40 Years of Lambda Legal—Part 2: The '80s and '90s

Browse By

Blog Search

Find Your State

Know the laws in your state that protect LBGT people and people living with HIV.
January 22, 2013

Previously: Lambda Legal's beginnings in Bill Thom's living room, and our earliest cases.

In the 1980s, we stepped up our efforts against government discrimination, while also focusing more on antigay bias in corporations and established community institutions.

In 1983, Lambda Legal won the nation’s first HIV/AIDS discrimination case (People v. West 12 Tenants Corp.), helping establish that under disability laws it's illegal to discriminate against people who have HIV. We got insurance companies to cover HIV testing and treatments and pay benefits to those disabled by the disease. Lambda Legal also helped establish privacy rights for people with HIV, including the right to keep test results and medical records confidential.

The legacy of Lambda Legal’s work is that now the State Department makes such an effort to ensure that recruiters and folks working with applicants to the Foreign Service are aware that they’re not allowed to discriminate against people living with HIV.

—Lorenzo Taylor, Lambda Legal plaintiff. Taylor was denied a position as a Foreign Service officer for having HIV. Lambda Legal’s suit on his behalf ended when the State Department adopted new hiring guidelines and lifted its ban on HIV-positive Foreign Service Officers.

In the 1990s we won a historic legal precedent holding schools responsible for harassment and violence against LGBTQ students (Nabozny v. Podlesny) and successfully defended the right of gay-straight alliances to exist in schools (Colín v. Orange Unified School District).

Mine was the first gay military case to get national notoriety. It brought the issue to the presidential election and to Congress. For me, there was no vindication until “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed in 2010, however. It took another 20 years of fighting to change the hearts and minds of the country as a whole.

—Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer (Ret.), Lambda Legal plaintiff. After 27 years as an Army colonel, Cammermeyer revealed she was a lesbian and was honorably discharged. She was reinstated after Lambda Legal represented her in a long legal fight and she wrote a book about the experience, Serving in Silence, which was made into a film starring Glenn Close.

In 1992, we successfully kept Colorado’s Amendment 2 from taking effect. The statewide initiative would have stripped lesbians and gay men of civil rights protections, nullifying existing bans on antigay discrimination and preventing others from being enacted. In 1996, we convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to declare the measure unconstitutional (Romer v. Evans). The Court’s ruling made clear that lesbians, gay men and bisexuals have the same right to seek government protection against discrimination as any other group of people.

Next: The Supreme Court case that changed the legal landscape for LGBT Americans.