When Ria Tabacco Mar ’08 joined the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project as a staff attorney in 2014, friends questioned her decision. Mar recalled their doubts in remarks delivered as she accepted the Alumna of the Year Award from OUTLaw, NYU Law’s LGBTQ student organization, on January 30.
At the time of the move, Mar had already scored her “dream job” at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; she also lacked significant LGBTQ-related litigation experience. “But more importantly,” Mar said in her speech, “most folks thought at that point, with the Windsor decision handed down, the Defense of Marriage Act already ruled unconstitutional, and marriage equality in the Obergefell decision seemingly around the corner, that I would in short order be out of a job….
“In fact, we’ve seen the opposite,” Mar said. “Since the Obergefell decision, we’ve seen a backlash against LGBTQ people that has been focused largely on the most vulnerable members of our community.”
Mar has worked on the ACLU’s litigation team in two pending US Supreme Court cases challenging the Trump administration’s claim that firing an employee based on their LGBTQ status should be legal. She also led the ACLU’s efforts in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the case filed by a same-sex couple after a bakery refused to sell them a wedding cake. For these and other efforts, Mar was named one of the “Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40” by the National LGBT Bar Association in 2016. The Root included her on its 2018 list of the 100 most influential African Americans ages 25 to 45.
In her remarks, Mar invoked the November 2019 execution of Charles Rhines, a South Dakota gay man whose appeal to the Supreme Court had been denied. Rhines, the ACLU and others alleged, had been sentenced to death after some jurors opined that he would enjoy prison too much. A number of jurors stated that the defendant’s sexual orientation factored significantly in the deliberations. Mar struck a cautionary tone: “If we can be killed because of our sexual orientation, surely we can be fired and excluded from public places and denied a wedding cake and denied flowers.”
Mar added that multiple states have introduced legislation that would allow discrimination against transgender individuals. She reminded the audience of important ongoing cases such as those of Gavin Grimm, the transgender male high school student who sued for the right to use the school restroom that reflected his gender identity, and of Aimee Stephens, who was fired from a funeral home after informing its owner that she is a transgender woman. (In both cases, the transgender plaintiffs’ lower-court victories are currently under appeal.)
Mar, who recently took on a new role at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, concluded, “I like to think that I’m not leaving the LGBTQ movement. I’m just working on it from a different platform. All too often we’ve seen so-called feminist groups…espouse anti-trans views under the mantle of feminism. Anyone who is truly a feminist understands the fight for gender justice includes all of us.”
Posted February 19, 2020