A longtime leader in the fight for LGBTQ equality, guest Kevin Jennings, CEO of Lambda Legal, discusses why “it’s too late for pessimism” when it comes to protecting our Voting, Equal, and Reproductive rights.
He also talks legal precedent, the dangers facing millions of Americans, and how to use your voice, your vote, your time, and your money to make positive political changes.
In 2019, Kevin Jennings became the CEO of Lambda Legal, the nation’s oldest legal advocacy group fighting for full legal equality for LGBTQ people and everyone living with HIV.
All episodes begin and end with the 2017 single “Rise” by rock group Betty (www.hellobetty.com)
They have a shopping list, and we’re on it.Kevin Jennings (13:20)
In this episode:
The hosts share what they’re pissed about (01:28)
Sherrye gives a quick history on key cases (05:45)
An intro to Lambda Legal (06:48)
The potential of losing LGBTQ rights (07:30)
A deeper dive into the Lawrence and Obergefell cases (10:12)
The Equality Act and the ERA (19:30)
A hopeful eye towards the coming years and what you can do (31:37)
The Hosts Start by Sharing What They’re Pissed About
Gloria Feldt is pissed at Joe Manchin for scuttling the budget again. He’s obstructing the democratic process, and it’s critical that we all work to elect politicians who will do good for the people rather than just feathering their own nests.
Betty Spence is pissed that it’s taking so long for the federal government to deal with the public health crisis that came out of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, despite President Biden’s statement on 6/24/22. This is a public health emergency, since women aren’t getting the medical care they need.
Sherrye Henry is pissed about the 10-year-old who was raped in Ohio and transported across state lines for an abortion. More than that, Fox News said that the story was a hoax. However, it’s since been proven to be true.
Carol Jenkins is pissed that voting, equal, and reproductive rights continue to be at serious risk. At the time of recording, we were 16 weeks away from the November 8th midterm elections.
Kevin Jennings is pissed that Justice Clarence Thomas, who should never have been confirmed in the first place, has only six years before he becomes the longest-serving Supreme Court Justice in American history.
Key LGBTQ Cases: Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell
Sherrye gives a review of the “substantive due process precedents” that Justice Clarence Thomas said need to be reviewed. Thus, all of these rights are in liberty of being rescinded.
- Griswold v Connecticut: the 1965 case that struck down bans on contraception
- Lawrence v. Texas: the 2003 case that struck down criminal sodomy laws
- Obergefell v. Hodges: the 2016 case that recognized a right to same-sex marriage
Lambda Legal’s History
“Founded in 1973, Lambda Legal is the oldest and largest national legal organization whose mission is to achieve full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and everyone living with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, we do not charge our clients for legal representation or advocacy, and we receive no government funding. We depend on contributions from supporters around the country.” Lambda Legal
“[The Supreme Court Justices] have made their intentions clear, which is that they would like to roll America back to the people who had rights when the Constitution was written, which includes none of us on this [podcast].”Kevin Jennings (07:30)
While this is unsettling and gets us really pissed off, it’s not the first time this has happened. Kevin talks about the history of the Supreme Court taking this country backwards when it comes to ensuring equality.
In 1875, Congress passed a comprehensive Civil Rights Act which guaranteed the rights of Black men. In 1883, the Supreme Court nullified this Civil Rights Act, and in 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that segregation was legal. These cases set back racial equality for decades, and we’re still feeling the effects of these rulings today.
However, it’s not just centuries-old history. In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in the Shelby County v. Holder decision, and, of course, the Dobbs decision has rolled back the right to choose.
The Intersection of LGBTQ Rights and Reproductive Rights
The LGBTQ community understands the basis for cases that have advanced gay and trans rights in this country is the right to privacy. This means that overturning Roe v. Wade is the writing on the wall for gay rights to be decimated in the coming months and years.
Lawrence v. Texas. In 2003, sodomy laws criminalizing same-sex relationships were found to be unconstitutional in the Lawrence v. Texas. The 16 states that still had laws on their books, including Texas, were forced to decriminalize same-sex relationships in their states. This was a victory, but same-sex couples still didn’t have the right to get married in every state.
Between 2003 and 2015, many states added constitutional bans on same-sex marriage to their state constitutions. However, from 2004 onwards, some states did allow and recognize marriage equality. In the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, the Supreme Court forced all of the states to recognize same-sex marriage.
This is particularly concerning since Justice Thomas has said that he wants to reverse these decisions, and other conservative politicians have supported this ideal.
Kevin also discussed the 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County case, where the Supreme Court stated that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does protect gay and transgender employees from discrimination at their workplace.
The Equality Act and the ERA
Both the Equality Act and the Equal Rights Amendment are pieces of legislation that would protect vulnerable populations, but they’re both stuck in the Senate. This again speaks to the fact that extremist conservative politicians in Washington have an outsized amount of power.
Kevin calls for an end to the filibuster in the US Senate, which is a tool that was originally used to block civil rights legislation and continues to function in that purpose today. He also thinks it’s critical to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore voting rights across the country. This would remove voter suppression laws and ensure that everyone’s vote counts as it is meant to under a functioning democracy.
Hope for the Future
While there’s a lot at stake, Kevin also discusses the most hopeful piece of news he’s read lately: according to a Gallup poll, one in five Gen Z adults identifies at LGBTQ. He thinks we’re raising a new generation that is much more comfortable being authentic to themselves and living their truth. In the coming years, that’s going to win us a lot.
Use What You’ve Got:
- Your voice
- Your vote
- Your time
- Your money
It’s critical for voters to understand that, by and large, citizens of America support Democratic ideals. It’s critical to mobilize the base in order to bring about positive change, following examples from Georgia’s Stacey Abrams in 2020.
In 2019, Lambda Legal’s board of directors announced Kevin Jennings as the organization’s new CEO, following a five-year stint as executive director of the Arcus Foundation. From 2008 to 2013, Jennings served as board chair for the Tectonic Theater Project, creators of The Laramie Project. Jennings also served on the board of the Harvard Alumni Association from 2008 to 2014, becoming only its second openly gay elected director in 2008. From 2009 to 2015, Jennings served on the board of Union Theological Seminary, where he chaired the Development Committee and served on the executive committee. Since 2015, he has been the founding board chair for the Ubunye Challenge, which uses extreme athletic events to raise funds to build schools in southern Africa.