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NonprofitHi, I’m Rachel B. Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal, the oldest and largest legal organization fighting for the civil rights of LGBTQ and HIV+ people in the U.S. Ask Me Anything!

Apr 27th 2017 by lambdalegal • 11 Questions • 69 Points

Bio: We are the lawyers behind many of the pivotal cases in the struggle towards full equality. We kicked off the marriage movement in Hawaii in 1993, helped win nationwide marriage equality in 2015, and today we are defending marriage in states where it is under attack.

Long before marriage, our cases built the foundation for many of the advances we’ve made for the LGBTQ+ communities. The 1996 breakthrough Romer case was the first time the Supreme Court said that gays and lesbians have the same right to seek government protection against discrimination as any other group of people. In 2003, we ended the criminalization of LGBT lives by overturning state sodomy laws in Lawrence.

Earlier this month we won a pivotal employment discrimination case on behalf of a lesbian who lost her job after someone saw her kissing her girlfriend goodbye in the parking lot. In that case, the full Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said that discriminating against someone because they are lesbian, gay or bisexual is a form of sex discrimination, and it is against the law. (Four circuits have already held that discriminating against transgender people is sex discrimination.)

And we are most certainly not going back! Right now, we’re busy fighting against a hostile Trump Administration, fighting the so-called “bathroom bills” mushrooming all over the country; defending the Affordable Care Act, which is the most successful AIDS-fighting program in American history; fighting employment discrimination; and challenging fringe religious groups that want carve-outs to laws that protect everyone.

Wherever LGBTQ rights are at stake, we’re on the case… so ask me anything!

Proof: http://imgur.com/a/h5JdK

EDIT: We're all done! Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions and support. We appreciate you all! If you are seeking assistance with a legal matter involving sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV, please call the Lambda Legal office in your region and ask for the Legal Help Desk.

Q:

Do you see any utility in groups such as Pink Pistols that argue for ancillary constitutional rights (in this case, the Second Amendment) to the fight for LGBTQ rights?

A:

Lambda has written about gun violence, especially after the murders at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando: http://www.lambdalegal.org/blog/20160614_gun-violence-is-an-lgbt-issue

I think everyone should be out of the closet, so organizing on any issue in an LGBT framework is important to queer visibility. Pink Pistols takes one position, Gays Against Guns takes another.


Q:

Do you guys have a plan to counteract all the bathroom bills that are popping up in several different states?

A:

Yes. We filed a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina less than one week after they passed HB 2 last year. We are fighting HB 2.0, the fake repeal of that bill.

We are actively monitoring state bills around the country, and supporting local coalitions that are fighting them. Texas is a good example.

We sued a Pittsburgh school district that yanked 3 kids' right to participate in school by using the bathroom in peace. And we won.


Q:

What has been your hardest case yet?

A:

They're all hard until we win!

The hardest ones, are the ones with the biggest impact and the most people directly affected. We spent about four years working on a case that became Lawrence v. Texas. Ending the sodomy laws was crucial to everything else we needed to do.

Every other right and privilege was constrained by the fact of our criminality: the right to foster and adopt children, or to raise your children after divorce; to serve your country in the military or any other government service; to immigrate to the United States; or to hold any job at all. So the work we put into that case, and all of the cases before it that struck down sodomy laws one state at a time, would rank up there with our very hardest.


Q:

I am a transgender trial and appellate lawyer, as well as a strong supporter of Lambda Legal. In light of the success of marriage equality under Obergefell, I understand that the LGBT rights movement lost some momentum, as wealthy gay donors have had less inspiration to donate without a cause that directly affects them. How is Lambda Legal adapting, and what are the next frontiers?

A:

I am really proud and really pleased to say that Lambda's donors are with us. I started this job last summer, before the election, and I talked to donors around the country. Our donors get that the work isn't done, that attacks on transgender people are the leading edge of our fight ahead, and they are with us. I was honestly surprised at how little I had to explain this to our oldest, most loyal donors.


Q:

With Obergefell v Hodges failing to define a level of constitutional scrutiny for orientation based discrimination, do you see the Roberts court giving it intermediate scrutiny in future legislation, or is there a case for strict scrutiny?

A:

Two really interesting trends are relevant here: strict or intermediate scrutiny for discrimination against trans people, like in the preliminary injunction we recently won for Pittsburgh high school students, and the courts' acknowledgment – like in Hively – that it is hard to tell the difference between a gender identity claim and a sexual orientation claim. So I expect that the trend toward strict or intermediate scrutiny for both sexual orientation and gender identity will continue.


Q:

Have you ever heard of examples of LGBT people being denied food assistance (i.e. SNAP, or other, private providers such as food pantries or banks)? The Federally funded programs are covered under the Civil Rights Act, which as we all know doesn't explicitly protect LGBT people (for now).

A:

Happily, the Civil Rights Act does protect trans people in four circuits, and LGBT people in the Seventh Circuit as of three weeks ago.

And yes, unfortunately we are hearing anecdotal reports of people being denied food. Just this week, a transgender woman in South Dakota was denied food because the food pantry didn't like what she was wearing. (https://mic.com/articles/175143/south-dakota-transgender-woman-denied-entrance-to-soup-kitchen-for-wearing-a-dress)

Lambda Legal's job is to sue people who break the law while spending taxpayer money.


Q:

[deleted]

A:

That bill is still on Governor Ivey’s desk and we urge everyone in Alabama to call and tell her to VETO!

There are so many children in foster care in these states who lack a stable, loving family to care for them and potentially provide a permanent adoptive home. This bill is a thinly-veiled attempt to single out LGBT foster and adoptive parents.

Finding a suitable foster or adoptive home can be a challenge, particularly for older children and those with special needs. The passage of this discriminatory bill would have dangerous, devastating effects for children in the Alabama foster care system by allowing state-funded agencies to turn away loving individuals and families. The state-funded, faith-based agencies pushing these bills also serve LGBT youth. This type of legislation sends a damaging message to these youth that they are ‘different’ and unsuitable to be parents themselves. Though the bill does not specifically name LGBT individuals or same-sex couples, the intent of the language is clear, as is the message it conveys. If people encounter problems, they should definitely get in touch with us.


Q:

I'm a straight ally. How can I get involved and help?

A:

Thank you. The same way that LGBT people can get involved and help: tell your friends why you support equal rights, tell your Congresspeople, write to your state legislators and your governor.

Post on social media what you think, especially if you're not sure if everyone you know agrees with you.

Lambda's had 7,000 new, first-time donors since the election, and a lot of them are straight: https://www.lambdalegal.org/donate


Q:

Hi Rachel! I was a legal intern at Lamda Legal in Dallas, Texas during the summer of 2011. I worked for Ken Upton. It was one of the best summers of my life because of the work I did and who I worked with. It has been a dream of mine to continue the work at Lambda Legal but first I needed to get my feet wet. I have been practicing law in Florida for the past three years. And I am now more than ready to come and work for Lamda Legal. Is there an opportunity for me at Lambda Legal at any of your offices?

A:

Thank you for your support! I'm glad to hear it was a good experience. Please check out our Jobs page: http://www.lambdalegal.org/about-us/jobs


Q:

Is there anything being done to coordinate actions among various LGBT legal organizations ?

A:

A ton. We are extremely well-coordinated, and after years in the immigrant rights movement, I can definitively say that LGBT movement coordination is the envy of other social movements.

LGBT legal organizations have met regularly for 30 years, beginning as a group that was originally called the "Ad Hoc Sodomy Law Roundtable." (Really!)


Q:

Aside from the obvious (donations), what can the LGBT community do to support your efforts?

A:

Talk about us! Tell people what we're doing, and that it's Lambda Legal that's doing it.

Show us some love on social media, tell your friends and family, and if you want to invest in something that will make your life and the lives of strangers better, become a monthly donor. And stay out and proud!