Go Magazine Names Lambda Legal Plaintiffs in Annual "100 Women We Love" List

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June 18, 2012
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Langbehn and family with the President at the White House

Go Magazine has named Lambda Legal plaintiffs Janice Langbehn, Karen Thompson and Sharon Kowalski in its annual "100 Women We Love" list. Also on the list is Leslie Gabel-Brett, Lambda Legal's Director of Education and Public Affairs.

Langbehn and her partner of 18 years, Lisa Pond, were about to depart from Miami on a family cruise with their three children when Pond suddenly collapsed. Langbehn and her children were kept apart from Pond by hospital staff for eight hours as Pond slipped into a coma and later died. Lambda Legal sued the hospital on Langbehn's behalf, but a federal court rejected the suit. Despite her grief, Langbehn continued to work with Lambda Legal, other LGBT organizations and hospital officials to change visitation policies. In 2010, President Obama issued a memo directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to take steps to address hospital visitation and other health care issues affecting LGBT families. President Obama then called Langbehn from Air Force One to tell her about the memo and express his sympathy for how she and her family were treated by the hospital. Last year, Obama honored Langbehn with the Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation's second-highest civilian honor.

Langbehn tells the magazine:

Losing Lisa just five years ago was a defining moment in my life; being denied access to hold her hand during her final eight hours of life will haunt me forever. With the loss of Lisa so suddenly and unexpectedly, it compelled me to speak up and make a difference. I don't believe, for a person to make difference, it needs to come from such a major life event. All it takes is a passion and a desire to change something. One voice can make an impact.

Kowalski and Thompson were together for four years when a car accident left Kowalski paralyzed. Refusing to recognize the relationship, Kowalski's father assumed guardianship of her, despite her requests to be placed in Thompson's care. Thompson fought for eight years to bring her partner home. Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief on her behalf. The couple was finally reunited in 1991.

Thompson says:

We need to protect our relationships in every way possible because nightmares like Sharon’s and mine don’t need to happen. While marriage for same-sex couples can help legitimize our relationships, it is not enough. Begin the conversation about advance directives with your partners, families, and loved ones. Don’t leave yourselves vulnerable like Sharon and I did.

Gabel-Brett has been an activist and policy leader for the rights of LGBT people, women and people living with HIV, for 30 years. She oversees Lambda Legal's communications, public education and outreach activities. She tells Go Magazine:

I love working at Lambda Legal because I am surrounded by really smart, dedicated people who are making change happen every day. I have been working for social justice and equality for a long time, and right now, our progress is breathtaking. Being part of our movement for equality is inspiring, thrilling and never, ever boring.

Go Magazine's previous honorees include Lambda Legal plaintiffs Kate and Trish Varnum, Dawn & Jen BarbouRoske, Karen Golinski and Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, as well as Lambda Legal Deputy Director Fran Goldstein and former staffers Jennifer Pizer and Patricia Logue.

This year's lineup is here.