40 Years of Lambda Legal—Part 1: The 1970s

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January 14, 2013

Reaching 40 is quite a milestone. At Lambda Legal, we’re loving it—we feel strong and vibrant, and we’re working to make change every day.

When founder Bill Thom filed an application in early 1972 to establish Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, he borrowed from the bylaws of another newly established organization—the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (now Latino Justice PRLDEF).

Because of the overwhelming climate of prejudice against gay people, we became our own first client: A panel of New York judges turned down our application to be a nonprofit organization because, in their view, our mission was "neither benevolent nor charitable." With pro bono help, Thom appealed to New York’s highest court, which finally allowed Lambda Legal to exist as a nonprofit organization—the nation’s first legal organization dedicated to achieving full equality for lesbian and gay people. 

Lambda Legal started in my studio apartment. I put a Band-Aid on my mailbox with the name on it. Forty years ago, people were under the impression that gays and lesbians were apart from the human race. I’m so proud that Lambda Legal has quite literally made life more just and therefore better for millions upon millions of people.

—Bill Thom, founder

Throughout the 1970s, Lambda Legal fought and won some of the nation's first cases on behalf of lesbian and gay parents and same-sex couples. In one of our first cases (Gay Student Organization v. Bonner), we successfully helped a gay student group at the University of New Hampshire fight a ban on their school activities.

Next: Lambda Legal files the nation's first HIV/AIDS discrimination case ... and the military's first LGBT discrimination case. 

40th anniversary