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10 Influential LGBTQ+ Legal Professionals

By Alex Sirek on June 13, 2022
June is Pride Month, a perfect time to honor both the past and the future voices of the LGBTQ+ community. Legal and civil history has been forged — and continues to be forged by countless groundbreaking LGBTQ+ legal professionals. Their work not only impacts the LGBTQ+ community but the legal system as a whole. While there is no way to create an exhaustive list of every LGBTQ+ legal professional who has left a lasting impact, we will be highlighting some of the voices that have changed our world.

Deborah Batts

Batts was the first openly gay United States federal judge as well as Fordham University's first African American faculty member. Since getting her start as a clerk to then federal Judge Lawrence Pierce in 1972, Batts went on to work in private practice and teach as a law professor at Fordham University. However, her most highly regarded title came when then-President Bill Clinton nominated her to the bench of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1994.

Kylar Broadus

Broadus is an attorney, activist, public speaker, professor, and the founder and director of the Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOC). TPOC is the only American organization specifically dedicated to the civil rights of transgender people of color. Broadus also testified on behalf of the Employment Discrimination Act in 2012, making him the first openly transgender person to testify before the U.S. Senate.

M. Dru Levasseur

M. Dru Levasseur is the transgender rights project director for Lambda Legal, the oldest and largest American legal organization exclusively dedicated to fighting for America's LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, Levasseur serves as the director of diversity, equity, and inclusion for the National LGBTQ+ Bar Association. Levasseur was also instrumental in the creation of the Transgender Rights Toolkit, a comprehensive legal guide for transgender people and transgender allies.

Chase Strangio

Widely regarded as the American Civil Liberties Union's "most celebrated and popular lawyer," Strangio has garnered a reputation as one of the nation's leading experts on transgender rights. As the ACLU's LGBT and HIV project's deputy director for transgender justice, his work has mainly centered on impact litigation, legislation, and administrative advocacy for LGBTQ+ people living with HIV.

Therese M. Stewart

Stewart became the first openly lesbian justice to serve on the California Courts of Appeal after then-Gov. Jerry Brown appointed her in 2014. Throughout her four-decade-long legal career, she has worked in a number of other important positions, including chief deputy city attorney for the city and county of San Francisco and president of the Bar Association of San Francisco.

William (Bill) Thom

After becoming endlessly frustrated by the lack of legal support for gay men and lesbians, Bill Thom took it upon himself to create Lambda Legal in 1973. Lambda Legal served as the nation's first legal organization aiming to achieve full equality for gay and lesbian people. Thom's hard work has clearly paid off, as today, Lambda Legal is one of the nation's top legal organizations supporting the LGBTQ+ community and anyone living with HIV.

Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs

Believed to be the first person to publicly "come out" in 1867, lawyer and writer Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs was one of the first people to fight for LGBTQ+ rights. Before the term "homosexual" was even coined, Ulrichs had written many pamphlets to give LGBTQ+ people means of expression, all the way back in the 1860s.

Urvashi Vaid

Named as, "one of the most influential progressive activists of our time," Urvashi Vaid dedicated her life to the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, anti-war efforts, women's rights, and immigration justice among many other causes. In her time as a staff attorney for the National Prisons Project of the ACLU, Vaid was a trailblazer for the group's work on HIV and AIDS within prisons. She later went on to hold many different positions at the National LGBTQ Task Force, including executive director. She received widespread international attention and praise, even being named as one of the 50 most influential men and women in America by Out magazine in 2009.

Stephen Whittle

Stephen Whittle is a British legal scholar, activist, and professor of Equalities Law at Manchester Law School. Whittle has been fighting for transgender rights since 1975. Ten years later and after losing several jobs due to him being transgender, Whittle pursued a legal career to fight anti-trans discrimination. Whittle then went on to co-found Press for Change (PFC), an influential U.K. trans rights lobby group, in 1992.

Evan Wolfson

Named "the godfather of gay marriage," Wolfson has served as a pioneering leader in the fight for marriage equality. Wolfson was the founder of Freedom to Marry, an organization dedicated to achieving marriage equality throughout the United States. He served as the organization's president from its origin in 2003 until it completed its mission in 2015 with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

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