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Connecticut Advocate For LGBTQ Rights Celebrates Achievements But Says The Fight Isn’t Over

LGBTQ Rights Attorney John Stafstrom
Pullman & Comley
LGBTQ Rights Attorney John Stafstrom

The movement to achieve equal rights for the LGBTQ community has seen both victories and setbacks — in Connecticut courtrooms right up to the U.S. Supreme Court. With Pride Month 2021 wrapping up, WSHU’s Desiree Diorio spoke to an attorney at the forefront of LGBTQ civil rights.

John Stafstrom, lawyer with Pullman & Comley in Bridgeport, is also chair of Lambda Legal, a national organization that’s worked to advance the civil rights of LGBTQ people since 1973.

Desiree D’Iorio, WSHU: What are Lambda Legal’s top priorities in this first year of the Biden administration?

John Stafstrom: The bottom line of our strategic plan is we want to protect the rights that LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV have now, and to advance those rights so that everyone has actual full lived equality under the law. So our priorities are to work with the Biden administration, which obviously is a much more friendly administration, to put in place protections that existed before the Trump administration, and then to go beyond those. Our other priority is in the states that are trying to pass anti-LGBTQ laws and regulations, particularly in the area of transgender rights. We intend to fight those new statutes and regulations tooth and nail.

DD: Speaking of transgender rights, we saw recently the case in Connecticut where cisgender female high school athletes wanted to block transgender girls from competing with them. They argued that the transgender girls had an unfair advantage due to biological differences. And now we’re seeing that argument come up in state legislatures across the country.

JS: These state bills are horrific; they're harmful. They are the way to marginalize transgender boys and girls. I think the Biden administration has just come out and explained that Title IX now applies to transgender and gay athletes. And so I think we'll have the federal backing to fight back against those state laws and regulations. But I honestly think that the right-wing legislators are intent on getting this done, no matter what. We're still fighting in the courts the battle of Roe vs. Wade, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And I think we're going to see the same thing [with transgender rights].

DD: With so much focus recently on transgender rights does that mean that gays and lesbians and bisexuals have achieved equity?

JS: By no means have lesbians and gays and gender non-conforming people achieved their rights. In something like 27 states, you can still be fired for being gay or you can be denied public accommodations, you can be denied housing. I think the right wing has particularly focused on transgender issues figuring that's an easier issue for them. The whole transgender issue, and the whole transition issue, is more difficult for people to understand. And I think that their sense is, they're going to marginalize transgender people, and then they will try to morph that into rolling back other rights.

DD: Putting aside these potential future battles, what do you see as the biggest accomplishments that have been made for members of the LGBTQ community?

JS: I think the biggest accomplishments have been made, honestly, in the area of public acceptance. I think there's so much a greater public acceptance of LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV than there was 20 years ago. It's a great place to be now if you live in one of these states where you're protected, and you feel that you can walk around freely and be yourself. It's still not a great place to be in half of this country, if you're gay or lesbian and still need to hide in the closet. And that's why the fight has to continue.

DD: Thanks for your time John.

JS: Happy Pride!

John Stafstrom is a lawyer with Pullman & Comley in Bridgeport.

Desiree reports on the lives of military service members, veterans, and their families for WSHU as part of the American Homefront project. Born and raised in Connecticut, she now calls Long Island home.