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Lambda Legal

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Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund
Formation1973; 51 years ago (1973)
Legal status501(c)(3)
PurposeLGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) civil rights
HeadquartersNew York City, United States
John F. Stafstrom

The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, better known as Lambda Legal, is an American civil rights organization that focuses on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities as well as people living with HIV/AIDS (PWAs) through impact litigation, societal education, and public policy work.


Lambda's founder William J. Thom, Esq. submitted incorporation papers for approval to the New York Courts in 1971, but his application was denied on the grounds that its proposed activities would be "neither benevolent nor charitable in purpose" and "there was no demonstrated need for its existence".[1] That decision was overturned in 1973 by the New York Court of Appeals, which is the highest court of New York State.[2][3] (In re Thom, 301 N.E.2d 542 (N.Y. 1973).)

The original incorporators, in addition to Bill Thom, were E. Carrington Boggan,[4] and Michael J. Lavery. At their first meeting on November 10, 1973, they were elected to the newly constituted board of directors namely Rodney L. Eubanks, Shepherd Raimi, and D. Nicholas Russo.[5]

Because of the scarcity of openly gay lawyers in 1973, Lambda Legal formed a Board of Advisors of prominent New Yorkers sympathetic to the cause of gay rights. They included US Congressperson Bella Abzug, New York State Senator Carol Bellamy, Association of the Bar President Merrell E. Clark, Rev. John Corn of Trinity Church and Martin Duberman, Distinguished Professor at City University of New York.[5] Also on the Board of Advisors were the two lawyers who later became New York State Supreme Court Justices: Phyllis Gangel-Jacob and Shirley Fingerhood.

From its inception, Lambda Legal sought diversity on its board of directors. Initially, it could find no lesbian lawyers who were willing or able to be openly associated with a gay activist organization. Nathalie Rockhill, a major figure in the early post-Stonewall days of Gay Liberation, was the first woman elected to the board in 1974. She was soon followed by lesbian law students and, in time, by lesbian lawyers. By the 1980s, men and women were equally represented on Lambda's board.[6]

Lambda's growth paralleled the growth of the gay movement. By the 1980s, with the crisis of the AIDS epidemic getting more attention, awareness of gay activism had grown significantly. Thomas B. Stoddard, who was executive director from 1986 to 1992, helped to author a bill passed in 1986 by the New York City Council to protect queer people against bias in housing, employment, and public accommodations. Mayor Ed Koch, who signed the bill enacting it into law said: "The legislation drafted by Tom Stoddard was perfect." In 1993, Stoddard and other nationally known gay leaders met with President Bill Clinton, first such delegation to meet inside the Oval Office.[7]

In 2013, Lambda Legal – Midwest Regional Office was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.[8]

Its national headquarter remained in New York City, but today it has regional offices in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Washington.[9]


Lambda Legal has played a role in many legal cases pertaining to gay rights, including the 6–3 United States Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which invalidated sodomy laws in the United States.

Lambda Legal carries out its legal work principally through test cases selected for the likelihood of their success in establishing positive legal precedents that will affect lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those affected by HIV. Lambda Legal's staff of attorneys works on a wide range of cases, with their docket averaging more than 50 cases at any given time.

Lambda Legal also maintains a national network of volunteer Cooperating Attorneys, which widens the scope of their legal work and allows attorneys, legal workers and law students to become involved in the program by working with Lambda Legal's legal staff.[10]

Lambda Legal pursues litigation in all parts of the country, in every area of the law that affects communities they represent, such as discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and the military; HIV/AIDS-related discrimination and public policy issues; parenting and relationship issues; equal marriage rights; equal employment and domestic partnership benefits;[11] "sodomy" law challenges; immigration issues; anti-gay initiatives; and free speech and equal protection rights.[12]

Before taking on legal work on behalf of same-sex marriage rights, Lambda Legal had to resolve an internal debate over the significance of marriage for its constituency and the strategic wisdom of taking on the issue. In 1990, it declined to represent the plaintiffs in the initial challenge to Hawaii's denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It filed an amicus brief in that case at a later stage and another in Dean v. District of Columbia, its first advocacy for same-sex marriage.[13]

Lambda Legal publishes the "Little Black Book", which contains information regarding the possible consequences of gay men "cruising" for sex in public places.[14] The "Little Black Book" includes the following material: "If you cruise in parks, bathrooms or other spaces open to public view, trust your instincts, be aware of your surroundings – and know your rights. While Lambda Legal and other groups are fighting against the ways police target men who have sex with men, having sex where others might see you and take offense can subject you to arrest, publicity and other serious consequences. If you feel unsafe, you should leave."[14] The "Little Black Book" goes on to advise as follows: "If you’re cruising for sex and an undercover cop hits on you, what you do can still be a crime."[14]

In July 2012, Lambda founder Bill Thom was interviewed at his nursing home in Manhattan, and gave a first-hand account of the early years of Lambda Legal. This resulted in a letter[15] from the current co-chair of Lambda Legal to Bill Thom dated September 25, 2012, in which he says "The world is a vastly better place for LGBT people than when I started practice 20 years ago and is almost unrecognizable from the world in which you took on the heroic and unprecedented task of fighting back."

Represented by Lambda Legal, Immigration Equality and law firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius,[16] in October 2020, the United States Department of State withdrew its appeal of the verdict in Kiviti v. Pompeo, and declined to appeal Mize-Gregg v. Pompeo.[17] Federal district courts ruled the State Department's refusal to recognize children born overseas to married same-sex, American citizen couples as U.S. citizens to be unlawful in both cases.[16][18]

Following a 2017 Trump administration presidential order to ban transgender troops from the US military, Lambda indicated that they would be taking action to challenge the legality of the order.[19] The order was blocked by courts until the Supreme Court allowed it to go into effect in January 2019, but was reversed two years later by executive order of President Biden, less than a week after his inauguration in January 2021.[20]

In May 2022, Lambda Legal launched the first episode of its new podcast, "Making the Case," hosted by Alex Berg. Listeners will have the opportunity to learn more about the creative strategies, unique challenges, and passion that helped win some of the most significant cases for the LGBTQ+ community and people living with HIV in recent memory.[21]

Attorneys and legal department[edit]

The legal department at Lambda Legal consists of a broad array of grassroots activists, corporate attorneys, Help Desk staff, and administrative professionals committed to achieving the full recognition of the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and people living with HIV:

Jenny Pizer, Chief Legal Officer and the Eden/Rushing Chair for Lambda Legal:

As Chief Legal Officer, Jenny Pizer leads Lambda Legal's department of over 20 attorneys, 11 paraprofessionals, and five dozen impact litigation cases across the United States.[22]

Pizer first joined Lambda Legal's staff in 1986 as an intern while attending New York University School of Law. Pizer co-counseled the litigation that legalized marriage between same-sex couples in California on May 15, 2008, in re Marriage Cases.[23] On August 18 of that same year, Pizer won a unanimous California Supreme Court victory in N. Coast Women's Care Med. v. S.C[24] on behalf of Guadalupe Benitez, a lesbian denied infertility due to the discriminatory religious objections brought forth by her doctor.

She clerked for the honorable Ann Aldrich of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, received her J.D. from New York University School of Law and her Bachelor of Arts from Harvard College.

Public education[edit]

As a part of Lambda Legal's education component, the organization periodically publishes articles, playbooks, and surveys to educate the general public and influence public policy on issues facing the LGBTQ+ community and people living with HIV.

On April 20, 2023, Lambda Legal partnered with the non-profit organizations Black and Pink National, and Strength in Numbers Consulting Group to publish the Protected & Served? 2022 Report.[25] The report is a data-quantitative information of personal stories conducted across over 2,500 LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV capturing their experiences with misconduct involving police, courts, prisons, jails, schools, and other government agencies.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "In re Thom, 42 A.D.2d 353 | Casetext Search + Citator". casetext.com. Archived from the original on 2022-07-18. Retrieved 2020-06-13.
  2. ^ "Lambda Legal History". Archived from the original on 2022-07-17. Retrieved 2018-07-02.
  3. ^ Smyth, Michael; Sanderson, Jordan (2019), "Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund", in Chiang, Howard; Arondekar, Anjali; Epprecht, Marc; Evans, Jennifer (eds.), Global Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) History, vol. 2, Farmington Hills, MI: Charles Scribner's Sons, pp. 891–893
  4. ^ "E. C. Boggan, 48, Dies; Handled Rights Cases". NY Times. February 1, 1992. Archived from the original on May 26, 2015. Retrieved August 5, 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Minutes of the Combined Organizational Meeting and of the First Meeting of the Members and First Meeting of Directors", Lambda Legal, November 10, 1973
  6. ^ Primary source – original board member, Shepherd Raimi, July 23, 2008
  7. ^ Thomas Stoddard, 48, Dies; An Advocate of Gay Rights, New York Times, February 14, 1997
  8. ^ "Inductees by Year". Archived from the original on 2015-10-17. Retrieved 2016-08-01.
  9. ^ "About Us". Lambda Legal. Archived from the original on January 29, 2012. Retrieved February 9, 2012.
  10. ^ Paquette, Monica (September 14, 2011). "Marketplace". New York Law Journal.
  11. ^ Pinckard, Cliff (April 3, 2009). "Gay-marriage ruling expected today in Iowa". The Plain Dealer. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved February 9, 2012.
  12. ^ Pearson, Sophia; Dolmetsch, Chris (June 29, 2011). "New Jersey's Civil Union Law Challenged by Rights Group". Bloomberg Businessweek. Archived from the original on July 2, 2011.
  13. ^ Pinello, Daniel R. (2006). America's Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage. Cambridge University Press. pp. 24–6. ISBN 978-0521848565.
  14. ^ a b c "Lambda Legal Releases 'Little Black Book,' Resource Against Police Harassment And Other Dangers Gay Men Encounter When Cruising For Sex". Lambda Legal. February 3, 2004. Archived from the original on May 6, 2013. Retrieved February 9, 2012.
  15. ^ a b Greene, Jenna (27 May 2021). "Pro Bono Hero: How Morgan Lewis partner Manning helped win citizenship for babies of same-sex couples". Reuters. Reuters. Archived from the original on 24 October 2021. Retrieved 20 October 2021.
  16. ^ Ring, Trudy (27 October 2020). "State Dept. Quits Fight Over Citizenship of Same-Sex Couples' Kids". advocate.com. The Advocate. Archived from the original on 21 October 2021. Retrieved 20 October 2021.
  17. ^ "Victory! State Department Withdraws Appeal in Cases of Same-Sex Couples' Children Refused Passports". www.lambdalegal.org. Lambda Legal. 27 October 2020. Archived from the original on 23 October 2021. Retrieved 20 October 2021.
  18. ^ @LambdaLegal (August 25, 2017). "Hey @realDonaldTrump, expect to get..." (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  19. ^ Detrow, Scott (25 January 2021). "Biden Repeals Ben on Transgender Troops". NPR. National Public Radio. Archived from the original on 18 July 2022. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  20. ^ "Lambda Legal Launches New Podcast". Erie Gay News. July 2022. Archived from the original on July 9, 2022. Retrieved July 9, 2022.
  21. ^ "Jennifer C. Pizer Named Lambda Legal's Chief Legal Officer". The Advocate. Archived from the original on 2023-05-02. Retrieved 2023-05-02.
  22. ^ "In re Marriage Cases, 43 Cal.4th 757 | Casetext Search + Citator". casetext.com. Archived from the original on 2023-05-02. Retrieved 2023-05-02.
  23. ^ "N. Coast Women's Care Med. v. S.C, 44 Cal.4th 1145 | Casetext Search + Citator". casetext.com. Archived from the original on 2023-05-02. Retrieved 2023-05-02.
  24. ^ "Protected & Served?: Voices from the Inside". Lambda Legal. Archived from the original on 2023-05-02. Retrieved 2023-05-02.
  25. ^ "2022 Report". Protected & Served?. Archived from the original on 2023-05-03. Retrieved 2023-05-02.

External links[edit]