Lambda Legal, the country's oldest and arguably most important legal services organization dedicated to protecting the rights of the LGBT community, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. It began as a small operation, evoking a David-versus-Goliath motif. It's first client was itself. Its second major victory changed the way we think about free speech. Its most famous case brought gay people out from the shadows. And through countless legal, educational, and political efforts over forty years, Lambda has done more for the gay community than any one person could adequately appreciate or explain.
Because of Lambda's incomparable accomplishments, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has declared today, May 6, 2013, "Lambda Legal Day." I'd like to make sure we all understand why.
Without Lambda Legal, we wouldn't be where we are today: celebrating the freedom to marry in New England, permitted to express and embrace our sexuality in schools and elsewhere, arguing marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) at the Supreme Court, and expecting victories in state legislatures across the country, to name just a few our remarkable successes. We used to be hidden in underground bars with darkened windows, subject to random and pernicious police raids, and forced deep into the closet and far toward the margins of legitimate society. Today, for the most part, we aren't.
To some of us, names like Bill Thom, James Dale, John Lawrence, Ninia Baehr, and Karen Golinski evoke feelings of heroism and shared sacrifice. They all were plaintiffs in important gay rights cases in the last forty years and they were all represented by Lambda Legal.
AFTER THE JUMP, I offer a taste of some of Lambda's most notable accomplishments. If you're interested in learning more, I encourage you to check out the organization's website, contact their staff, and see how you can help.
NYC City Council candidate Corey Johnson has come out as HIV-positive in a NYT article which casts Johnson's political pursuits in the footsteps of his predecessor Tom Duane, who was also out, gay, and HIV-positive:
Mr. Duane famously won the district that covers much of Manhattan’s West Side below 59th Street (currently represented by the mayoral candidate Christine C. Quinn) in 1991, during the height of the city’s AIDS panic, as one of the first openly H.I.V. positive political candidates in the country. Lending his friend his valuable endorsement, Mr. Duane told me he phoned Mr. Johnson not long ago to talk about the campaign, asking him first, “How are we going to handle your H.I.V. status? Have you told your mother?”
Times have changed since then, however, though not completely:
When Mr. Duane joined the Senate in the late ’90s, he said, there were people in Albany who would not shake his hand. He cries talking about a little boy upstate who was denied admission to his community pool because of his illness. “I’m the bearer of many people’s secrets about H.I.V.,” Mr. Duane said.
Mr. Johnson has many friends with H.I.V. who fear telling employers. “There’s still so much stigma and people don’t realize it,” he told me.
And there is still more to be done for those who do not share the advantages of white men living in Chelsea — budget increases for the city’s H.I.V./AIDS Services Administration, for example. Mr. Johnson is eager for a chance to have the fight.
Note: Johnson is Towleroad's former political director.
Danish researchers believe they are on the verge of some big news in the battle against HIV, Business Insider reports:
Danish scientists are expecting results that will show that “finding a mass-distributable and affordable cure to HIV is possible.” They are conducting clinical trials to test a “novel strategy” in which the HIV virus is stripped from human DNA and destroyed permanently by the immune system.
Human trials are currently underway which have proven successful in lab tests:
The technique involves releasing the HIV virus from “reservoirs” it forms in DNA cells, and bringing it to the surface of the cells. Once it comes to the surface, the body’s natural immune system can kill the virus through being boosted by a “vaccine.”
Dr. Ole Søgaard, a senior researcher at the Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, who is leading the study said: “I am almost certain that we will be successful in releasing the reservoirs of HIV. The challenge will be getting the patients’ immune system to recognise the virus and destroy it. This depends on the strength and sensitivity of individual immune systems.”
Fifteen patients are currently taking part in the trials, and if they are found to have successfully been cured of HIV, the “cure” will be tested on a wider scale.
Some disturbing attacks on a student at the University of Houston-Downtown where Kris Sharp, a (not yet official) candidate for student government has been targeted by flyers posted around campus printed with Sharp's medical records that accuse him of promoting a "homosexual agenda".
Houston Press's Hair Balls blog reports:
"I was initially really devastated that this could happen," Sharp, who has taken a week to digest the message, told Hair Balls. "What was going through my head was, 'How quickly can I transfer?'"
Sharp, who'd recently spoken openly about both his sexuality and HIV status, had heard that the flyers were floating around. He'd heard mention that someone was handing them out to passersby, but doesn't know whether anyone's yet laid eyes on the individual, or individuals, who spread these papers through campus. He only knows that he wasn't expecting something this despicable, this horrific, when he initially announced an interest in running for student body president next month...
..."I've never seen anything like this -- this is the very first time anything like this has occurred [on campus]," says Sharp. "There's a culture at UHD that is somewhat less accepting of LGBT youth, but something of this magnitude is completely mind-blowing. I knew, going into the election, that I could possibly be targeted because of my sexuality -- but I had no idea that it would go to this level."
The university and its police department has begun an internal investigation, and say they believe it's an anomaly, and not indicative of the attitude on campus or the school's policies. Sharp says he believes he knows who did it and wants an apology, not criminal charges.
The Daily Cougar adds:
The clinic Sharp goes to, Thomas Street Health Center, is a few blocks away from the school, and patients will not be seen without proper documentation — even with an appointment. He doesn’t have a car, so he brought a folder of the required medical information with him. As a student senator, he shares a common office space with the other members of the Student Government Association and believes someone got the information from his briefcase when he was away.
While some students have been giving him a hard time, he has not lost the support of his running mate.
“(Isaac’s) been a trooper,” Sharp said. “If I was him, and I was straight, I’d probably drop me.”
Sharp sent an email to several news outlets and posted a response on Facebook, making it clear they would not respond to the negativity by engaging in illicit behavior.
“We will instead continue to progress in our campaign to enhance the student experience at the University of Houston-Downtown for all students — no matter their race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.”
The New York City AIDS Memorial's Board of Directors unveiled new renderings for the final design of the memorial at a press conference Wednesday night.
Said organizers via press release:
The effort to build the memorial, which started in 2011 as a grass-roots advocacy campaign led by two young men, Christopher Tepper and Paul Kelterborn, will feature an 18-foot steel canopy as the dramatic gateway to the new St. Vincent's Hospital Park at the intersection of West 12th Street and Greenwich Avenue in the West Village neighborhood. The memorial also will feature a central granite fountain, granite benches and a granite paving surface carved with educational and commemorative text. The text will be curated by a team of historians, artists, community members and activists led by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Tony Kushner.
"The goal of the capital campaign is $4 million, with donations from both the private and public sectors," said Keith Fox, President, NYC AIDS Memorial Board of Directors. "To date we have already received $975,000 in private commitments needed to fund the design and construction of the new memorial."
The private funding has come from generous gifts across the LGBT and AIDS communities, including an important lead gift of $250,000 from the Arcus Foundation, and a $105,000 grant from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
The NYC AIDS Memorial organization, which is responsible for raising funds for the design and construction of the memorial, is also seeking funding to provide for the memorial's ongoing maintenance and public programming. The objective is to utilize the site to teach current and future generations about the history of the AIDS crisis and the ongoing struggle to defeat the disease.
The memorial will be constructed by the Rudin-Ofer Development Team alongside a new park that is part of the redevelopment of the former hospital complex. "We are proud to work with the New York City AIDS Memorial organization to deliver a beautiful new park to the neighborhood and a fitting tribute to the important role St. Vincent's and the local community played in the fight against HIV/AIDS," said Eric Rudin, President of Rudin Management.