Whether it’s fighting for the rights of service members with HIV, aiding couples with custody battles or helping to secure marriage equality, Lambda Legal has a history of impact litigation that aids LGBTQ people in all walks of life. Earlier this year, the 47-year-old nonprofit hired Brian Richardson as its Midwest regional director who will be responsible for programming and outreach efforts in the states of Ohio, North and South Dakota, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Michigan. He said he’s eager to “help elevate” the “good work happening across the Midwest” and “push back” against policies and rules that discriminate.
“In some states we’re taking multiple steps forward but in other states in our region we’re taking multiple steps back,” Richardson said. “How can we as an organization, and we more broadly as a community, ensure that we continue to move forward in some of those places, and help make sure that none of our states fall behind?”
For right now at least, the answer is to learn. Regarding Michigan specifically, Richardson said he’s beginning his educational process by taking time to visit. So far, he’s taken trips to Southeast Michigan, but he plans to make more to other parts of the state, too.
“My first goal in Michigan is to meet people and listen and figure out how we can help the good work that’s already happening in Michigan,” he said. “… Historically, we’ve also had a good presence in West Michigan and we’re looking to build that presence too, but the goal is to ensure that folks know that Lambda is there in Michigan across the entire state.”
Despite still being new to Michigan’s specific struggles, Richardson sees the potential for many pro-LGBTQ policies to move forward. He said that the “changes in the governor’s mansion” in the November 2018 election were a boon to both Lambda Legal’s and Michigan’s fights for equality. In particular, the election of Dana Nessel to the role of attorney general, whose work along with Lambda Legal’s was instrumental in securing marriage equality in 2015.
“We have had, historically, a large diet of activity in the state of Michigan where we made real change, not just for our plaintiff’s in the state of Michigan but change that has reverberated across the country. And I think that our current docket, and some of the current cases that we’re working on in Michigan and some other states, too, have that same potential,” he said. “But as we’ve seen in other times, if we want to make real change, it’s really not just in the courtroom, because if we win a case that’s only one step, we also need to win the hearts and minds of people across the state and make sure they understand the cases that we’re presenting, why it’s so vital that LGBTQ people and those with HIV have the opportunity to thrive.”
Roots and Future Goals
Despite Lambda Legal’s focus, Richardson’s professional background has not centered around law. He’s hopped from public, private and nonprofit in roles like a communications manager at Google, working with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and being a senior leadership team member at Chicago’s LGBT community center. He does say, however, that he’s dedicated his life and career “around making the world a better place and figuring out how I can take my skills and experiences and apply them to organizations and movements where I think I can make a difference.”
Richardson said that it was the last election in particular that motivated him to seek a job where he could be of service.
“And since the last election and seeing the renewed assaults on the LGBTQ community and as a proud gay man myself, I thought that that was not a better place for me to spend my energy and my time and my life than Lambda Legal,” Richardson said.
But for him it’s about more than just passion, Richardson said that his varied career has given him a well-rounded experience that uniquely equips him to “take care of the other things so our lawyers can keep lawyering.”
“Because when our lawyers can focus on the case at hand, we win. And if I can do my work, then they can stay focused on theirs,” he said. “… And so, my goal right now is to listen to those in Michigan, but long-term once I get settled in, is to make sure that Lambda Legal is there not just as a support but we’re there helping folks in communities, winning hearts and minds, educating folks and equipping and empowering LGBTQ community members to continue to advocate.”