December 21, 2012 Articles

Q&A with Lambda Legal's Deputy Legal Director

By Hayley Gorenberg

Why did you decide to join Lambda Legal and advocate civil rights for the LGBT community instead of other career paths?
There is plenty of injustice to fight in America, but LGBT discrimination stands out (in black and white) on the pages of our state codes and national laws. The United States currently enshrines prejudice in law. Since I was a child, I've felt deeply that we can't stand idly by. Working at Lambda Legal is my way of actively creating change for the better.

What do you find to be most rewarding aspect of your job?
Our clients inspire me. Every one of them has said some version of the same thing to me: "I want to bring this case so no one else has to experience what I've lived through." They're explaining impact litigation in laypeople's terms. It's wonderful to bring cases that contribute to fairness for entire communities.

Now that I'm a mother, my work has become even more meaningful to me. Knocking down gender-based barriers and stereotypes is at the core to working for equal rights regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. I want my daughters to have every chance to fulfill their own potential unimpeded by hackneyed notions about what they should or should not be able to do. I want them to internalize the belief that ours is a family that stands up for what is right regardless of popularity. We are "upstanders" and not bystanders.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
Give me a bigger stage! Let truth ring out! We need more amplification, more juice, more funding, more eyes and ears for our message and for the facts.

It's outrageous to face governmental actors or individuals who dissemble. For example, in our marriage work, there's no "true party" on the other side. The emperor has no clothes. How could allowing access to marriage impair or affect anyone else's marriage or life? The arguments ought to collapse under their own feather weight. Yet, of course, prejudice is deeply entrenched, and so we still have to fight.

In our HIV work, we still face stigma and misconceptions about HIV transmission. Our HIV civil rights work spends an inordinate amount of time and resources advocating science, medicine, and truth as opposed to misunderstanding, fear, and prejudice.

In the transgender arena, we battle the misperception that medically necessary treatment is somehow whimsical or cosmetic despite international authority regarding the medical importance of that treatment.

In our work for safe environments in schools, we battle notions that promoting a safe environment for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, somehow affords LGBTQ youth different "special rights" or that sexuality can be altered when the leading medical and counseling organizations have all made clear that trying to change sexual orientation is misguided, harmful, and has no basis in therapeutic fact.

Any advice for law students or young lawyers seeking a career with civil rights advocacy organizations?
It's never too early to strut your stuff, your smarts, and your dedication. Law students and new lawyers can connect to the movement in any number of ways: Join the ABA and write articles on civil rights developments for our website and newsletters; you can be published next week on cutting-edge civil rights cases and issues! Publish a relevant note in a law journal. (Consider studying and then contacting a nonprofit advocacy organization to sniff out relevant topics in an informed way and tie your work to developing civil rights doctrines.) If you're graduating soon, try to nab a fellowship that will fund a year of service with a civil rights organization. If your project's a good fit with our mission, you stand a terrific chance of getting Lambda Legal or a sister organization to sponsor you.

Law graduates and new lawyers: volunteer! Lambda Legal has benefited greatly when law firms sponsor an associate to work with us full-time for a few months or a year. We also accept volunteers who make a reliable commitment of a chunk of time each week; we're flexible when a smart lawyer is offering us value that can extend our reach. If you're working full-time at a firm, press for pro bono work with our organization or another that interests you. Make contact, let your interest be known, and be flexible about the work you'll take. If you're too specific, you may come off as a prima donna (which is never welcome), but if you offer your skills to serve our mission, you will grow your experience, your résumé, and your connection and value to the movement.

Are there any bar associations you favor in particular?
Bar committees can provide terrific opportunities to create events, CLEs, legislative comments, and amicus work. When a staff attorney position opens up at a civil rights organization—if that's your goal—your track record will speak volumes. Our work is hard, and dedication counts. Use your creativity to connect now to civil rights work, and (with credit to Spanish poet Antonio Machado) you will make your own path by walking.

Keywords: litigation, LGBT, Lambda Legal, equal rights, same-sex marriage, HIV, discrimination, civil rights organizations, transgender, advocacy, pro bono, volunteer

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