From Pride 2015 to Pride 2016: An Incredible Year for LGBT Legal Rights


On June 23, 2016, I spoke briefly at the NYC Bar Association’s LGBT Pride Reception, quickly recapping the legal victories since the last Gay Pride Reception on June 24, 2015. Here, in chronological order, are my top POSITIVE legal developments for LGBT people over the past year:

  1. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court issued Obergefell v. Hodges, recognizing right of same-sex couples to marry under the 14th Amendment. Dicta in the Court’s opinion may be useful in further Due Process and Equal Protection litigation on LGBT rights.
  2. On July 15, 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued Baldwin v. Foxx, holding that sexual orientation discrimination violates Title VII’s federal ban on sex discrimination in the workplace.
  3. On July 23, 2015, the Equality Act was introduced in both houses of Congress, seeking to amend all relevant federal anti-discrimination laws to cover “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression”, and also to add “sex” to the prohibited grounds for discrimination in places of public accommodation.
  4. In August, California, the state with the largest prison system and hundreds of transgender inmates, faced with developing adverse case law in the 9th Circuit, became the first state to agree that in medically appropriate cases it would provide sex reassignment surgery to inmates.
  5. On November 4, 2015, the New York State Division of Human Rights published a proposed regulation interpreting the NY Human Rights Law’s ban on sex discrimination to cover gender identity discrimination, and the ban on disability discrimination to cover gender dysphoria.
  6. On January 14, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled in Chavez v. Credit Nation Auto that gender identity discrimination claims are covered under Title VII, becoming the second Circuit Court of Appeals to so rule.
  7. On March 7, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in V.L. v. E.L. that Alabama must accord full faith and credit to a second parent adoption granted by a Georgia trial court and could not substitute its own view of Georgia adoption law to deny recognition, overruling a decision by the Alabama Supreme Court.
  8. On April 19, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled in G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board that the federal district court should have deferred to the U.S. Department of Education’s interpretation of Title IX, holding that denying appropriate restroom access to a transgender student is unlawful sex discrimination. The school board was subsequently denied en banc review and intends to file a petition for certiorari.)
  9. On May 20, 2016, Italy became the final member of the European Union to enact a law providing a recognizing partnership status for same-sex couples encompassing most of the rights of marriage couples.

This was certainly an eventful year, and not just for marriage equality. Of course, there were negative developments as well, including anti-LGBT laws in North Carolina and Mississippi giving rise to numerous lawsuits, and the massacre at Pulse Bar in Orlando, Florida, while not strictly speaking a legal story, is a major, major event that may have long-term repercussions for LGBT rights.

My remarks were prelude to the NYC Bar’s LGBT Rights Committee’s annual Arthur S. Leonard Award, which went this year to Michael Silverman, founder and longtime Executive Director of the Transgender Legal Defense Fund, and Allen Drexel, former Committee Chair and longtime LGBT legal rights advocate.



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