Lambda Legal News

Lambda Legal Lingo

Undetectable Viral Load

For HIV, this means a person living with HIV is on successful treatment and has reduced the amount of virus in their blood to such a low level that the tests used to measure viral load when this term was coined would not have been able to detect it. Research indicates that a person with an undetectable viral load poses little, if any, risk of transmission to sexual partners. As our readers know, it’s also long-established that the risk of transmission by merely living or working with people with HIV is essentially zero. Sadly, misinformation and prejudice continue to fuel the firing, mistreatment and criminalization of people living with HIV.

How to use it: “My viral load is undetectable” or “a person with an undetectable viral load.” Do not use phrases like “undetectable people,” as this contributes to the perception of invisibility within the community.

Find Your State

Know the laws in your state that protect LGBT people and people living with HIV.
Jameka Evans (left) and Kimberly Hively are represented by Lambda Legal after being forced out of their jobs for being lesbians. Their cases could change employment law in this country forever.
Share on Facebook

In Court

Lambda Legal Takes Two Workplace Cases to High Courts

Security guard Jameka Evans and college instructor Kimberly Hively were both forced out of their jobs because of homophobia. Colleagues criticized Evans about her “masculine appearance.” Hively was spotted giving another woman a good-bye kiss in a campus parking lot. Now Lambda Legal’s lawsuits against both their former employers have succeeded in taking the lack of protections for LGBT employees to its highest level ever—the Eleventh and Seventh Circuit Courts of Appeals, respectively. Lambda Legal Counsel and Employment Fairness Program Director Greg Nevins argued last December, in both cases, that LGBT employees are protected from workplace discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. “These are issues whose time has come,” Nevins says.

Lambda Legal Helps Two Men Fight for Name Change

Rowan Elijah Feldhaus looked forward to making his name legal last year, bringing all the required paperwork to a Georgia courthouse. But Judge J. David Roper wouldn’t accept Elijah as Feldhaus’s middle name. Andrew Norman Baumert, a grad student a Georgia State, encountered the same obstruction from Judge Roper. Arguing that it could be “dangerous” for others not to be able to tell gender by one’s name, he denied both of their applications. Lambda Legal sued. On January 20, the Georgia Court of Appeals unanimously decided in favor of the two men, reversing a lower court decision and sending their case back to trial court. “It was hurtful and insulting to be denied my legal name change,” says Baumert. “I’m happy that this is over, for myself, for Rowan, and for any other transgender person who wants to change their name legally in Georgia.”

Breakthrough in Intersex Passport Case

In 2014, Dana Zzyym, who was born with sex characteristics that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies, wanted a passport to travel to an intersex conference in Mexico. But the State Department demanded an impossible choice on the application: check “male” or “female.” Zzyym, a veteran who served tours of duty in Beirut and the Persian Gulf, wrote: “I am not male or female.” When the State Department rejected Zzyym, Lambda Legal sued. In November, a judge, finding the binary-only gender marker policy for passports wasn’t “rational,” ordered the State Department to reconsider its policy. Many other countries provide other gender marker options on passports. The ruling is a boost for Zzyym’s case. Even though the State Department is reviewing the policy further, Zzyym says, “I’m hoping I get more than that—a ruling on my civil rights.”

Lambda Legal Gets Anti-Gay Birth Certificate Policy Fixed

Melissa and Meredith Weiss married in Canada in 2003 and had two children. But when their sons were born in North Carolina, the state would only list one of the spouses on their birth certificates. Once, when their younger son was injured, the Weisses had to struggle with hospital staff asking who his “real” mom was.

The problem: North Carolina wouldn't recognize as parents any samesex spouses who had children before marriage equality became law in 2014.

Lambda Legal filed a complaint. In November 2016 North Carolina agreed to amend the birth certificates of the Weisses’ children and to change its policies. The Weisses are thrilled and relieved not to have to go through episodes like what happened at that hospital again. “It was pretty great to share this with them,” said Melissa says of telling their children about the victory, “and to show them that if you persevere, you can win.”

Catholic Hospital Rejects Transgender Patient

A Catholic hospital in New Jersey that refused medically necessary surgery to a transgender man will now have to answer for its mistreatment of him in court. Lambda Legal client Jionni Conforti, 33, had gone through his share of emotional upheaval as he wrestled with his gender identity. The least he expected from St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson, NJ, which had treated family members of his for years, was kindness and professionalism.

At first, a surgeon with admitting privileges at the hospital agreed to do the surgery. But shortly thereafter, he received an email which stunned him: hospital administrator Father Martin Rooney wrote that St. Joseph’s could not perform the surgery because it was a Catholic institution. Conforti felt betrayed and became deeply depressed. In January, Lambda Legal sued in federal court on his behalf. “I know so many trans people who get discriminated against all the time, but they do nothing because they’re scared. I just felt like it was something I had to do,” says Conforti.

Lambda Legal Takes On Nursing Home with HIV Bias

Nursing assistant Michael Janssen had been working at a nursing home for about a year, feeding and bathing patients and helping them get around. But that ended in the fall of 2013. He tested positive for HIV, and immediately told his boss about his diagnosis. Even though he posed no risk to patients, the home fired him. Lambda Legal represented Janssen when he first filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and is now joining an EEOC lawsuit against the nursing home. “The nursing home caved in to the fear and ignorance surrounding HIV and unlawfully fired Michael,” says Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Paul D. Castillo. “A health care facility should know better.” Indeed, when Granite Mesa nursing home let Janssen go, he was immediately rehired by his previous employer.

After 14 Years, Transgender Assault Survivor Leaves Prison

Good news out of Texas: In December, we learned our client Passion Star is finally receiving parole. She had endured 14 miserable years in a gauntlet of male prisons, surviving rapes and other violent assaults. One especially vicious razor attack on her face required 36 stitches. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) did nothing to protect her, so Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit in 2014—still pending— and then got Star into protective housing and helped win her parole. Star will be released in May. She wrote Lambda Legal that she is “extremely excited” about having her freedom and finally being safe.


Advocacy and Policy

Bring Us Your Urgent Passport and ID Questions

Lambda Legal raced to help transgender people update key personal documents in January amid national uncertainty about the new administration in Washington. Forty transgender and gender-nonconforming people showed up at a series of Empowerment and Passport Clinics in Atlanta, Dallas and Houston. Lambda Legal staff, along with pro bono attorneys from King & Spalding, LLC, Vincent & Elkins, LLC and Reed Smith, LLC, helped guide participants through the process of how to change the gender markers on various documents. The concern is that gains made under the Obama Administration may be reversed, including the right to make gender updates on passports and Social Security documents without undergoing surgery.

FDA Moves, Finally, Toward a Fair Blood Donation Policy

Any man who has had sex with another man in the past year is still banned from giving blood. It looks like that may finally change, however. In November, Lambda Legal submitted comments to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in support of its proposal to begin evaluating individuals’ specific risks instead of simply noting whether they are gay, straight or bisexual. Did they have receptive anal sex, for instance, and did they use a condom? “The FDA prides itself on acting solely on what the science dictates, and the science points clearly in the direction of a policy based on behavior, regardless of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” says Lambda Legal HIV Project Director Scott Schoettes.

Protections for LGBTQ Youth in Florida Foster Care

LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in foster care and group homes, not to mention the unchecked cruelty and prejudice that many endure. That’s why it was a milestone last fall when Lambda Legal helped win Florida foster kids in group home care the first-ever explicit legal protections inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity in all of the South. Among the new rules: no more harassing LGBTQ youth or treating them differently just because of who they are. And no more conversion therapy in group homes. Earlier last year, two faith-based groups had threatened to topple this plan. But Lambda Legal, Equality Florida and the Florida LGBTQ Youth in Out-of-Home Care Network put together a public hearing and—after three hours of moving testimony—won it back. “LGBTQ youth in the system deserve dignity and all government-funded group home providers must ensure their safety and treat them fairly,” says Currey Cook, Director of the Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project at Lambda Legal.