New Report Highlights Dangers of Religious Exemption Laws for LGBT Elders

Posted on December 15th, 2017 by Elizabeth Boylan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Friday, December 15, 2017

Subject:  New Report Highlights Dangers of Religious Exemption Laws for LGBT Elders

From: The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP), Columbia Law School

Contact: Liz Boylan | | 212.854.0167

* * * * *

[New York] The Movement Advancement Project (MAP), the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP) at Columbia Law School, and SAGE, the nation’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT elders, released a new report, Dignity Denied: Religious Exemptions and LGBT Elder Services. To download the report, visit

The report highlights the unique ways in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) elders are harmed by a growing number of laws and policies aimed at exempting religious organizations and individuals from following nondiscrimination and civil rights laws and policies.

By 2050, the number of people older than 65 will double to 83.7 million, and there are currently more than 2.7 million LGBT adults who are 50 years or older living across the country. LGBT elders face unique challenges to successful aging stemming from current and past structural and legal discrimination because of their sexual orientation, their gender identity, their age, and other factors like race. These risk factors are exacerbated by recent efforts at the local, state, and federal levels to allow those with religious or moral objections to be exempt from non-discrimination laws, leaving LGBT older adults vulnerable to increased risk for discrimination and mistreatment.

According to the report released by MAP, PRPCP at Columbia Law School, and SAGE, religiously affiliated organizations provide a majority of the services LGBT elders rely on for their most basic needs. LGBT older adults, like many older Americans in the United States, access a network of service providers for health care, community programming and congregate meals, food and income assistance, and housing, ranging from independent living to skilled in-home nursing. Approximately 85% of nonprofit continuing-care retirement communities are affiliated with a religion. Religiously affiliated facilities also provide the greatest number of affordable housing units that serve low-income seniors. Finally, 14% of hospitals in the United States are religiously affiliated, accounting for 17% of all the country’s hospital beds.

While many of these facilities provide quality care for millions of older adults, there exists a coordinated nationwide effort to pass religious exemption laws and policies, and file lawsuits that would allow individuals, businesses, and even government contractors and grantees to use religion as a basis for discriminating against a range of communities, including LGBT elders.

Dignity Denied: Religious Exemptions and LGBT Elder Services outlines myriad federal and state efforts to allow individuals, businesses, and organizations to opt out of following nondiscrimination laws as long as they cite a religious objection. While most providers will do the right thing when it comes to serving their clients, some will only do so when required by law. The report concludes that because so many service providers are religiously affiliated, these laws pose a considerable threat to the health and well-being of LGBT older adults.

In conjunction with the release of the report, a panel discussion is being held on Friday, December 15, at Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University featuring speakers from Center for Faith and Community Partnerships, The LGBT & HIV Project, American Civil Liberties Union, The Movement Advancement Project, The New Jewish Home, New York City Commission on Human Rights, Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, Columbia Law School, the Union Theological Seminary, and SAGE.

Watch the discussion live on SAGE’s Facebook page at SAGEUSA Facebook, starting at 12 noon on December 15. For more information about the event, visit

“This report and the amicus brief SAGE filed in the Masterpiece Cake case clearly demonstrate that personal religious beliefs should never be a license to discriminate against LGBT people or anybody else,” said Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE. “That’s why we are bringing together aging experts, religious leaders, and our elders, to expose the dangers that so-called ‘religious exemptions’ pose for LGBT elders who need care and services. We must not allow the door of a nursing home or other critical care provider to slam in LGBT elders’ faces just because of who they are and whom they love.”

“This important report reveals the many ways in which the privatization of elder services, largely to conservative religiously affiliated providers, leaves LGBT older adults no choice but to obtain care in facilities that do not welcome them,” observed Katherine Franke, Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Faculty Director of PRPCP at Columbia University. “The many LGBT elders who are adherents of faith-based traditions themselves suffer a special indignity when they are forced to seek care in settings that deny the dignity of both their LGBT identity and their faith-based beliefs.”

“LGBT older adults already are more likely to be isolated and vulnerable. It is unconscionable that state and federal governments are working to allow providers to deny critical health care services and vital social supports to LGBT older adults simply because of who they are,” said Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Movement Advancement Project. “Imagine how much harder it would be to reach out for help if you knew the organizations that were supposed to help you could legally reject you, and the government would back them up.”

* * * * *

The Movement Advancement Project (MAP) is an independent think tank that provides rigorous research, insight, and analysis that help speed equality for LGBT people. MAP works collaboratively with LGBT organizations, advocates and funders, providing information, analysis and resources that help coordinate and strengthen efforts for maximum impact. MAP’s policy research informs the public and policymakers about the legal and policy needs of LGBT people and their families.  Learn more at

The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School’s (PRPCP) mission is to bring legal academic expertise to bear on the multiple contexts in which religious liberty rights conflict with or undermine other fundamental rights to equality and liberty. We undertake approaches to the developing law of religion that both respects the importance of religious liberty and recognizes the ways in which too broad an accommodation of these rights threatens Establishment Clause violations and can unsettle a proper balance with other competing fundamental rights. Our work takes the form of legal research and scholarship, public policy interventions, advocacy support, and academic and media publications.

SAGE is the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) older adults. Founded in 1978 and headquartered in New York City, SAGE is a national organization that offers supportive services and consumer resources to LGBT older adults and their caregivers, advocates for public policy changes that address the needs of LGBT older people, provides education and technical assistance for aging providers and LGBT organizations through its National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, and cultural competency training through SAGECare. Headquartered in New York City, with staff across the country, SAGE also coordinates a growing network of affiliates in the United States. Learn more at


Cross-posted to Medium

The Center for Gender & Sexuality Law and the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School are pleased to be co-supporters of the Open to All campaign.  Launched by the Movement Advancement Project in November, the Open to All campaign addresses how the engagement of #ReligiousExemptions by service providers to refuse service to persons on the basis of their religious beliefs undermines anti-discrimination laws in the United States.

The Open to All Campaign comes as the Supreme Court of the United States is hearing arguments in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  The owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop claims that he has a right to refuse service to persons on the basis of his religious beliefs, and that if he were required to bake and decorate a cake for a same-sex marriage, this would represent a substantial burden of his religious liberty rights.

Masterpiece Cakeshop, however, is about anything but cake: it is about an individual’s desire to be exempted from anti-discrimination laws in the United States, thereby upholding White Christian Supremacy in the United States over minority populations.  On its face, a decision in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop would be a boon for “religious liberties” in the United States, however, the precedent it would set is the privileging of a white Christian majority’s caprices over the rights of marginalized persons.

Professor Katherine Franke, Director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, and Faculty Director of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project wrote on this issue with Johnathan Smith of Muslim Advocates in Slate on December 4th, noting, “A victory for Phillips would not only harm people of faith, but also those who value our nation’s commitment to religious pluralism and civic equality.”

The Op-Ed by Franke and Smith follows on the submission of an amicus brief in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission in October of this year by the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project and Muslim Advocates on behalf of 15 community-based organizations.  The amicus argues that:

…non-discrimination laws, such as the Colorado law at issue in this case, often play an indispensable role in protecting the rights of religious communities. These laws serve as a critically important check against discrimination by businesses, employers, landlords, others; without such protections, individuals or groups—especially those outside the mainstream—would not be able to fully participate in civil society, and would be vulnerable to unjust persecution and harassment at every turn.

In following on the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project’s work in this arena, PRPCP and the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law are pleased to be parties to the “Open to All” campaign.  The campaign mission statement notes that:

Open to All is a nationwide campaign to help protect our nation’s nondiscrimination laws. These laws ensure that when businesses open their doors to the public, they serve everyone on the same terms. But these laws are under attack. Those who don’t want to follow nondiscrimination laws are trying to claim that their religious beliefs mean federal and state nondiscrimination laws should not apply to them—and they are also asking the Supreme Court to create a right to discriminate in our nation’s Constitution.

Learn more about the Open to All campaign at

Read Professor Franke and Johnathan Smith’s Op-ed at Slate, here.

Read the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project’s amicus brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission here.

Media Advisory: 
Columbia Law School Scholars Professor Katherine Franke and Elizabeth Reiner Platt are available for expert commentary on Supreme Court of the United States Hearing of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission; arguments to be heard on Tuesday, December 5th, 2017.

Press Contacts:

Liz Boylan
Associate Director, Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, Columbia Law School
212.854.0167 |

Professor Katherine Franke
Director, Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, Columbia Law School
Faculty Director, Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, Columbia Law School
212.854.0061 |

Elizabeth Reiner Platt
Director, Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, Columbia Law School
212.854.8079 |

* * * * *

New York, December 1, 2017: Professor Katherine Franke of Columbia Law Schooland Elizabeth Reiner Platt led scholars in the submission of an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  Arguments are scheduled to be heard in the case on Tuesday, December 5th.

“The Supreme Court’s most significant religious liberty cases have drawn a connection between the protection of religious liberty and principles of non-discrimination,” said Katherine Franke, Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School. “Masterpiece Cakeshop’s argument throws a wedge between these two fundamental American values, a position that poses a particularly dangerous threat to the rights of people of minority faith traditions.”

“Religious liberty and equality in the public sphere are both fundamental American values. In the vast majority of cases, anti-discrimination law protects both religious freedom and equality by ensuring that those of all faiths, including unpopular faiths, are able to work and participate in the public marketplace without facing discrimination from either the government or other citizens,” said Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Director of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School. “The risks to religious freedom of allowing exemptions from anti-discrimination law would far outweigh any benefit to those with a religious opposition to marriage equality. Such exemptions threaten to decimate the protections for religious minorities that have long offered them some measure of defense from discrimination in their daily lives.”

The amicus brief submitted by Professor Franke and Elizabeth Reiner Platt engaged 15 co-signatories from community-based and faith organizations, and argues that overly-broad accommodations of religious liberty, such as that requested by Masterpiece Cakeshop, undermine not just LGBT rights but religious liberty itself. As the brief explains: “There can be no dispute that anti-discrimination laws have long played a crucial role in protecting the rights of religious minorities. Petitioners’ requested exemption will dramatically limit — if not completely eliminate — that protection.” The brief further elucidates that the United States’ “constitutional commitment to religious liberty has always entailed a corollary commitment to non-discrimination. Indeed, the integrity of the former has always relied upon the enforcement of the latter.”

 * * * * * 

The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project is a think tank housed within the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School. The Project’s mission is to bring legal, policy, advocacy, and academic expertise to bear on the multiple contexts in which religious liberty rights conflict with or undermine other fundamental rights to equality and liberty.

Call for Papers: Journal of Gender and Law

Posted on October 27th, 2017 by Elizabeth Boylan

Call For Papers
Due Date: November 5, 2017

Please see the call for papers below for a symposium, “Climate Change and Gender Justice,” at Columbia Law School.

This call for papers was drafted by Laura Baron, the Symposium Editor for the Columbia Law School Journal of Gender and Law.  Laura’s contact details are as follows:

Laura Baron
Symposium Editor, Columbia Journal of Gender and Law
(206) 427-9061

The Journal of Gender and Law symposium presents an opportunity to reach a large audience of academics, advocates, and policy-makers with the intention of fostering a proactive dialogue around the intersection of gender and environmental justice. We welcome proposals on an array of related, interdisciplinary issues.

Please circulate this call for papers to any colleagues or communities who may be interested in this exciting opportunity.


Call for Papers

Columbia Law School

Climate Change and Gender Justice

The Columbia Law School Journal of Gender and Law welcomes submissions for its 2018 Symposium, “Climate Change and Gender Justice,” to be held on Friday, March 2, 2018 at Columbia Law School.

Climate change complicates and exacerbates the gender-based inequities that marginalized communities regularly face. Climate change and gender justice intersect on a wide array of subjects, such as migration, sex trafficking and sexual violence, housing policy, education access, and healthcare, among many others. Without thorough attention to its impacts on these communities, both the immediate effects of climate disaster and the long-term implications of climate change will deepen and calcify preexisting patterns of inequity.

This symposium calls for academics, practitioners, and policy-makers to convene around a proactive dialogue to help chart the path toward a more equitable future in the context of gender justice and climate change. Submissions should consider legal frameworks, advocacy strategies, and/or policy for responding proactively to the gendered implications of climate change.

We encourage all interested authors to respond. Contributions should address legal, regulatory, activist, and/or policy approaches to climate change and gender justice. These topics may address, but are not limited to:



Short-term and long-term housing policy

Intimate partner abuse


National security

Refugee policy

Urban planning

Sex trafficking

The Columbia Law School Journal of Gender and Law will invite selected authors to discuss their work at the Spring 2018 symposium and will publish their articles in the 2018 Symposium Issue, slated for release in fall of 2018.

Authors should submit a cover letter and 1-2 page summary of their proposed paper to Laura Baron, Symposium Editor, at

The deadline for submissions of article proposals is Sunday, November 5, 2017. The symposium will take place on Friday, March 2, 2018, at Columbia Law School. Completed articles will be due by Tuesday, May 1, 2018.

Contact Point Person:

Laura Baron
Symposium Editor, Columbia Journal of Gender and Law
(206) 427-9061



The Columbia Law School Association and the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law invite you to attend and participate in  CLE program, Supreme Court Roundup: LGBTQ Rights and Religious Liberty in the 2017 Term, to be held at Sony Music Entertainment.

Registration by Eventbrite is Required.  Please register at:

Tuesday, October 31 | 9:00-10:00 a.m.
*Please arrive by 8:45 a.m. so the program can begin on time. 

Co-Hosted by OutLoud at Sony Music Entertainment
and the Diversity Committee of Citi Private Bank

Event Host: Wade Leak ’89*, Senior Vice President, Deputy General Counsel,
Chief Compliance, Ethics and Privacy Officer
Sony Music Entertainment

The Sony Building, 25 Madison Avenue (at 25th Street)
27th Floor

Speaker: Professor Katherine Franke,
Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Columbia Law School
Director, Center for Gender & Sexuality Law
Faculty Director, Public Rights/Private Conscience Project


This term the Supreme Court has before them two cases of great significance for LGBTQ rights. Professor Franke will provide an overview of these cases, the specific legal questions at issue, and the larger stakes for civil rights law more generally. The first case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that the owner of a bakery who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple violated Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. The baker claims that this ruling abridges his First Amendment rights to religious liberty and free expression insofar as the ruling imposes a substantial burden on his sincerely held religious belief that marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman, and abridges his right to artistic expression. The Court is also considering whether to take an important sexual orientation discrimination case: Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital. In this case the 11th Circuit ruled that the prohibition in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against employment discrimination “because of . . . sex” does not encompass discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation. The 7th Circuit had previously held that sexual orientation discrimination claims were actionable as a form of sex discrimination under Title VII, so the Court is faced with a circuit split on this issue.

*Wade Leak ’89 oversees compliance in areas such as radio promotion, online marketing, code of conduct, privacy, parental advisory labeling and records management.  He also handles important company litigations and advises the company’s business units on a variety of legal issues.  Wade began working in the music industry in January 1999 when he joined the Zomba Group of Companies as in-house counsel and handled various legal issues for the recorded music and music publishing companies, including litigation, employment, trademark and corporate governance.  In 2003, he joined the Legal and Business Affairs department of BMG Music as head of litigation after Bertelsmann’s acquisition of Zomba.  Wade received his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University, and after graduating from Columbia Law School in 1989, was a judicial clerk for Justice Christine M. Durham of the Utah Supreme Court.  He then worked at the law firms of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Bodian & Eames before joining Zomba.

CLE Readings:

The Road to Systemic Oppression is Paved with Good Intentions

Posted on October 11th, 2017 by Elizabeth Boylan

An Essay on National Coming Out Day

Cross-Posted on

Each year, on October 11th, my Facebook feed is populated with the personal stories of friends and others sharing their experiences of “coming out” – of publicly disclosing their sexuality or gender identity to friends, family, or colleagues.  National coming out day was founded in October 1988 to “celebrate individuals who publicly identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, [queer,] and/or transgender.”[1]

National Coming Out Day was initiated in 1988 as a response both to direct action movements by LGBTQ activists, and the critical lack of public acknowledgment of LGBTQ persons by the general public in the United States. The crisis of HIV and the experiences of persons living with HIV and AIDS were diminished and ignored by government officials. News media, when confronted with having to report on the matter, frequently presented inaccurate or speculative information.  The lack of clear and accurate information regarding HIV and AIDS in popular media, and Public Health officials’ original designation of HIV/AIDS as “GRID”: “Gay Related Immune Deficiency” drew a false equivalency through association between a terrifying epidemic and homosexuality. As a result, serophobia[2] magnified the homophobia, biphobia, queerphobia and transphobia already present in society, leading to a lack of progress in the achievement of equality measures and public support for LGBTQ persons.

National Coming Out Day’s originators, Jean O’Leary and Rob Eichberg, saw that actions taken by LGBTQ activists at the time were often in reaction to anti-LGBTQ initiatives or actions; as such, it was easy for the media to stigmatize LGBTQ persons as defensive and reactionary: To counter the perceived stigma of this, “they came up with the idea to celebrate coming out and chose the anniversary of [a march held on Oct. 11, 1987 in Washington, DC] to mark it.”[3]

The “reactionary” element that is referenced in much of the literature and around National Coming Out Day – particularly as catalogued by neoliberal LGBTQ groups such as the Human Rights Campaign – alludes to the activism and advocacy of ACT UP, the “AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power” founded in New York in 1987. ACT UP, in its founding principles, notes “We are dedicated to empowering groups to take direct action to help end the AIDS Crisis. ACT UP is committed to a democratic inclusive activism.”[4]  The group sought to bring public attention to the public health crisis of HIV/AIDS and the impact it was having on the experiences of LGBTQ people in the United States.  ACT UP centered on engaging in direct action and empowering those individuals most stigmatized and at risk of institutional or personal violence as a result of their sexuality, gender, or serostatus to be at the forefront of demanding political and cultural change.  A press release from the prestigious Dance Theater Workshop accompanied an award for their work in 1988 “For meeting the challenge of the AIDS epidemic and its crisis of conscience with vigilant acts of political and cultural provocation – thereby giving voice to the essential creative will of our humanity.”[5],[6]

“The late 1980s then became a symbolic ode to the 1960s radicalism…. This mantra of immediate and fundamental change was very significant because achieving this singular vision ACT UP challenged many of the existing social, political, economical, and religious norms, making it inherently radical in its approach towards getting concrete results.”[7]

ACT UP’s radical tactics and confrontational methods of engaging with health-care providers, pharmaceutical companies, police, and community leaders had direct impacts on the provision of rights and healthcare for LGBTQ persons and spoke clearly to the rightful anger and discontent of LGBTQ persons at their maltreatment by social and political institutions.

National Coming Out Day sought to distance the ways that LGBTQ persons were perceived from the radical activism of ACT UP, and in doing so, they presented a palatable veneer for public consumption that ignored, denied, and silenced the rightful anger of the persons most vulnerable in the LGBTQ communities.  It also presented a false vision of what “LGBTQ Action” represented – – “Pride” rather than “Protest.”

Pride can exist in subjugated communities, and it must as a means of creating a positive organizing force.  In publicly identifying, people must be granted the dignity of pride: the privilege to be righteous in expressing that their unique experiences matter and have value.  However, when we address the need and organizing force of pride within subjugated communities, it must be utilized as a tool for demanding that peoples’ needs be met, and human injustice be addressed.

In seeking to re-cast the LGBTQ movement’s public persona from one of “Empowered Protest” (ACT UP) with an ethos of visibility or “Pride without Protest”, National Coming Out Day homogenized the LGBTQ movement, and distanced visible LGBTQ persons in the greater public eye from those activists whose work was having a direct impact on changing policy and obtaining rights for LGBTQ persons through direct actions and radical activism.

In Ties that Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences, Sarah Schulman addresses this issue: “Visibility was a construct that the gay and lesbian movement invented to explain and excuse the cruelty we were experiencing. We denied that it was intentional. Instead we invented the idea that it was an inadvertent consequence of heterosexuals having a lack of information about what we are really like. If they would discover how we truly are, they would not want to hurt us….Looking back at the way we created the issue of ‘visibility’ as a strategy for change is a painful confrontation with the realization that it was an engagement with magical thinking.”[8]

Nearly 30 years later, looking on the founding of National Coming Out Day, there are parallels in discourse regarding LGBTQ rights and activism to those in the late 1980s – there is of course the contingent of persons and groups, namely the Human Rights Campaign, who sought equality in marriage rights as a primary issue for same sex couples in the United States, and experienced success upon the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

Marriage equality, while hailed as a cultural victory, is a “privilege” that was pushed to the forefront of public discourse around LGBTQ issues in the United States at the expense of furthering fights to change policy in regards to critical rights, such as employment protection, and the inclusion of sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression as protected classes under hate crime statutes at the State level:

* Only 20 states and the District of Columbia have statewide protection in place for persons from employment discrimination based on gender identity

* 22 States and the District of Columbia have statewide protection regarding employment discrimination on the basis of sexuality.

* Gender identity and expression are only protected in 17 states and the District of Columbia under hate crime statutes.

* Sexuality is only acknowledged as a protected class under hate crime statutes in 30 states and the District of Columbia.

* 20 States do not offer any protection for LGBTQ persons under their current hate crime statutes.[9]

In the wake of the Obergefell decision of 2015, we have seen a marked increase in right-wing affiliated religious groups in the United States mobilizing Religious Freedom Restoration Act legislation and “Religious Liberty” exemptions so as to deny services and equal access to LGBTQ persons on the alleged basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs.  This movement fundamentally undermines the rights that LGBTQ persons are entitled to as human beings in the United States.

In 2014, a Columbia Law School press release noted, “With increasing frequency, opponents of same-sex marriage, reproductive rights, and gender equality have sought a safe harbor in religion to justify otherwise illegal employment and business practices.”[10]  In a blog post addressing this issue, Professor Katherine Franke noted, “With greater and greater frequency, respecting equality rights is seen as optional while respecting religious liberty is mandatory,” speaking to the disturbing trend that was developing as marriage equality gained traction in state legislatures throughout the United States, and which has continued to develop at the Federal and State level in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

The presence of highly visible cultural phenomena that frequently center the narratives of white, professional, upper-middle class LGBTQ persons seem to push forward this narrative of “coming out” as being a positive experience.  In activism and in allegory, this hinges on “spectacularly brave gays and lesbians” as Schulman calls them, to be leaders in creating a visible queer population, who face social stigmatization and rejection to pave the way for a less treacherous path of living openly for other queers. Such pride without protest can only occur when the first persons coming out do not face substantial risks to their personhood, livelihood, economic resources, housing, or well-being due to publicly disclosing their sexuality and/or gender identity.  By placing the onus on LGBTQ people to come out, it privileges those who already have social capital based on race, economic status, or social standing.  This ultimately, too, puts the person who is “out” in a precarious position of being publicly exposed to greater scrutiny, and leads to a paradigm enabling and favoring a “model minority” stereotype, which further burdens and invisibilizes persons in the LGBTQ community who are multiply marginalized and at risk for experiencing greater systemic and individual violence on the basis of their identity.

The idea of “visibility” in media is hailed as an achievement for LGBTQ people, but it is a false notion that such increased visible representation is an indicator of substantial change in the pursuit of rights or equality for LGBTQ people.  In November of 2016, the Guardian featured an article with the headline, “LGBT characters on TV will make up larger percentage than ever, study finds.” And in 2012, Vice President Joe Biden talked around the issues of advances for LGBTQ rights and equality by equating cultural zeitgeist with success in stating, “when things really began to change, is when the social culture changes. I think “Will & Grace ” probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody’s ever done so far.”[11]

The “study” mentioned in The Guardian is GLAAD’s 2016-2017 media report.  While the data of the report indicates the highest percentage yet of LGBT characters on television in the 2016-2017 season in the 21 years of the organization’s monitoring (4.8%), it also addressed serious issues about falsely equivocating or endowing this increased quantity with value. In the Report’s introduction, Sarah Kate Ellis, President & CEO, GLAAD states: “…the numbers remain only part of the story. For all the advancement made, many LGBTQ characters still fall into outdated stereotypes or harmful tropes.” Ellis addressed the disproportionate lethal violence that queer female characters are subjected to so as to serve (often straight, cisgender) protagonists, and the real message such “representation” provides – the acceptable systemic devaluation of queer female persons in society.

It is not without irony that at a time when Joe Biden’s beloved situation comedy, Will & Grace, is being revived on NBC.  The sitcom centers on Will, a gay cisgender male character who is a white, upper-middle class, able-bodied lawyer in New York.  The cast features two prominent white cisgender gay male characters, Will, and Jack, with their cisgender, heterosexual female friends, Grace and Karen. The primary 4 characters all live in well-appointed apartments, the gay characters are never shown as having sex, and the show largely ignores issues such as economic inequality, racism in LGBTQ communities, HIV and AIDS, and violence against LGBTQ people. While popular, the show’s association with a notion of progress for true LGBTQ rights falsely equates visibility and acknowledgment (“yes, there are gay people, here are some that won’t cause your Nielsen stock to plummet”) with “real change.”

A core concern, too, when discussing National Coming Out Day is the fact that encouragement to “Come Out” is complicated for persons whose identities and experiences put them at greater risk of institutional and physical violence.  When paradigms that further privilege white, cisgender, upper-middle class lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals are enforced, it further marginalizes persons of color, persons who experience economic inequality, religious and ethnic minorities, and particularly transgender and gender nonconforming individuals, especially those whose experiences and identities place them at the intersection of multiple marginalized groups. Systems that institutionalize violence against marginalized individuals (such as discriminatory practices in finance, access to healthcare, social services, and education) may have multiplying oppressive effects on multiply marginalized individuals.

A prominent report by Lambda Legal asserts “44% of reported hate murders in 2010 were committed against transgender women.”[12]  The 44% statistic only represents those crimes officially categorized as hate crimes in FBI statistics and AVP analysis. The actual number of anti-transgender hate murders that occurred in 2010 is likely higher but ultimately underreported due to systemic transgender and anti-gender-non-conforming discrimination by communities, families, and the criminal justice industrial complex.  Lambda Legal’s report addresses the fact that this epidemic of lethal violence against transgender women is a terrorizing element that may discourage transgender from disclosing their experience or “coming out”, and discourage these people from “seeking community support” when victimized in other ways.

In 2017 to date, 23 transgender individuals have been murdered, which represents an increase over the 27 recorded in total for the calendar year 2016 by GLAAD[13].  21 of the 23 people who were the victims of transphobic murder in 2017 year are people of color. GLAAD Reports:

Victims of anti-transgender violence are overwhelmingly transgender women of color, who live at the dangerous intersections of transphobia, racism, sexism, and criminalization which often lead to high rates of poverty, unemployment, and homelessness….the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reports an alarming multi-year trend showing that transgender women experience a greater risk of death by hate violence than any other group.[14]

Increased visibility is not the answer to resolving the issues of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and queerphobia in our society.  When “coming out” or the experience of “being out” puts an individual at risk of violence, we cannot ethically justify the risk of persons’ safety – economic, social, or personal – as a means of propelling social change, nor can we suggest that the continuation of the tradition of “National Coming Out Day” benefits anyone in the LGBTQ community, as it particularly disadvantages those at greatest risk of violence.

As a community, we cannot continue to practice systems that privilege a select few in their “being out,” for this ultimately perpetuates paradigms that enforce model minority stereotypes, and further marginalize those at greatest risk of institutional and personal violence.  It is our responsibility as community members to develop actions that center the voices and needs of those most marginalized among us in seeking change.

Assimilative movements, or movements that hinge on “Pride without Protest” have not proven the test of time, and only serve to create a false perception of equality.  Particularly at a time when our President has taken multiple actions to decrease, diminish, and undermine the rights that LGBTQ persons have fought for, we cannot place any stock on “visibility” as any sort of panacea for achieving real and lasting rights for LGBTQ people, or for protecting anyone from personal or institutional violence.

The institutions of systemic violence have always been present in our society; while there has been some progress in the last 40 years in LGBTQ movements – whether they served only individual communities within the larger LGBTQ community, or whether they served the community as a whole – we need to recognize the real work and sacrifice – the protest, passion, and commitment to revising legislation and engaging in work, writing, radical community support, and action that have garnered success in moving towards equality – and redouble our efforts to meet these current challenges with “vigilant acts of political and cultural provocation – thereby giving voice to the essential creative will of our humanity.”

[1] Mitchum, Preston. “On National Coming Out Day, Don’t Disparage the Closet.” The Atlantic. 10/11/2013.  Accessed 10/11/17.

[2] Serophobia is defined as “ a manifestation of fear and aversion by certain people, towards people living with HIV… [which] manifests… through acts of exclusion or discrimination, whether implicit or explicit.” Accessed 10/11/17.

[3] Human Rights Campaign. “The History of Coming Out.” Accessed 10/11/17.

[4] ACT UP. “Documents.” Accessed 10/11/17.

[5] ACT UP New York. “Home Page.” Accessed 10/11/17.

[6] Gere, David. How to Make Dances in an Epidemic: Tracking Choreography in the Age of AIDS. University of Wisconsin Press. 2004. 82-83.

[7] Farooq, Sameen. ACT UP: The AIDS Revolution. Accessed 10/11/17.

[8] Schulman, Sarah. Ties that Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences. The New Press. New York. 2009. P 45-46.

[9] The Movement Advancement Project. “Hate Crime Laws.” 10/2/17. Retrieved 10/11/17.

[10] Columbia Law School. “New Project on Religious Exemptions and Civil Rights Launches”. 3/24/2014. Retrieved 10/11/17.

[11] NBC News. “Transcripts on Meet the Press: May 6: Joe Biden, Kelly Ayotte, Diane Swong, Tom Brokaw, Chuck Todd.” Retrieved 10.11.2017.


[13] Adams, Nick. “GLAAD Calls for Increased and Accurate Media Coverage of Transgender Murders.” 9/25/17. Retrieved 10/11/17.

[14] Adams, Nick. “GLAAD Calls for Increased and Accurate Media Coverage of Transgender Murders.” 9/25/17. Retrieved 10/11/17.

Call for Research Assistants – Professor Katherine Franke

Posted on October 2nd, 2017 by Elizabeth Boylan

Professor Katherine Franke and the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law are seeking student Research Assistants to work with Professor Franke on a range of topics related to LGBTQ rights, reproductive rights and justice, racial justice and religious liberty.   The position will comprise approximately 5-10 hours of work each week, and will begin immediately.

We welcome applications from all upper level students at Columbia Law School.  The position pays $15/hour.  Students who wish to receive academic credit for their work may consult with Professor Franke and the Registrar’s office about accreditation requirements.

If you are interested, please send a CV, transcript, and the name of a Columbia Law professor who can serve as a reference to Liz Boylan, Associate Director for the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at

In Memoriam – Edie Windsor

Posted on September 13th, 2017 by SUZANNE GOLDBERG
 Comments Off on In Memoriam – Edie Windsor  

Cross-Posted to Medium

It is with great sadness that we honor the passing of Edie Windsor, victorious marriage-equality plaintiff in United States v. Windsor and long-time leader in the LGBT community.  We had the privilege of welcoming Edie to Columbia Law School in February 2014 as the keynote speaker for the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law Symposium on Marriage Equality and Reproductive Rights: Lessons Learned and the Road Ahead. Introducing her then, we recognized her iconic status as a person whose willingness to fight back against discrimination helped to transform the law, politics and and many communities in the United States and beyond:

It is not often that a law school gets to welcome a rock star. But in our world, Edie Windsor is a rock star. She is one of the major civil rights plaintiffs of our lifetime, whose lawsuit challenged–and triumphed over–the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Her victory in that suit has been vital to changing the landscape of marriage equality for all Americans.

Excerpt from “A Conversation with Edie Windsor,” by Suzanne Goldberg, Madeline M. Gomez and Andrew Chesley in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law.

Edie, we will miss you, your courage, your great sense of humor, and your tireless commitment to making this a better world for all.

A Conversation with Columbia Law School Visiting Scholar, Tamar Katz Peled

Posted on August 22nd, 2017 by Elizabeth Boylan

This Summer, Tamar Katz Peled joined the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law as a Visiting Scholar.  I spoke with Tamar 2 weeks ago about her research, and her plans for pursuing further inquiry and advocacy work in her primary field of study: reproductive surrogacy, and reproductive access in legal and social contexts.  Below is a transcript of this conversation.

For more information on the Visiting Scholars Program at Columbia Law School, visit Columbia Law School’s International Programs Page

* * * * *

E.B.: Welcome on board – – Upon learning about your work, we were excited to support you as a Visiting Scholar at Columbia Law School.  Thank you for joining us and taking time to discuss your work.

T.K.P.: First and foremost, it is a great pleasure for me to be a Visiting Scholar with the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School. This center represents a spiritual homeland for my heart and mind: All my fields of interests that include my academic education, research work and the courses I teach are synonymous with the Center’s work.

E.B.: While visiting with the Center and Columbia Law School, what do you seek to accomplish?

T.K.P.: My work concentrates primarily on the mutual influences between gender and sexuality in law and culture, with respect to new reproductive technologies and to sexual and intimate relationships. I would like to advance my research in some of my main projects, through engaging with the faculty and researchers who are members of the Center, and who work closely with the Center at Columbia. I am interested in discussing mutual ideas and areas of interest as well as to introduce other elements of the projects that I work on, particularly how gender and reproductive rights are addressed, and how discrimination is enabled via Israeli Law.

E.B.: What prompted you to pursue the topic of surrogacy in your work?

T.K.P.: The main issue about surrogacy is how it is intimately tied to a person’s body through pregnancy: Following pregnancy [the birth parent] delivers the baby in order to give [them] away. The legal implications of this stoked my imagination and my thoughts: I imagined myself as the birthing mother and as a woman striving for a child; Both situations evoked many questions and dilemmas for me as a woman. In order to answer these questions, I had to start my research by interviewing the people that are involved in all aspects of these relationships and procedures. Following these interviews, I examined these answers through legal lenses. I have been dealing with this subject for almost seven years, and I continue to find it interesting and challenging.

E.B.: How might we conceive of surrogacy as a human rights issue?

T.K.P.: My idea relates to the dignity, honor and respect that we as a society, and the law as our representative, must give to people that serve as surrogates: the respect that they need and deserve. This is one of the most intimate ways that a person can provide a service for another. I hope to use my work to mobilize a pursuit of rights for surrogates and persons involved in surrogacy proceedings all over the world.

E.B.: Looking ahead, what topics and themes would you like to explore in your research?

T.K.P.: I have so many projects in mind that I need to double my time in a day in order to conduct them all: In the ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology) field, I just posed for a research grant proposal regarding the freezing eggs. In regards to intersections of religious law and civil society: I have a lot to do – Religion’s influence on societies and on states profoundly impacts the resources that people have access too, even in secular nations. I am also eager to advance research about gender-based and sexuality-based bullying on the internet.

Although the legal systems regarding gender and sexuality have moderately changed all over the western world we still have a lot to do to seek reproductive justice. Oppression still occurs all over. I think that one of the main problems is that law and legal systems frequently speak to enforcing and upholding equality, but equality is not present in society, and/or these laws are not enforced. For example, in Israel, I analyzed “The Law for Equal Rights for Women-1951” and my conclusions showed that it serves to promote a myth of equality, while actually maintaining discrimination. I believe that one of our main goals must be to tear the mask of equality from the face of the laws, and make the legal changes that are necessary and demanded so as to achieve equal rights for women and people of all genders in our systems.

* * * * * 

More information on this Summer’s Cohort of Visiting Scholars at Columbia Law School may be found here.  Tamar Katz Peled may be reached by e-mail at

Cross-posted to Medium.

New York, June 13, 2017–Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic released a comprehensive country conditions report documenting the serious risks LGBT people in Guyana face. The report, Documentation of Country Conditions Regarding the Treatment of Gay Men, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgender Individuals in Guyana, which can be filed as an index by asylum applicants, documents why LGBT individuals may have a well-founded fear of returning to their country of origin. This evidence is crucial for every LGBT asylum seeker from Guyana, but many available resources are out of date or incomplete. This report remedies that problem by providing up-to-date, comprehensive, and easy-to-access information that can make all the difference in asylum seekers’ applications.

As the report shows, Guyanese law criminalizes sexual intimacy between men—with punishment that may include life in prison—and cross-dressing, which renders transgender individuals especially vulnerable throughout Guyanese society. Discrimination and harassment of LGBT individuals also remains rampant, and police and other authorities provide little protection. LGBT individuals are also denied access to health care as a result of the AIDS crisis.

“All asylum applicants need to submit an index of country conditions to corroborate why they are afraid to return to their home country, explained Jackson Dartez ’18, a Clinic student. “However, those who are unrepresented have difficulty gathering these types of sources, which can make or break an asylum claim. The Clinic’s report provides this supporting evidence for asylum seekers from Guyana who have suffered persecution as a result of their LGBT identity, giving them a fairer chance of succeeding in their application.”

The report, which is based on government documents, NGO studies, academic research, media accounts, and the Guyanese criminal code, identifies that LGBT people are persecuted in Guyana in numerous ways, including:

*     The Guyanese government refuses to reform anti-LGBT laws, with officials alternatively claiming that it is unnecessary because they are seldom enforced, and that they are crucial because they represent Guyanese values. However, the laws provide a backdrop against which LGBT individuals in Guyana suffer immensely.

*     The police are frequently at the center of the persecution. LGBT individuals are often the victims of hate crimes, but law enforcement officers typically will not investigate due to anti-gay sentiment and transphobia. Indeed, police extortion of LGBT individuals is common, and the police have been known to encourage violence against LGBT people—including urging inmates to rape LGBT individuals in custody.

*     Societal discrimination against LGBT individuals is widespread. LGBT individuals are verbally and physically harassed when they walk down the street, and ostracized by family members and their communities. The mental health consequences of homophobia and transphobia are extreme. Young LGBT individuals in Guyana are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, a significant number given that Guyana has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

Yleana Roman, a staff attorney at Immigration Equality, the country’s leading LGBTQ immigration group, noted that having this information available to asylum seekers is crucial: “Well documented country conditions can make all the difference in ensuring an asylum claim is successful. Creating the report for one asylum seeker helps that person, but by making this widely available, the Clinic is potentially saving the lives of many people.”

The Clinic has distributed the report through Immigration Equality and has made it available for download on the Clinic website.  Link to the report directly, here.

The report was prepared by Clinic students Arielle Feldshon ’17, Patti Rothenberg ’18, Arielle Trapp ’18, Carolina Rivas ’18, and Dartez. They worked under the supervision of Suzanne B. Goldberg, director of the Clinic and the Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, as well as Marie-Amélie George and Jenny Ma, Clinic supervisors and Associates in Law. Yleana Roman of Immigration Equality also supervised the students in completing this report. The students spent several months reviewing sources on conditions in Guyana as part of a Clinic project to prepare a client’s asylum application, which is still pending. Although the Clinic is representing a gay man, the index also includes information about the persecution of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Guyanese individuals.

Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic addresses cutting-edge issues in sexuality and gender law through litigation, legislation, public policy analysis, and other forms of advocacy. Under Professor Goldberg’s guidance, Clinic students have worked on a wide range of projects to serve both individual and organizational clients in cases involving issues of sexuality and gender law.



"Homeland" Security Abortion Rights Activism Adoption adultery Advocacy Affordable Care Act Alien Tort Claims Act Amicus Brief Asylum Bankruptcy BDS Bullying Census Politics Children Citizenship Civil Unions Clinic Columbia Law School Compulsory Marriage Condoms Contraception Contraception Mandate Cordoba House Criminal Law Cures for Homosexuality Defense of Marriage Act Disability Rights Discrimination Divorce Domestic Partnership Domestic Violence Domestic Workers Don't Ask Don't Tell Earth Day Economic Justice Education Egypt Elections Employment Discrimination ENDA Estate Planning Events Family Law Fellowships femininity Feminism Free Speech Gender and Technology Gender Identity Discrimination Gendering the Economy Gender Justice GSL Online Haiti Hate Crimes Health Care Hilary Clinton Hillary Clinton Hiring HIV HIV Discrimination Hobby Lobby Homelessness Homophobia Housing Human Rights Identity Politics Illegitimacy (sic) Immigration Reform In-ing Incest India International Law Intersectional Feminism Islamophobia Israel Jobs Justice Sotomayor King & Spalding Labor Trafficking Land Reform Law School Legal Profession Legal Scholarship Lesbian & Gay Parenting LGBT Parenting Marital Status Discrimination Marriage Marriage Equality Masculinity Medicaid Michelle Obama Migration Military National Security Obama Administration Obama Appointments Obergefell Outing OWS Palestine Parenting Pinkwashing Policing Politics of the Veil Polyamory Popular Culture Pornograpy Pregnancy Presidential Politics Prisons Privacy Products Liability Profanity Prop 8 Prosecutorial Discretion Publications Public Rights/Private Conscience Public Rights/Private Conscience Project Queer Theory Queer vs. Gay Rights Race and Racism Racial Stereotyping Rape Religion Religious Accommodation Religious Exemption Religious Exemptions Religious Freedom Restoration Act Religious Fundamentalism Reproductive Rights Reproductive Technology RFRA Romania Rwanda Sartorial Commentary Schools Sex Discrimination Sex Education Sex Stereotyping Sexting Sex Trafficking Sexual Assault Sexual Duplicity Sexual Harassment Sexual Health Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic Sexual Orientation Discrimination Sex Work Silencing of voices SMUG Sodomy Law Reform Solidarity Sports Supreme Court Surrogacy Technology Title IX Trafficking Transgender Uganda Uncategorized Violence Women and Poverty Women of Color Work Zimbabwe

Academic Calendar  |  Resources for Employers  |  Campus Map & Directory  |  Columbia University  |  Jobs at Columbia  |  Contact Us

© Copyright 2009, Columbia Law School. For questions or comments, please contact the webmaster.