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The History of Lambda Legal

Our story begins with a band of volunteer lawyers struggling to break new ground for LGBT people in the American justice system. From that start came a national civil rights group that has had unprecedented success. Continuing to this day, our work improves life for a diverse community of LGBT people and people with HIV who, four decades ago, were penalized or barely recognized under the law across the nation. These highlights tell the story of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Lambda Legal is Founded

1973

Our story begins with a band of volunteer lawyers struggling to break new ground for LGBTQ+ people in the American justice system. Continuing to this day, our work improves life for a diverse community of LGBT people and people with HIV who, four decades ago, were penalized or barely recognized under the law across the nation.

Working with the New York Attorney General’s office, Lambda Legal files the nation’s first AIDS-discrimination challenge and wins a court order stopping the efforts of neighbors to evict a doctor because he treated HIV-positive patients.

1983

People V.
West 12 Tenants Corp.
Taylor V. Rice

2008

Two weeks before trial, the State Department lifts its ban on hiring people with HIV as Foreign Service Officers, ending Lambda Legal’s five-year case challenging this discriminatory policy.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upholds ruling that the firing of Vandy Beth Glenn, a transgender woman who worked for the Georgia General Assembly, was unconstitutional--the most important ruling in federal court to date supporting the rights of transgender employees.

2011

Glenn V. Brumby
Golinski V. U.S. Office Of Personnel Management

2012

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Lambda Legal obtains equal health insurance coverage for the spouse of federal employee Karen Golinski after a U.S. District Court holds the main portion of the “Defense of Marriage Act” unconstitutional.

Lambda Legal's First Regional Office

1990

Lambda Legal opens its first regional office, the Western Regional Office in Los Angeles.

The opening of Lambda Legal's Midwest Regional Office in Chicago makes Lambda Legal the first LGBTQ+ organization with a Midwestern base.

1993

Lambda Legal Opens 
Midwest Regional Office
Baehr V. Miike

1996

After a trial in which Lambda Legal acted as co-counsel, a Hawaii court rules that the state has no valid reason not to allow same-sex couples to marry. While the ruling is eventually overturned by a state constitutional amendment, the case sparks the modern freedom-to-marry movement.

People V. Onofre

1980

New York’s sodomy law is struck down with the help of a Lambda Legal friend-of-the-court brief.

The U.S. Supreme Court refuses to reverse the victory.

Henkle V. Gregory

2001

Lambda Legal's school harassment case establishes that LGBT students have a First Amendment right to be "out" at school.

Our first case filed on our own behalf forces the state of New York to allow Lambda Legal to form as a nonprofit organization. Basing our Articles of Incorporation on those of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund (PRLDEF), Attorney Bill Thom founds Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, officially authorized to practice law on October 18, 1973

1973

In Re Thom

Lambda Legal opens its fifth office, the South Central Regional Office in Dallas, in order to better represent the needs of LGBT people and people with HIV in that part of the country.

2002

Lambda Legal Opens South Central Regional Office
Today

2021

Two weeks before trial, the State Department lifts its ban on hiring people with HIV as Foreign Service Officers, ending Lambda Legal’s five-year case challenging this discriminatory policy.

Lawrence V. Texas

2003

Lambda Legal wins landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Lawrence v. Texas, which strikes down the nation's remaining state sodomy laws and affirms the constitutional liberty to engage in private, consensual sexual intimacy without government interference.

Lambda Legal open Southern Regional Office, becoming one of the first national lesbian and gay organizations to have a fully staffed southern office in Atlanta.

1997

Lambda Legal Opens
Southern Regional Office

California’s domestic partnership law, which Lambda Legal helped draft, is upheld against right-wing attack in a lawsuit fought by Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the ACLU.

2006

Knight V. Schwarzenegger

In a historic decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declares that denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry violates the U.S. Constitution. The Court’s decision invalidates all state statutes and constitutional amendments barring same-sex couples from marriage. Lambda Legal was co-counsel in one of the landmark cases.

2015

Obergefell V. Hodges

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