Lambda Legalthe nation's oldest and largest legal nonprofit focused on the rights of LGBTQ+ people, as well as those individiuals living with HIVcelebrated its 50th anniversary Oct. 18 with an in-person event in New York City and at regional watch parties in various cities, including at Chicago's Sidetrack nightclub.
This event, held during LGBTQ+ History Month, comes amidst legal attacks against the LGBTQ+ community across the United States. Lambda legal's current messaging invokes both the community's "unprecedented past" and "unstoppable future," to ensure "equality and freedom for all" becomes a reality despite recent setbacks.
Lambda Legal Midwest Regional Director Doug Curtis said, "Our organization is unique among many other national organizations in this space [thanks to both] its direct connections to local activists and the community connections we have through our regional offices; none of them are stronger than what we have here in Chicago."
Curtis spoke about the early work and leadership in Chicago, mentioning contributions from Bon Foster (for his legacy donation that resulted in the creation of Chicago's Midwest Regional Office); former Board Member Pat Logue (who opened Chicago's Midwest Regional Office); and former Midwest Regional Directors Mona Noriega, Chris Clark, Jim Bennett and Brian Richardson.
Curtis also reflected both on growing up in Wheaton at the time of Lambda Legal's founding, and how much things have changed in the U.S. for out LGBTQ+ people and those living with HIV.
The livestream kicked off with another video showcasing Lambda Legal's vision and what they have accomplished over the past 50 years. Comedian Dana Goldberg welcomed viewers in the various cities (Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Los Angeles) holding watch parties and those who were livestreaming from their homes.
Goldberg spoke about Lambda Legal filing its incorporation papers as a non-profit, which were rejected by a panel of New York State judges. As such, Lambda Legal became its own first client to get the decision reversed at the New York Court of Appeals. On Oct. 18, 1973, the organization got off the ground with $25 in the bank and their name written on a band-aid to affix to the apartment mailbox where their first offices were located.
Throughout Goldberg's retelling of Lambda Legal's history, videos were shown featuring remarks by Lambda Legal's HIV Project Director Jose Abrigo; Lambda Legal's Chief Legal Officer and Eden/Rushing Chair Jennifer Pizer; Lambda Legal's Senior Attorney and Criminal Justice and Police Misconduct Strategist Richard Saenz; Deputy Legal Director for Litigation Camilla Taylor (who is based in Chicago); Director of the Non-Binary and Transgender Rights Project Sasha Buchert; and Lambda Legal's Deputy Legal Director for Policy Kristine Kippins.
Abrigo focused on the work Lambda Legal did to make it illegal to discriminate against people with HIV/AIDS under existing disability laws in New York State, as well as other HIV/AIDS protection victories in the decades going forward. Pizer spoke about Lambda Legal's victory in the U.S. Supreme Court case Romer v. Evans in 1996. That decision said that the Colorado State Constitution Amendment 2 violated the equal protection clause when it comes to one's sexual orientation.
Saenz spoke on the implications of Lambda Legal's Lawrence v. Texas U.S. Supreme Court victory, which determined that the right to privacy is legal under national law. He reminded the audience that this case ended the criminalization of LGBTQ+ people's private lives, but added, "This is currently the most dangerous landscape that LGBTQ+ people have faced in decades" due to Republican state legislators in multiple states who are attempting to reverse these gains.
Taylor focused on the Obergefell v. Hodges U.S. Supreme Court case, of which she was one of the litigators, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. She also touched on the cases in individual states that brought her and Lambda Legal to the moment marriage equality became law of the land in June 2015.
Buchert spoke about Lambda Legal's victories on behalf of non-binary and transgender Americans, including the rights to accurate gender markers on U.S. passports that added X to the available choices and serving in the military, among other issues.
Kippins admitted that the community's fight continuethere are now 600 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in state legislatures across the United States that are especially targeting non-binary and trans youth. She added that the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision that overturned Roe v. Wade was a warning sign that no court decision is final.
Goldberg additionally celebrated the ordinary people who became plaintiffs in the many cases Lambda Legal brought before various courts in the United States. She also elicited laughs from the Chicago audience when she said she "feels very lesbian Steve Kornacki" thanks to her outfit choice.
Lambda Legal CEO Kevin Jennings said that while there have been victories in the past allowing the LGBTQ+ community to live freely and authentically, "the sad fact of the matter is freedom is under attack in America today" with anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced, and in some cases passed into law, in almost every state.
He added that, "We are in the fight for the future of our nation and about the fundamental values of this country," and that the difference is between everyone "having life, liberty and happiness" or where "some Americans can tell other Americans how to live their lives. That is what is at stake in this fight."
Actor and singer Alex Newell, the first out non-binary Tony Award winner, closed out the event with a rendition of Whitney Houston's "I Want to Dance with Somebody."
See lambdalegal.org/ .