A Decade of Justice: Defending Equality 2010-2020
Lambda Legal is the largest legal
organization in the United States fighting for full equality for LGBTQ people
and everyone living with HIV. This has been our sole purpose since our founding
in 1973. And while the specific battles in our overarching march towards
justice have varied over the years, we have stayed true to this mission. We
made no exception in the twenty-teens, and indeed, this was an incredibly
momentous decade in advances won for civil rights.
As we approach the end of this decade, here
are some of Lambda Legal’s greatest hits.
2010: Langbehn v. Jackson Memorial Hospital: Acknowledgement of Same-Sex
Families in Medical Settings
Although a federal district court rejected Lambda
Legal’s lawsuit, ruling that no law required the hospital to allow her and
their three children to see her dying partner, Janice Langbehn and Lambda Legal
continued to work with other LGBTQ organizations and officials at Jackson
Memorial Hospital to change hospital policies on visitation and respecting the
wishes of same-sex couples and their families.
Because of her work, President Obama called
Janice Langbehn personally to apologize and as a result announced his plan to
ensure LGBTQ patients and their families are respected in hospital visitation
2011: Glenn v. Brumby: Employment Rights for
In 2007, Vandy Beth Glenn informed her boss
at the Georgia General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Counsel that she
planned to proceed with gender transition. Her boss fired her on the spot.
We filed a federal lawsuit, and ultimately,
the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling that the Georgia General
Assembly discriminated against Vandy Beth Glenn in firing her. This remains a
cornerstone federal ruling to date supporting the rights of transgender
2012: Couch v. Wayne Local School District: Students’ Rights to Free
In April 2011, Maverick Couch, a high school
student in Waynesville, Ohio, wore a T-shirt with a rainbow Ichthys, or “sign
of the fish,” paired with the slogan “Jesus Is Not a Homophobe” in observation
of GLSEN's National Day of Silence and the school principal threatened him with
suspension. We filed a lawsuit on Maverick’s behalf and the school conceded in
one day. Our victory affirmed students’ rights to free speech.
2013: Hollingsworth v. Perry: Marriage Equality in
Lambda Legal acted as amici and assisted with
trial preparation in a case contesting Proposition 8, which halted same-sex
marriages in California. The Supreme Court ruled that proponents of Prop 8 had
no right to appeal the district court’s ruling blocking the law and restored
the freedom to marry in California.
2014: Rhoades v. Iowa: Fighting HIV
Lambda Legal represented Nick Rhoades, a man
living with HIV who was sentenced to 25 years in prison and made to register as
a sex offender after a one-time sexual encounter in which he used a condom. The
Iowa Supreme Court reversed his conviction, recognizing that the scientific
understanding of HIV transmission is evolving and HIV-positive individuals who
have a suppressed viral load as a result of effective treatment may pose little
risk of transmitting the virus.
2015: Obergefell v. Hodges: Marriage Equality
#LoveWins! In a historic decision that
included Lambda Legal’s case Henry v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court declared
that denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry violates the U.S.
Constitution. This decision invalidated all state statutes and constitutional
amendments barring same-sex couples from marriage.
2016: Brook S.B. v. Elizabeth C.C.: Non-biological
Parents’ Rights to their Children
Brook and Elizabeth were together for seven
years, and they planned for and had a son together. When Elizabeth cut off
contact abruptly in 2013, Brook filed for custody and visitation. The case made
its way up to the highest court in New York State, who ultimately issued a
groundbreaking ruling, finding that non-biological parents have the right to
seek custody and visitation.
2017: Hively v. Ivy Tech: Employment Rights for
In August of 2014, Kimberly Hively sued Ivy
Tech Community College, arguing that the school violated Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 when she was fired after being seen kissing her
then-girlfriend in the parking lot of the school. In a groundbreaking 8-3
decision, the full Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that workplace
discrimination based on sexual orientation violates federal civil rights law.
2018: Passion Star a/k/a Zollicoffer v. Livingston: Rights for
Incarcerated Transgender People
Passion Star is a Black transgender woman who
was incarcerated in male facilities. We represented her in filing a lawsuit
alleging prison officials failed to protect her from sexual and physical abuse.
In 2018, we secured a favorable settlement
for Passion Star, sending a strong message to prison officials that sexual
assault and violence against LGBTQ people who are incarcerated will not be
swept under the rug.
2019: Gore v. Lee: Fighting for Transgender Rights
This year, we filed a lawsuit in Tennessee,
making it the fifth jurisdiction in which we have challenged an existing
categorical exclusion preventing transgender people from correcting their birth
Accurate identity documents are extremely
important. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, almost one-third of
transgender individuals who showed an identity document with a name or gender
marker that conflicted with their perceived gender were harassed, denied
benefits or services, discriminated against, or assaulted.
necessary policy changes.