Resisting Is What Lambda Legal Does Best
The very first action of the Trump White House on Inauguration Day was to erase all references to LGBT people and HIV from whitehouse.gov. You could say it’s been downhill ever since—or you could take a look at the groundswell of civil rights organizing in recent months and the powerful string of Lambda Legal victories in courts and legislatures coast to coast, red states and blue.
In April, for instance, we won our biggest case since marriage equality. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in the middle of the Midwest affirmed what Lambda Legal has been arguing for years: Firing someone for their sexual orientation violates federal law. Our client was South Bend, Indiana math teacher Kim Hively, who lost her job at a local community college after someone saw her kissing her girlfriend good-bye in the school parking lot. This sort of thing goes on all the time in the U.S., sad to say, but too often there hasn’t been recourse. This marks a sea change.
Housing rights leapt forward the very same week, using the same argument. Lambda Legal clients Rachel and Tonya Smith and their two children had been barred from renting a two-bedroom townhouse in Gold Hill, Colorado because of their “unique relationship,” code words, apparently, for the fact that they are gay and that Rachel is transgender. A federal court ruled that was against the law too.
Founded in 1973, Lambda Legal is the oldest and largest national legal organization fighting for the rights of LGBT people and everyone living with HIV.
Lately, that includes standing up to the scourge of “bathroom bills” targeting trans people and “religious exemptions” that give people who want to discriminate a pass under the guise of religious belief. More than 40 religious exemption bills are now under consideration in statehouses around the country—and the LGBT community’s opponents have begun focusing their attacks on children.
Texas’s HB 3859, if it becomes law, will allow many foster care and adoption agencies—even those supported by public funds—to cite religious reasons and turn away young people and prospective parents if either or both is LGBTQ. Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota and Virginia have similar laws already.
Even when these bills don’t pass in the end, however, there’s damage. The message to LGBT people is that many of their neighbors feel bullying is okay, in or out of public bathrooms. That was also the message in February when the Trump Administration cancelled an Obama-era advisory to public schools that had urged fairness for transgender students.
Lambda Legal is prepared to fight anyone who tries to keep LGBT people out of public spaces or public life. Our restroom rights lawsuit in Pennsylvania against the Pine-Richland School District is so strong that a federal court has instructed the school to stop telling students which bathrooms they can use.
We have been doing this work for a long time, so we know as much about hearts and minds as we do about laws. Lambda Legal was advocating for lesbian mothers and gay student groups back in the 1970s, and in the 1980s won the first-ever HIV discrimination lawsuit. Then came a slew of important courtroom victories on behalf of school kids, teachers, asylum seekers and more.
Now we’re also the go-to lawyers on transgender rights, marriage equality, health care, family issues and workplace protections—whether arguing before the Supreme Court or fanning out, every day, into communities across the U.S. to participate in the bold strategizing that’s required now.
This includes Washington State, of course, where we are joining our voices with the state’s many dedicated leaders in the Washington Won’t Discriminate coalition, calling out the wrong-headed “bathroom bill” initiative and supporting the important “decline to sign” effort underway now.
“Sure, the national political scene seems to bring bad news on a daily basis, but Lambda Legal continues to win critical victories in the courts and to fight back fiercely against those who want to turn back time,” says Judi O’Kelley, Lambda Legal’s Seattle-based Director of Leadership. “And with the anti-LGBT ballot threat looming in Washington, we are determined to defend our transgender sisters, brothers and neighbors against this misguided meanness and bullying.”
Because the times call for it, Lambda Legal is committing more resources than ever to the intense work of resistance, opening our first Washington, D.C. office, for instance (our sixth), hiring more attorneys and kicking our educational work and policy advocacy up to the next level.
We have never been so busy and we have never been so determined to continue moving forward which is why we invite Seattle, all LGBT people and Americans living with HIV to…Call us. We are your lawyers.
To learn more about Lambda Legal or to donate, visit lambdalegal.org. If you experience discrimination, visit lambdalegal.org/help.