LGBTQ Issues

Some of our most meaningful work derives from the firm’s dedication to defending the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) individuals. O’Melveny represents people facing discrimination, violence, and persecution based on their sexual orientation, and works to challenge laws and restrictions that curtail their liberties.

Amicus Briefs Challenging Anti-Transgender Regulations. In the first transgender-rights case to reach the US Supreme Court, a team of O’Melveny attorneys filed an amicus brief on behalf of over a hundred groups working to end (and support survivors of) sexual assault, domestic violence, and other gender-based violence. The plaintiff—a transgender male high school student in Virginia represented by the ACLU—argues that the school’s policy excluding him from the men’s restroom violates the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX. After the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld his claim under Title IX, the US Supreme Court granted a petition for writ of certiorari. O’Melveny’s Supreme Court brief counters arguments that discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations such as locker rooms and restrooms is needed to protect the safety and privacy of non-transgender individuals. States and cities around the country have had nondiscrimination ordinances protecting transgender access to public accommodations for decades. The experience of these jurisdictions shows that there is no correlation between nondiscrimination ordinances protecting gender identity and increased assault or harassment in public accommodations. To the contrary, forcing transgender people to use public accommodations that do not correspond with their gender identity exposes those individuals to an increased risk of harassment and violence. Oral argument was scheduled for March 28, 2017, but the Supreme Court announced it would not rule in the case, sending it back to the Fourth Circuit. O’Melveny attorneys have represented these organizations in making this important argument since North Carolina passed HB 2, which eliminated all locally enacted anti-discrimination protections for gay, lesbian, transgender, and intersex people in the state, and required individuals to use public accommodations that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificate. Multiple organizations, including the ACLU of North Carolina and Lambda Legal, filed a lawsuit challenging HB 2 in a North Carolina district court, arguing that it violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the US Constitution and Title IX. The court broadly denied injunctive relief, except as to a few named plaintiffs, and the plaintiffs appealed. O’Melveny filed a similar amicus brief in this case before the Fourth Circuit.

Fifth Circuit Amicus Brief Opposing Mississippi Anti-LGBTQ Law. O’Melveny filed an amicus brief in the Fifth Circuit on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign and two dozen businesses, large and small, urging affirmance of a Mississippi federal district court decision invalidating a 2016 state statute authorizing religion-based discrimination against LGBTQ persons. The anti-LGBTQ law allows public employees, businesses, and social workers to deny services based on the beliefs that marriage is strictly between a man and a woman, that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage, and that gender is determined at birth. O’Melveny’s brief argues that these provisions subvert the nondiscrimination policies of Mississippi corporations, undermine their ability to do business within and outside of Mississippi, and inflict immeasurable and irreparable harm on LGBTQ people—including employees, employees’ families, and customers of those very corporations.

Asylum for Jamaican LGBTQ Advocate. A New York-based O’Melveny team won asylum for a 28-year-old gay Jamaican citizen and HIV/AIDS advocate who had suffered repeated harassment, abuse, and physical violence from the police, his family, and the community as a result of his sexual orientation. Raised in a homophobic climate, the client suffered harassment and abuse from a very young age. As an adult, he committed himself to HIV prevention, and he became a peer educator with the Ministry of Health while also working with LGBTQ advocacy groups. In these roles, he witnessed widespread violence against LGBTQ Jamaicans, harassment by the police, and the murder of several friends. In 2012, he received more than 90 threatening phone calls in the span of several months. Fearing for his life, he fled to the United States. O’Melveny prepared his application, supporting affidavits, and a country conditions report, and represented the client at his asylum interview, after which he was granted asylum. He looks forward to living a productive life in New York, where he has continued his impressive HIV/AIDS outreach and advocacy work.

Asylum for Gay Ghanaian Citizen. O’Melveny secured asylum for a 33-year-old gay and HIV-positive Ghanaian citizen. While in Ghana, the client experienced repeated harassment, abuse, and physical violence, and also faced the threat of arrest and incarceration because of his sexual orientation. In Ghana, homosexuality is taboo, and consensual sexual activity among males is illegal, punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. Despite attempts to hide his sexual orientation and HIV status, the client was interrogated by police in 2007 over rumors of his sexuality, and he was the victim of an attempted extortion plot in 2009, which resulted in his assault and a three-day hospitalization. Fearing for his life and safety, he fled to the United States. Since that time, he has received threats indicating that he would be “dealt with” if he returned to Ghana. O’Melveny prepared his application, supporting affidavits, and reports on country conditions, and represented the client at his asylum interview. After waiting more than two years for an interview, the client was awarded asylum in April 2016. He looks forward to living an open and productive life in the United States. 

Withholding of Removal for Gay Man from Guatemala. An O’Melveny team convinced a California Immigration Court to approve a petition for withholding of removal on behalf of a 27-year-old HIV-positive Guatemalan national who fled to the United States to escape violent persecution due to his sexual orientation. In Guatemala, the client was stabbed and teased at school, and on another occasion was raped and scalded with boiling water by a police officer when he attempted to report an anti-gay attack. In both instances, the school administration and the authorities refused to act because he was gay. In 2011, he fled to the United States but was soon deported back to Guatemala. Although he was in Guatemala for less than a year, the client endured a series of beatings and robberies, which the police refused to investigate. He again attempted to escape these dangers by entering the United States, but was detained within months of his arrival. Fearing that the violent persecution would only worsen if he was forced to return to Guatemala, he sought the help of Public Counsel, one of the firm’s longtime pro bono collaborators. O’Melveny assisted the client in his successful application for withholding of removal and for relief under the UN Convention Against Torture. The client has been released from detention, and now may remain in the United States lawfully and free from the risk of deportation.

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