Advancing LGBT Civil Rights

National Legal Panel

Monday, July 25, 2:30 pm - 3:45 pm
National Museum of American Jewish History

Dell Auditorium
101 South Independence Mall East
(5th and Market Streets)
Philadelphia, PA 19106


Jim Obergefell, Special Guest
Jim will do a book signing after the panel. With Pulitzer prize winner Debbie Cenziper, he is the co-author of "Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality." The book is available from HarperCollins.
Sponsored by:

R. Bradley Sears (Moderator)
Executive Director of the Williams Institute
University of California - Los Angeles

Brad Sears is the executive director of the Williams Institute, a UCLA think tank that focuses on sexual orientation policy and law, and an adjunct professor at UCLA School of Law, where he teaches courses on sexual orientation law, disability law, and U.S. legal and judicial systems. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Sears founded the HIV Legal Checkup Project and served as the discrimination and confidentiality attorney for the HIV/AIDS Legal Services Alliance of Los Angeles (HALSA). The Advocate magazine has honored him on its “40 Under 40” list of exemplary people.

James Esseks (panelist)
ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project

James Esseks is the director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project. He oversees litigation, legislative lobbying, policy advocacy, organizing, and public education to ensure fair and equal treatment of LGBT individuals, couples, families, and people living with HIV. A leading attorney, Esseks was counsel in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that won the freedom to marry nationwide. Before that, he represented Edie Windsor in the United States v. Windsor, the landmark challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Esseks has served as counsel in Schroer v. Billington, in which a federal court ruled that Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination covers transgender people, and in successful challenges to bans on adoption and foster parenting by lesbians and gays. He has worked extensively to ensure that claims of religious liberty are not used as an excuse to harm others, including LGBT people.

Roberta Kaplan (panelist)
Counsel to Edie Windsor

Roberta A. "Robbie" Kaplan is a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and an adjunct professor of law at Columbia University Law School. Described as a “litigation superstar” and “a specialist in emerging law,” she successfully argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of Edie Windsor in United States v. Windsor (2013), the landmark case that overturned a critical section of the DOMA. Windsor led directly to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down the remaining state and federal laws against same-sex marriage, nationwide. Kaplan writes about the fight for marriage equality in her book, “Then Comes Marriage” (2015). She received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New York Law Journal and was named as one of “The 100 Most Influential Lawyers” in the United States by The National Law Journal, among other accolades. 

Shannon Minter, Esq. (panelist)
Litigation Director
National Center for Lesbian Rights

Shannon Price Minter is the legal director at NCLR and has taught at Stanford, Golden Gate, and Santa Clara Universities. He gained national attention for a landmark California case that extended tort claims to same-sex domestic partners and served as lead counsel against opposing counsel Ken Starr in the case to overturn California’s Proposition 8. He also served as the NCLR’s lead attorney in Christian Legal Society v. Hastings, a Supreme Court decision upholding student-group policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Among other recognition, he received the 2008 Dan Bradley Award from the National Gay and Lesbian Bar Association, the Ford Foundation’s “Leadership for a Changing World” award, and the Anderson Prize Foundation’s Creating Change Award from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Jim Obergefell (Special Guest)
Marriage Equality Hero

Jim Obergefell is the plaintiff in the landmark marriage equality case Obergefell v. Hodges. The 2015 decision legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. The federal government recognized same-sex marriage in 2013 when it struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the United States v. Windsor. The Obergefell case tackled state legality. Obergefell and his partner, John, flew from Ohio to Maryland to marry legally as John was dying from ALS. A few months later, Obergefell sued to have his name listed as the surviving spouse on his partner’s death certificate. Obergefell and Pulitzer prize winner Debbie Cenziper are co-authors of "Love Wins."

Janson Wu (panelist)
Executive Director
GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD)

Janson Wu has served as executive director of GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) since December 2014, following eight years as a staff attorney and then the deputy director. He works to address the range of LGBT issues, from elder rights to parentage, employment benefits, transgender rights and marriage equality. He served on the legal teams for high-profile DOMA challenges and for the successful asylum case of Ugandan activist John Abdallah Wambere. He successfully argued a case for nonbiological lesbian parental rights before New Hampshire’s highest court. Wu received the David Carliner Award from the American Constitution Society; he was named one of the Best LGBT Lawyers under 40 by the National LGBT Bar Association; and he was made a 21st Century Fellow with the Pipeline Project, which cultivates leadership among LGBT people of color.

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