After 24 Years of Leadership, Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Cathcart Announces Retirement

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July 15, 2015
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Kevin M. Cathcart

Kevin M. Cathcart, who has been the Executive Director of Lambda Legal since 1992, announced today that he will retire when his current contract ends at the end of April, 2016.

“We cannot begin to express the admiration we have for Kevin’s extraordinary leadership and record of accomplishments,” said Stephen Winters, Co-Chair of the Board of Directors. “Kevin guided and built this organization to become America’s strongest, most effective legal advocacy organization in the LGBT civil rights movement, and the lives of countless members of the LGBT community and people living with HIV have been touched and made better by it. He has devoted his life to this work – pushing, pulling and leading our country toward equality – and we are tremendously grateful for his vision and tenacity.”

When Cathcart assumed leadership of the organization, it had a staff of 21 people and offices in New York and Los Angeles. Today, there are more than 100 staff members working across the country with offices in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas. Lambda Legal has a docket of more than 100 cases, and has helped win three historic Supreme Court cases that have changed the lives of LGBT people and the country: Romer v. Evans; Lawrence v. Texas; and the recent Supreme Court victory for marriage equality, Obergefell v. Hodges.

“It is simply not possible to replace Kevin’s depth of experience and unique role in this movement,” said Board Co-Chair Karen K. Dixon, “but one true measure of successful leadership is whether or not the organization you leave behind is strong and ready for the future. Kevin has built an incredible organization, with brilliant and dedicated attorneys and staff and a solid infrastructure. We will miss him dearly – but Lambda Legal won’t stop fighting for justice and winning victories.”

“I am proud of what we have accomplished together,” Cathcart said, “and the work will not stop over the next 10 months or the decades ahead. Our community deserves our best efforts, addressing the discrimination, violence, and inequality we still face. I plan to keep us moving forward until my last day at Lambda Legal and I have every confidence in the organization’s staff and volunteer leadership – as well as in the next generation of leaders. As with any major transition, this is an opportunity for Lambda Legal to look toward the future and continue building the capacity of the organization.”

Cathcart is considered by many to be the ‘dean’ of LGBT leaders, as the longest serving head of a major national LGBT nonprofit. Before coming to Lambda Legal, he served from 1984 to 1992 as the executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) in Boston, New England's LGBT and AIDS legal organization. In all, Cathcart has been the Executive Director of a major LGBT and HIV legal rights organization for 32 years, a time period which encompasses most of the historic victories and advances of our movement.

At Lambda Legal, he led the strategy to finally eliminate state anti-sodomy laws that criminalized sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex, leading to the thrilling and game-changing 2003 Supreme Court victory in Lawrence v. Texas.

Cathcart oversaw the continuing expansion of issues and projects at Lambda Legal, in order to address the needs of a broad range of LGBT people and people living HIV. For example, the Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project seeks to improve care of LGBT youth in foster care, shelters and other settings, along with work on behalf of all LGBTQ youth. With its National Marriage Project, Lambda Legal played a leading role in litigation and education to win the freedom to marry. Cathcart oversaw creation of Lambda Legal’s Proyecto Igualdad to better reach the LGBT Latino community and build bridges with other Latino civil rights organizations, and has recently expanded the project to increase work with other communities of color. Lambda Legal also has Transgender Rights and HIV Projects; and work addressing employment fairness; health care fairness; criminal justice and police misconduct; parents and children; seniors; immigrants’ rights; racial justice and low-income advocacy; and fair courts. While some organizations have made HIV less of a priority, Cathcart has firmly maintained Lambda Legal’s focus on the ongoing epidemic and its disproportionate impact on gay men and people of color.

While Lawrence and Obergefell were the most historic rulings secured during Cathcart’s career, there have been many others that have built the jurisprudence we now rely on: Cammermeyer v. Perry (1994), successfully challenging the removal of a lesbian officer from the military; Nabozny v. Podlesny (1996), finding schools liable for failing to protect gay students from harassment; Romer v. Evans (1996), a Supreme Court victory making clear that antigay sentiment is not a valid basis for laws; Varnum v. Brien (2009), a unanimous ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court in favor of marriage equality; and Glenn v. Brumby (2011), a federal appeals court ruling that Georgia violated the Constitution when it fired an employee because she is transgender.

In a speech delivered in June, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said, “Lambda Legal’s visionary activists and unstoppable advocates have made a mark so deep, so transformative, and so permanent that no account of this movement – and no history of this nation – can be written without reference to your enduring contributions to the meaning of full and equal citizenship.”

The Board Co-Chairs announced that the organization will conduct a search, beginning this fall, to replace Cathcart.

Read the press release.