Q: I am a gay man who recently came out and am interested in volunteering in the movement. Lambda Legal has done a lot of work for LGBT people, including the fight for marriage equality. I know marriage was important, but not the whole battle, and wonder what's next for the LGBT movement?
A: Last year will go down in history as a watershed year in the fight for equality, liberty and dignity for LGBT individuals and for people living with HIV, underscored most dramatically by the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that eliminated discriminatory marriage bans nationwide. LGBT advocates had almost non-stop smiles on their faces for much of the year.
Same-sex couples wanting to marry and their families weren't the only winners. The Supreme Court also rejected a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, maintaining access to life-saving care for many in our community. It also rejected efforts to narrow employment and housing anti-discrimination protections. In July, the EEOC ruled that the ban on sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGB people from workplace discrimination. Transgender people needing medical care secured protections in numerous states. The Boy Scouts decided to allow local scouting units to accept openly gay leaders.
Last year was amazing, but not one without setbacks and clear signals to the battles ahead. The high-profile effort by some in Indiana to establish expansive religious exemptions that would allow businesses to discriminate was but the tip of a very large iceberg. In 2015, 80 similar bills were introduced in state legislatures; eight passed. Opponents were also able to defeat the Houston Equal Right Ordinance.
Despite this, we still continue to win in the courts, in schools, in administrative agencies and even in some legislatures. To date, every effort to justify discrimination against LGBT individuals in public accommodations based on claims of "religious freedom" has been defeated in court. In schools nationwide, officials have quickly reversed efforts to suppress the expression rights of LGBT youth in the face of efforts by Lambda Legal and others. Facing litigation we brought, the U.S. Veterans Administration and Social Security Administration amended policies to extend benefits to the surviving spouses of married same-sex couples.
Currently, Lambda Legal is working on four cases seeking to ensure that states issue accurate birth and death certificates for LGBT parents and couples. We are working hard to get courts to accept the view of the EEOC, the Department of Education, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development that sex discrimination laws protect LGBT people.
Transgender people continue to face discrimination and often horrific abuse, and our responses are stronger than ever. More than 20 percent of our docket currently concerns trans rights issues. We will also keep working to promote racial justice, advance women's and immigrants' rights, and address intersections of racism, income inequality and gender bias. None of this work takes place in a vacuuminjustice suffered by one impacts us all.
In short, we're busier than ever. For more information on how you can help, check out: www.lambdalegal.org/get-involved/volunteer .
Jon W. Davidson is the national legal director of Lambda Legal and the Eden/Rushing chair.