Lambda Legal (Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund) is a United States civil rights organization that focuses on gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education, and public policy work.
Lambda's founder William J. Thom, Esq. submitted incorporation papers for approval to the New York Courts in 1971, but his application was denied on the grounds that its proposed activities would be contrary to public policy. That decision was later overturned in a 1973 decision by the New York Court of Appeals, which is the highest court of New York State. (In re Thom, 301 N.E.2d 542 (N.Y. 1973).).
The original incorporators, in addition to Bill Thom, were E. Carrington Boggan, and Michael J. Lavery. At their first meeting on November 10, 1973, they elected to the newly constituted Board of Directors Rodney L. Eubanks, Shepherd Raimi and D. Nicholas Russo.
Because of the scarcity of openly gay lawyers in 1973, Lambda Legal also formed a Board of Advisors of prominent people sympathetic to the cause of gay rights. They included US Congressperson Bella Abzug, NY State Senator Carol Bellamy, Association of the Bar President Merrell E. Clark, Rev. John Corn of Trinity Church and Martin Duberman, Distinguished Professor at City University of New York.
From inception, seeking diversity on its Board of Directors, Lambda Legal sought women but could find no lesbian lawyers at that time who were willing or able to be openly associated with a gay activist organization. As a result, Nathalie Rockhill, a major figure in the early post-Stonewall days of Gay Liberation, was added to the Board in 1974. She was followed by lesbian law students and, in time, by lesbian lawyers.
The current executive director is Kevin M. Cathcart.
Lambda Legal has played a role in many legal cases in the United States pertaining to gay rights, including the 6-3 United States Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which invalidated sodomy laws.
Lambda Legal carries out its legal work principally through test cases selected for the likelihood of their success in establishing positive legal precedents that will affect lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those affected by HIV. Lambda Legal's staff of attorneys works on a wide range of cases, with their docket averaging more than 50 cases at any given time.
Lambda Legal also maintains a national network of volunteer Cooperating Attorneys, which widens the scope of their legal work and allows attorneys, legal workers and law students to become involved in the program by working with Lambda Legal's legal staff.
Lambda Legal pursues litigation in all parts of the country, in every area of the law that affects communities they represent, such as discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and the military; HIV/AIDS-related discrimination and public policy issues; parenting and relationship issues; equal marriage rights; equal employment and domestic partnership benefits; "sodomy" law challenges; immigration issues; anti-gay initiatives; and free speech and equal protection rights.