal issues.

While he awaits admission to the Illinois Bar, Upton’s practice is currently limited to the District of Columbia, Texas, and Oklahoma, as well as before the United States Supreme Court and various federal district courts and circuit courts of appeals nationwide.