Worldwide throughout the month of June, there are celebrations of the progress toward equality that the LGBTQ community has made, along with recognition given to the people who made the progress possible. In honor of Pride Month, we choose to spotlight three lawyers who have advanced LGBTQ civil rights and have ultimately made the world a more inclusive place.
Nowhere has progress been more hard-fought than in the world's legal systems - and no one is better suited to helm the battle for civil rights for LGBTQ people than lawyers. Some lawyers' work has stood out as pivotal - here are three we think are worth celebrating this month.
Evan Wolfson is an LGBTQ rights advocate who founded Freedom to Marry, a group supporting the legality of same-sex marriage in the US. Evan was the group’s president until 2015 when Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was finally struck down.
Before founding this group, Evan wrote one of the earliest analyses of the need for freedom to marry for same-sex couples in 1983 with his Harvard Law School thesis. Since then, he has written numerous books and articles on equality, LGBTQ civil rights, and same-sex marriage.
In 2004, Evan was noted as one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World. He teaches law and social change at Georgetown Law School and Yale University, and advises other organizations and causes seeking assistance with the same-sex marriage movement.
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Elizabeth Birch chaired the board of directors of the advocacy group National Gay and Lesbian Task Force from 1992-1994. She also was the executive director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an LGBTQ lobbying and advocacy group, from 1995 to 2004.
Through her leadership, the HRC quadrupled its membership, budget and raised national awareness through its lobbying, research, education, and media outreach.
In 2000, Birch became the first leader of an LGBTQ organization to speak in the national political arena when she made a prime-time presentation at the Democratic National Convention. After stepping down from the HRC to focus more on her family, Birch became a professional public speaker for LGBTQ civil rights.
Elizabeth Birch is a deeply tenured lawyer - she holds a JD from Santa Clara University and a PhD from the University of Hawaii, Manoa. Other notable stops along her legal career included serving as worldwide director of litigation for Apple Computer and General Counsel for its Claris subsidiary.
Mary Bonauto is a civil rights advocate who wages legal battles against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. After graduating from the Northeastern University School of Law, she began working with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) in 1990 and is still their chief legal advisor.
Mary was the lead counsel in the 2004 case Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, where her win made Massachusetts the first state where same-sex couples could marry.
But she didn’t stop there. Mary then led the first legal challenges to Section 3 of DOMA, and argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges against state bans on same-sex marriage. Her impressive legal wins have greatly advanced LGBTQ civil rights and Mary is often credited as “the lawyer who made same-sex marriage possible.”
The work these legal professionals did took years of courage and effort.
While Pride Month only lasts 30 days, it’s important to remember that the work these legal pros did took years of courage and effort. The battles for world-wide human rights continue on many legal and social fronts. The LGBTQ community advocacy continues to grow and attorneys all over the world add to the discussions on a daily basis.