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Meet Our Lawyers: Richard Saenz

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June 15, 2022
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Richard Saenz (he/him)

Senior Attorney, Criminal Justice & Police Misconduct Strategist

Location: New York (HDQ)

Twitter: @saenzr03

For years, the nation’s best and brightest legal minds have put their skills and passion to work to carry forth Lambda Legal’s mission to advance the civil rights of LGBTQ+ people and everyone living with HIV. In this series, you’ll get to know the people at the heart of what we do.

In this edition of Meet Our Lawyers, you’ll meet Richard Saenz, a senior attorney, and  Lambda Legal’s Criminal Justice & Police Misconduct strategist. Currently, Richard is  leading the “Protected & Served?” survey, a joint effort by Lambda Legal and Black & Pink National, to survey LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV about their experiences with the criminal legal system such as law enforcement, courts, prisons, schools, or the U.S. immigration system, or other government actors such as child protective services, and broader law enforcement. This survey will inform and support new research, advocacy, litigation, and policy efforts to address the discrimination and abuse experienced by LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV in the criminal legal system for use by community members and advocacy organizations.

What brought you to work at Lambda?

I am the first person to come to Lambda as a Help Desk specialist and come back as an attorney. What brought me to Lambda was learning about Lawrence v. Texas while in college and wanting to work at the premier legal organization for LGBTQ rights and the rights of people living with HIV. 2005 was an incredible time to be at Lambda as the fight for marriage equality was ramping up. At the Help Desk, I helped hundreds of people seeking help from us – a need that has only grown over the years.

When I came back as an attorney to work for our community members impacted by the criminal legal system, it was a dream come true. Too often, the rights of incarcerated people or fighting against police violence are not seen as part of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights—which is incredible given that our modern movement started at Compton’s Cafeteria and Stonewall as protests against police violence. I am proud of the work that Lambda has done on these issues, and it has been an honor to lead this work.

Tell us about your role in “Protected and Served?” and why is it crucial to our movement that we focus on discrimination, bias, and abuse in the criminal legal system including in law enforcement, prisons and jails, and the courts.

I am the Project Manager for “Protected & Served?” which means I coordinate our internal work, with our partner Black & Pink National, our consultants, and our outreach strategy with hundreds of organizations. This has been a fascinating project to work on especially as we think about how to conduct a massive community survey while in a pandemic and after 2020’s uprising against police and racial violence. We must always work to root out bias and discrimination in the legal system. “Protected & Served?” has been a vital resource for understanding the experiences of our communities as we interact with the criminal legal system—and has been used to advocate for policy reforms and in litigation. We know that LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV have higher rates of interaction with the system—so any solutions should come from those most impacted.

The “Protected and Served?” survey is now open for new respondents. Who should get involved and how can they fill out the survey?

Any person who is 18+ and is a LGBTQ+ person or someone living with HIV should take the survey. The survey includes questions specific to the experiences that people might have had with the criminal legal system, and questions about our communities’ trust in these institutions. We also need to hear from immigrants, sex workers, young people, and people who are currently or formerly in custody.

Go to www.ProtectedAndServed.org and follow Lambda Legal on social media for updates.

And if you have already taken the survey – thank you! Please share it with your friends.

What has been your proudest moment working at Lambda Legal?

Most recent is the release of “Protected & Served?” We have an incredible team who have worked for over a year on the survey and we are anxious, yet excited to see the results.

The second moment is that after representing Jessica Hicklin for six years and winning one of the first court decisions finding that denying hormone therapy to someone who was not receiving it before incarceration is a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—it was an unbelievable moment when Ms. Hicklin walked out of prison as a free woman after 26 years in custody.

How have you seen the rights for LGBTQ+ folks advance in your lifetime? What has impacted you the most?

Yes, as a movement we have achieved legal successes and there has been a positive shift in attitudes about who we are—but there is much more work to do as we are facing an onslaught of legislative attacks, a hostile SCOTUS, and targeting of young transgender people. The anti-LGBTQ vitriol has been repackaged and is again being used against our communities—and we must fight back.

I have been most impacted by the fragility of legal wins, and how a change in a Supreme Court seat or seats can put our rights up for debate. As a movement I wish we would focus more on organizing at the local level and give resources to advocates on the ground—we must think long term to make these wins a lived reality for all of us. This is another way that the “Protected & Served?” community survey will help with advocacy - since we will hear directly from our community members.

Tell us something fun or interesting you would like to share about yourself.

Since this is coming out during Pride, something fun about me is that I was born on June 28 the date, but not the same year, as the Stonewall Riots. When I learned about our LGBTQ+ history, I felt that I was destined to be a LGBTQ+ advocate and fight for our community. Every year I am so happy to celebrate both my birthday and Pride! Looking forward to #41 this year.