After five decades of work, Lambda Legal is confronting a conservative-leaning Supreme Court and legislative threats to hard-fought LGBTQ rights. The LGBTQ legal advocacy organization believes it’s in solid hands for the future with veteran LGBTQ legal eagle Jennifer C. Pizer heading up its caseload.
Pizer, 63, took over as chief legal counsel of Lambda Legal in October after serving as interim CLO since June. She oversees the department of 26 attorneys and 11 paraprofessionals with offices in Los Angeles (where she is based), Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, New York, and Washington, DC. She works with legal advocacy and law firms working on more than six dozen impact cases. The cases address discrimination in employment, healthcare, and HIV, as well as the foster care system, identification documents, bathroom access, criminal justice, conversion therapy, and more, affecting many aspects of LGBTQ people’s lives.
“At a moment when we face daunting and unprecedented threats to our community, Jenny brings the experience and wisdom we need to lead Lambda Legal’s litigation and policy work into our next 50 years,” Lambda Legal CEO Kevin Jennings said after Pizer took over.
“I’m very proud of the progress we’ve made and [we are] clear-eyed about how much work we have ahead of us, especially given the resources and the organization of some of our opponents,” Pizer told Gay City News. She described a whack-a-mole situation where the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric pops up at ballot boxes, in state legislatures, and at the federal level — and it’s always packaged differently with the same mission: to oppress LGBTQ people.
“The issues have shifted and changed over time, but [there is a] need to continue to come forward and dispel the lies and falsehoods,” she said.
She is aware of the challenges the LGBTQ community faces with a conservative-leaning Supreme Court and recent legislative and vigilante attempts to censor and strike fear into the LGBTQ community.
“In my experience, there’s never been a time when our opponents give us a moment of peace, quiet, and rest,” said Pizer, who interned at Lambda Legal in the 1980s and served on the board in the 1990s before going to work for legal advocacy organization in 1996.
Pizer likens the insidious and shifting nature of conservatives and right-wing attacks to Anita Bryant’s “protect the children” campaign in the 1970s when she amplified the nonsensical idea that children needed to be protected from gay people.
Over the years with Lambda Legal — and even before joining the organization — Pizer led battles advocating for family equality and marriage equality while also pushing against discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment, healthcare, and education. She’s worked on cases involving queer refugees and pushed back against the misuse of religion as a license to discriminate in litigating impact cases.
“Our movement and also our society as a whole faces challenges now that we have a Supreme Court that has an extremely conservative supermajority,” she said, noting the court’s decisions at the end of its last session “took quite different understandings of our constitutional jurisprudence and our legal history.”
Pizer anticipates working on a movement to reform the Supreme Court, from the rules for the court to the court’s internal rules to judicial ethics, she said.
Pizer also said Lambda Legal is eager to continue the fight against anti-trans bills and other forms of opposition to queer rights.
“It calls on us to use our best thinking, our best legal strategies, and our best advocacy to try to rebut those attacks as effectively as we can [and] as quickly as we can,” Pizer said.
Lambda Legal’s top priorities are to protect gender diversity and inclusion, free speech, freedom of religion, and anti-discrimination — and Pizer said the Equality Act, a comprehensive LGBTQ non-discrimination bill, is particularly needed. The Equality Act has yet to get a vote in the United States Senate — and it will not stand a chance in the GOP-led House of Representatives.
“I feel very privileged to be able to devote my legal career to this work. Our community has been under different types of attacks throughout my legal career and my time at Lambda Legal,” said Pizer, who received the National LGBTQ+ Bar Association’s highest honor, the Dan Bradley Award, for her lifelong commitment to LGBTQ rights.
“The overall vision that we’re working towards is a society that is inclusive, safe, and supportive of all of us, specifically, including LGBTQI+ people,” she said. “And that we have structures in place to protect people from bullying, harassment, exclusion, and even violence.”
Lambda Legal will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a series of galas around the US this spring starting March 12 in Palm Springs.