Beatrice Dohrn Departs After Nearly Eight Years Directing Lambda Civil Rights Strategy

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September 15, 2000

(NEW YORK, September 15, 2000) — Beatrice Dohrn, at the helm of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund’s groundbreaking legal department for most of the past decade, directing Lambda’s civil rights litigation strategy in cases from adoption and employment rights to protections for gay youth and anti-gay initiative challenges, announced her resignation Friday.

Executive Director Kevin M. Cathcart said, “Beatrice has been an incredible talent and blessing, not only for Lambda but for civil rights and justice throughout the country. Thanks to her savvy and hard work, lesbian and gay families have more legal security, young people are better protected against anti-gay abuse in schools, more gay workers can rely on anti-discrimination law, and people with HIV and AIDS have better access to health care and protections from discrimination.”

Cathcart added, “With Beatrice’s guidance, Lambda’s work has moved to the forefront of the nation’s major civil rights battles. She put our movement on very sure footing, and she will be sorely missed here at Lambda.”

Ruth Harlow, Lambda’s deputy legal director, will take on the position of legal director when Dohrn departs in mid-November, Cathcart said. Harlow, who joined Lambda in 1996, has a national reputation as a top legal strategist and litigator.

“Ruth is a brilliant lawyer and will carry on Lambda’s tradition of excellence in this civil rights movement,” he said.

Since Dohrn took over Lambda’s Legal Department in 1993, when the organization consisted of a national headquarters in New York and Western Regional Office in Los Angeles, she has overseen dramatic litigation growth with the addition of a Midwest Regional Office in Chicago and Southern Regional Office in Atlanta, and plans to open a fifth office, in Dallas , in 2002. Also in that time, the department has nearly tripled the number of Lambda lawyers to 17 and expanded its ongoing caseload to more than 60 lawsuits around the country.

Said Dohrn, “I will always love this organization and the staff and clients who sacrifice so much for advancing civil rights. Lambda is a wonderful part of the lesbian and gay community, and I know that Ruth Harlow will lead its legal work to even greater success. Leaving Lambda has been a very tough and emotional decision, but it is time for me to consider new challenges and adventures.”

Harlow said, “No one can truly fill Beatrice’s shoes. Her unique leadership, smarts, and wit have created one of the strongest public interest legal programs in the country. It’s an honor to succeed her and to continue, with all my other Lambda colleagues, along the path she’s blazed.”

Under Dohrn’s direction, Lambda helped win a United States Supreme Court ruling – Romer v. Evans – against anti-gay initiatives that seek to bar civil rights protections for lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. Lambda’s voice also was recently heard at the High Court in other successful cases, including the Court’s first HIV case, the employment case establishing that federal protections against sexual harassment apply to claims of same-sex sexual harassment, a first amendment case upholding public universities’ ability to collect student fees for campus programs, and a family case concerning whether courts may override a legal parent’s decision about her children’s visitation with other adults.

During Dohrn’s tenure Lambda’s initiated its campaign to win the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, which has sparked national discussion and awareness of the realities of lesbian and gay families. Lambda’s Marriage Project contributed to efforts that established civil unions in Vermont, the first state to offer broad legal protections for gay couples.

Under Dohrn, Lambda also expanded its litigation against anti-gay sodomy laws and in defense of domestic partner programs around the country. It took major action to protect lesbian and gay youth from abuse at schools and created the Foster Care Initiative to address discrimination against some of the country’s most vulnerable young people. Other new efforts include work on behalf of older lesbians and gay men and of gay people who face horrific persecution in their native countries.

Dohrn directly litigated groundbreaking Lambda cases, including efforts to further legal rights and protections for lesbian and gay parents. She argued in Lambda’s case to win a landmark 1995 ruling from New York State’s highest court establishing statewide the availability of second-parent adoption to same-sex couples. Dohrn represented a Maryland father to win a decision from the state’s highest court that trial judges may not impose restrictions on gay parents’ visitation with their children based on bias and stereotyped views. She also led Lambda’s challenges to the military’s discrimination against lesbian and gay service members, arguing against the government’s appeal to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals which, sadly, overturned the only federal ruling against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” as unconstitutional.

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Contact: Peg Byron, Lambda, 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 pager


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