Hayley Gorenberg ’92, OUTLaw Alumna of the Year, reflects on LGBTQ legal advocacy

OUTLaw, NYU Law’s LGBTQ student organization, honored Hayley Gorenberg ’92 with its Alumna of the Year Award on January 26. Immediately preceding the award presentation, OUTLaw hosted the panel “Leading by Example: New York City LGBTQ Advocacy in the Age of Trump,” whose participants included Carmelyn Malalis, chair and commissioner of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, and Ria Tabacco Mar ’08, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project.

Hayley Gorenberg '92

At the presentation, Gorenberg, deputy legal director and general counsel of Lambda Legal—the nation’s oldest and largest legal organization advocating for the rights of LGBTQ individuals and people living with HIV—was introduced by Dean Trevor Morrison. The dean expressed pride in Gorenberg and the Law School’s longstanding leadership on LGBTQ rights, which dates back to 1978 when NYU Law became the first US law school to deny recruitment assistance to employers engaging in discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In her speech, Gorenberg looked to the current, uncertain political climate, proclaiming, “Has there ever been a more important and better time to be an OUTLaw?” as well as the pressing issues she pursued during and after her time in law school. At Lambda Legal, Gorenberg has been lead counsel in the case that brought marriage equality to New Jersey and a member of the litigation team that secured marriage protections for LGBT people in Puerto Rico. She has also worked on successful litigation defending state laws that bar “conversion therapy,” where licensed therapists attempt to alter a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Gorenberg prevailed as well in a legal action against Cirque du Soleil, resulting in the largest-ever award in a settlement with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for an HIV-discrimination complaint. Currently, she is working on behalf of an intersex person seeking a passport without a binary-gender designation.

“I came to NYU [Law] to get my hands on powerful tools for change,” she said, “and I put them in my belt and I walked out of here to make change happen.” As a law student during the height of the AIDS epidemic, Gorenberg was an advocate for HIV assistance. She wrote a note in the NYU Review of Law and Social Change challenging existing protocols for access to experimental HIV/AIDS treatment and likewise provided legal aid to low-income people of color living with HIV. After graduating, she was the first staff attorney in the HIV Advocacy Project of Queens Legal Services and later worked as the coordinating attorney for HIV advocacy in the Legal Support Unit of Legal Services NYC.

She recalled how, in her first semester of law school, Anthony Amsterdam, now University Professor Emeritus, had impressed upon her lawyers’ duty to truth. Gorenberg, who worked as a journalist before studying at NYU Law, echoed that sentiment and stressed the power of veracity for lawyers, even in a time when facts themselves have been politicized. “I do not buy post-factual, and I don’t buy alternate facts,” she declared. “I do still believe in truth…. Truth is how we won marriage equality and acknowledgment of equal dignity, vanquishing demonization of LGBT people as parents, vanquishing legal disparagement of LGBT people as incapable of meaningful relationships and families and love.”

Pointing to the hot-button issue of transgender bathroom laws, Gorenberg considered how, even as a cisgender woman, she was deeply implicated. “The purported, baseless concern for my safety, for my daughter’s safety, as cisgender women in a restroom is used against some of the most vulnerable people in society…. I believe cisgender women have the ethical human obligation to say, ‘Not in our name,’ and to actively use our identity for trans rights now.”

Gorenberg concluded her remarks with a call to action for all who believe in the LGBTQ rights movement. “We are not post-movement or post-factual, and we better not be post-truth. The harshest truths are speaking to us. There is plenty of truth to champion, and lawyers can be very good at bringing it into the light, now as much as ever.”

Posted February 10, 2017