HRC Announces Expansion of Legal Advocacy To Combat Attacks on LGBTQ Equality Around the World

by Nick Morrow

Through strategic impact litigation, HRC will — working with movement partners — more effectively shape law and ensure the equal application of Constitutional rights and protections.

Today, HRC announced it is expanding its legal efforts by joining with law firms to bring strategic impact litigation in an all-out effort to combat the relentless attacks on LGBTQ equality by the Trump-Pence administration and other anti-equality activists at home and abroad. HRC, along with litigators from seven of the world’s top firms, will pursue strategic cases that will shape state and federal law and expand the application of Constitutional principles. HRC will work with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, BakerHostetler, Linklaters, Sidley Austin, Steptoe & Johnson LLP, Winston & Strawn for domestic litigation and global law firm Clifford Chance for international litigation. By working together, the organization and these firms will utilize the courts to hold accountable entities and governments that target us with discriminatory laws, regulations and policies. This expanded effort by HRC and these top-tier firms will complement the organization's existing and ongoing legal work and close partnerships with other legal and civil rights groups.

“As the largest LGBTQ civil rights organization in the world, it’s incumbent upon the Human Rights Campaign to fight against discrimination at every turn. By adding domestic and international impact litigation to our approach, we will wield a critical tool to fight against oppressive legislative and policy measures through the courts.” said HRC President Alphonso David. “Our new litigation strategy is a natural extension of the legal advocacy the Human Rights Campaign has been doing for nearly four decades, and it will help us better advocate for LGBTQ rights and our more than 3.5 million members and supporters.”

"For years, HRC's legal department has been intimately involved in some of the most pressing legislative, policy and legal fights in the United States. Now, we're building upon these efforts by working with top-tier law firms to introduce impact litigation that will make demonstrative differences in the lives of LGBTQ people, worldwide. This will be important and significant work, especially at a time when the rights of our community are under constant attack," said Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign. 

“Akin Gump has been proud to count HRC among our most valued clients for many years, and looks forward to pursuing litigation to affirm that LGBTQ rights are human rights,” said Steven Schulman, Pro Bono Partner at Akin Gump.

“Our shared value of inclusion is what drives our partnership. We look forward to helping the Human Rights Campaign further initiatives that will secure full equality under the law for all LGBTQ people,” said Edward J. Jacobs, Partner and New York Pro Bono Coordinator at BakerHostetler.

“At Clifford Chance we are committed to ensuring that LGBT people enjoy the same status and standing as everyone else. And when you believe in a set of values then you have to be prepared to champion them and work for them. We are delighted to be partnering with the HRC. We share its deep commitment to equality and strategic campaigning, and we will continue to use our skills and knowledge to help deliver enduring change around the world,” said Tiernan Brady, Global Head of Inclusion at Clifford Chance.

“We are proud to partner with the Human Rights Campaign and look forward to providing pro bono support to achieve full equality under the law for the LGBTQ community,” said Tom Shropshire, Global Head of Linklaters’ U.S. practice.

“We’re looking forward to working with the Human Rights Campaign on strategic litigation that will take on discriminatory measures targeting LGBTQ people. HRC is a long-standing pro bono client and this next stage of collaboration reinforces Sidley’s deep commitment to advocating for diversity and equality,” said Carter Phillips, partner at Sidley Austin LLP and one of the most experienced Supreme Court and appellate lawyers in the country.

“Steptoe is proud to expand our partnership with the Human Rights Campaign by taking on complex litigation matters involving the rights of the LGBTQ community. Equal protection under the law is a bedrock constitutional principle, and one we look forward to fighting for alongside the HRC,” said Paul Lee, Pro Bono Counsel at Steptoe & Johnson LLP.

“For over 40 years, the Human Rights Campaign has worked to promote and defend the human rights of the LGBTQ community in our country and beyond. It has done so through education, grassroots organizing, the political process, and has never been afraid to bring its quest of equality for all people into the courts. We are honored to join with HRC and be among those who will engage in strategic litigation to take on discrimination targeting LGBTQ people wherever it may occur,” said Abbe Lowell, Co-Chair, White Collar, Regulatory Defense and Investigations Practice at Winston & Strawn.

Throughout HRC’s nearly 40-year history, HRC staff attorneys have written and analyzed legislation and regulations, directed and drafted amicus briefs, educated on the impact of court decisions, advised legislators at all levels of government and worked in the trenches with partner organizations across the country on a wide variety of legal issues related to LGBTQ equality. HRC is now taking this essential work to a new level by deepening relationships with law firms to join them in shaping and bringing strategic impact litigation to courts both domestically and internationally. To support this historic effort, HRC will also be securing staff with expertise and experience in litigation strategy.

HRC will be working with these seven firms to pursue strategic litigation in state and federal courts to aggressively address discriminatory actions by those who target the LGBTQ community. These firms already have a long history in engaging with HRC on issues and amicus briefs in important cases, including Obergefell v Hodges, G.G .v Gloucester (Va.) County, Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and the Title VII cases currently before the Supreme Court of the United States.

HRC will also be working with in-country partners (including local advocacy groups) and an international law firm to pursue strategic litigation in countries where we can make a difference. Bringing its decades of experience to the table, HRC will work with the law firm and in-country advocates to thoughtfully identify change opportunities and support impact litigation efforts as part of broader efforts in the movement for LGBTQ equality. This new endeavor will be complemented by HRC’s capacity building efforts for local advocates through HRC Global’s Partnerships in Innovative Advocacy program.

In addition to strategic litigation, HRC will work with organizations on topics ranging from designing advocacy campaigns, challenging discriminatory laws and policies, engaging allies and changing societal institutions to be more inclusive. HRC will engage its global alumni network of more than 125 highly respected civil rights leaders and advocates from 80-plus countries to support this work.