Taking the Fight to the Ballot Box

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August 3, 2018
Rachel B. Tiven

When I began my time at Lambda Legal, we never imagined the threat of a Trump administration. Like so many organizations, our focus was on how we could advance the progress made over the last decade, and how we could expand equality and safety for the LGBTQ community and people living with HIV.

How quickly things changed.

We woke up on November 9, 2016 with a completely different mission: to fight back a full-on assault against civil rights by the federal government, and to defend the right of LGBTQ and HIV+ people to exist and thrive.

And Lambda Legal has fought back hard. We quickly launched  “We Object,” a campaign to fight the most extreme rollback of LGBTQ rights and mobilize 9,000+ new donors who joined us after the election. With those donations, we hired a class of law fellows so we could sue more and faster. We opened our Washington, DC office, which has become the queer DOJ in exile. And we have sued the Trump administration, and won. When the President attacked patriotic transgender service members, we sprung into action. Our case is keeping trans soldiers, sailors, and airmen in their jobs, and providing hope for a future where more can enlist to join them.

Still, we are in the fight of our lives. The federal courts and those who serve on them will set the course of civil rights for the next generation and beyond.  I am proud of the work we’ve done to oppose biased, unqualified judges – but with Justice Kennedy’s retirement and Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, it has become inescapable that much of Lambda Legal’s work is at risk if we don’t change Congress.  

Given the gravity of this challenge, and its centrality to everything we work for at Lambda Legal, I have made the difficult decision to step down from my role as CEO and devote myself to the midterm elections full time. I believe very deeply in the power of change through electoral politics, and while I have been campaigning for terrific candidates on my personal time, I need to do more. I will be leaving Lambda Legal at the end of August and joining the Leadership Now Project, to spend the next crucial months helping save our democracy at the ballot box.  

Leading Lambda Legal has been one of the great privileges of my life. I was hired to make big organizational changes, and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together:

  • We’ve supercharged our communications, and made Lambda Legal more visible, vibrant and strategic;

  • Lambda Legal is a full-fledged partner in America’s broader civil rights movement, respected and relied upon in Washington, DC and beyond; and

  • Today, Lambda Legal is less siloed, our leadership is more diverse than ever, and we’ve added thousands of new donors.

Most importantly, we continue to win groundbreaking cases; cases that expand LGBTQ rights at work, at school, and in public life; and cases that protect marriage equality and families. Over the past two years, we expanded the reach of sex discrimination at work to protect lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers like Kim Hiively, the late Donald Zarda and (soon) Mark Horton. We have protected transgender students like Juliet EvanchoElissa Ridenour, and Drew Adams – all who just want to be treated the same as any other teenager. We have fought against HIV stigma and discrimination, through our lawsuit against the US Military on behalf of Nick Harrison and our work to end pointless, harmful criminal laws.

We also continue to defend marriage equality, with our lawsuits challenging discrimination by funeral homes and foster care agencies. Our marriages aren’t second class, and Lambda Legal won’t ever let them be.  

This organization is well-positioned to fight the battles to come over the coming months and years. Lambda Legal’s staff has always been its greatest asset, and its work is more important than ever. LGBTQ people and everyone living with HIV need Lambda Legal to succeed, now and into the future. While I am moving on from this role, I will remain a strong supporter and donor. Lambda Legal is vital, and I’ll be rooting for you.