Continuing the Fight
For 50 years, Lambda Legal has worked to address the highest priority needs for members of the LGBTQ+ community and those living with HIV.
As we push forward into 2022 and beyond, Lambda Legal will continue to serve as a firewall against the escalating attacks on the LGBTQ+ community and people living with HIV, and continue to chart the course to a world where our identities and relationships are respected, protected, and celebrated. We will continue to do so through:
- Impact litigation designed to expand protections and defend the rights of the LGBTQ+ community and people living with HIV
- Education programs to expand awareness and build coalitions of support for our communities
- Public policy advocacy to challenge anti-LGBTQ+ bias and create new protections in our legal system
We will focus on five areas central to achieving equality for all LGBTQ+ persons and everyone living with HIV:
1. Winning new protections for the most vulnerable in our community. Because we know that some members of our community are more susceptible to discrimination and mistreatment than others, we have chosen to prioritize work on behalf of these seven populations:
- LGBTQ+ people facing systemic discrimination in housing, public accommodations, social services, and credit;
- LGBTQ+ Youth in schools and other government systems such as foster care;
- LGBTQ+ Seniors;
- Trans/gender-nonconforming people needing health care, identity documents, and other forms of care and recognition;
- People facing bias in the justice system and policing such as LGBTQ+ people of color and people engaging in sex work;
- People living with HIV facing criminalization and discrimination;
- LGBTQ+ Immigrants seeking asylum and/or in detention.
2. Defending our community from attacks designed to roll back our hard-won rights. We have learned from the determined and successful efforts by our opponents to undermine a woman’s right to choose (recognized by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade in 1973) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (largely gutted by the 2013 Supreme Court decision Shelby v. Holder) that we cannot take our victories for granted. We must continue to work hard to protect the rights we have won through the courts, such as Marriage Equality (secured by the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision) and Employment nondiscrimination (affirmed by the 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County decision).
3. Embedding Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion, particularly racial and transgender/gender-nonconforming equality, into every aspect of Lambda Legal’s work and organizational culture.
4. Securing our long-term financial health.
5. Making Lambda Legal a household name to those who care about LGBTQ+ equality.
Lambda Legal has helped to effect dramatic social change through historic courtroom victories and policy work over the years, including these landmark cases where we served as counsel:
- 1974: Bonner v. Gay Student Group, which guaranteed the rights of students to have LGBT student clubs on college campuses
- 1983: People v. 49 West 12 Tenants Corp, which won the first federal protections for people living with HIV
- 1996: Nabozny v. Podlesny, where courts held, for the first time, that federal law compelled public schools to protect LGBTQ+ students from bullying and harassment
- 2003: Lawrence v. Texas, where we persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn all remaining state sodomy laws in the U.S.
- 2015: Obergefell v. Hodges, where the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land
The Need for Continued Work
Lambda Legal is justifiably proud of our victories that advance the rights of LGBTQ+ people and everyone living with HIV, but we remain highly aware of the work that still needs to be done. LGBTQ+ communities continue to grapple with critical challenges, including higher rates of poverty and homelessness (particularly among LGBTQ+ youth), heightened levels of harassment and violence (particularly for transgender communities), and marked disparities in healthcare access. Statistics that help paint the picture include:
- 33% of all homeless youth are LGBTQ+ (Youth Count survey of homeless youth)
- LGBTQ+ youth are nearly four times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth, according to the CDC (23.4% vs. 6.4%, respectively)
- Violence against transgender people continues to rise, with the National Crime Victimization Survey finding that transgender people are four times more likely to be subjected to violent victimization and in 2020, a new record was set for the number of transgender people murdered. Movement Advancement Project for information about the laws affecting LGBTQ+ people).
- According to SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders), 48% of same sex couples have experienced adverse treatment when seeking senior housing.
- LGBTQ+ immigrants are at particular risk because deportation to any of the 67 countries where same-sex relations are a crime (and in 11 countries, a capital crime) could result in imprisonment or even death.
The reality of persistent discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and everyone living with HIV is illustrated by Lambda Legal’s 2021 report, The United States of Discrimination, which analyzes data gathered from the roughly 4,500 calls to Lambda Legal’s attorney-staffed Help Desk received in 2020. The sad reality is that LGBTQ+ people and those living with HIV face rampant discrimination in virtually all aspects of their lives.
How We’ll Do This
- Strategically litigate select cases in federal and state courts across the country in each of Lambda Legal’s program priority areas to advance full, formal and lived equality for LGBTQ+ people and everyone living with HIV.
- Support the litigation efforts of other advocacy organizations and the private bar by authoring friend-of-the-court briefs, sharing our strategic thinking, and in other ways to ensure the best possible outcomes in litigation affecting LGBTQ+ people and everyone living with HIV.
- Advise attorneys working with LGBTQ+ clients or clients living with HIV to improve understanding of potential consequences of their cases and to increase coordination with, and effectiveness of, advocacy by the private bar.
- Consult and coordinate with supportive government entities (e.g., state Attorneys General) on impact litigation to advance the rights of LGBTQ+ people and everyone living with HIV.
- Inform our strategic case selection with information about community need to be gathered by our Legal Help Desk attorneys during their interactions with community members requesting our assistance.
Public Policy Advocacy:
- Provide legal analysis, model bill language, and other information to federal, state and local policymakers on issues affecting the civil rights of members of the LGBTQ+ community and people living with HIV.
- Partner with federal, state and local civil rights and other organizations to support the enactment of laws, the development of regulations, and the issuance of other official guidance documents to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, people living with HIV, and their families.
- Defend the integrity of the justice system by demanding fair and impartial judges in the federal and state system, challenging anti-LGBTQ+/HIV bias wherever it occurs within the justice system, and creating LGBTQ+/HIV advocacy and education tools to ensure cultural competence among officers of the court.
- Support non-LGBTQ+-specific public policy initiatives that will affect the legal rights, safety, and security of the LGBTQ+ community and everyone living with HIV.
Education and Communication:
- Explain the meaning of our litigation to the non-legal public, enhance its impact and amplify the voices of our plaintiffs and our attorneys.
- Shape public narratives that lay the groundwork for legal reform through earned media, social media, and paid media.
- Tell the stories of our clients in ways that motivate supporters to action and decision-makers and opinion leaders to new understandings of our community, using video, blogs, and social media.
- Provide expert analysis, rapid response, and commentary on political and legal developments that reinforce our brand as trusted authorities.
- Strengthen public support and awareness of the role of the courts.
- Provide accurate and accessible Know Your Rights information to LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV through digital and printed publications and through training and presentations in communities.
- Grow our audiences and reach through continued investment in our digital channels and marketing channels.
- Equip our Board, National Leadership Council, staff, donors, and supporters with the tools and talking points to be ambassadors for Lambda Legal and amplify our reach and influence further.