BY STEVE ROTHAUS, SROTHAUS@MIAMIHERALD.COM
When Kevin Cathcart took the reins of Lambda Legal in 1992, the gay rights movement was slowly recovering from the poundings received by Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign in the 1970s and AIDS in the 1980s. Then came two events that helped set the agenda for the next 20 years: implementation of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in 1993 and the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.
In December 2009, Congress repealed the military gay ban and recently a bipartisan coalition of politicians, including Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, have called for an end to DOMA.
Cathcart, who visits South Florida Sunday for a Lambda Legal fundraising reception in Fort Lauderdale, said that with the military ban now history, marriage continues to be center stage.
“I don’t think there are any new issues. Marriage is going to continue being the most visible, the most public because it gets the most attention in the media,” Cathcart said. “Marriage cases are going to continue to be hot button issues.”
Under Cathcart’s leadership, Lambda Legal’s greatest victory came in 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the nation’s remaining sodomy laws. That “paved the way for many dramatic advancements that changed America’s legal landscape forever, from marriage equality to the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ according to the group’s website.
Lambda Legal began in 1973. “From the beginning of Lambda Legal, we’ve been involved in many family laws, including custody and visitation,” he said.
Back then, however, most cases involved gay and lesbian parents who had been in heterosexual marriages, Cathcart said.
“Today, most of the cases are about lesbian and gay [male couples] who are splitting up and fighting over custody and visitation,” he said. “One of the big ways the community has changed in this period is the number of lesbians and gay men raising children. ii was not particularly common 20 years ago, it’s extremely common today.”
Another Lambda Legal victory that began in Miami: After tourist Janice Langbehn was denied visitation with her dying partner, Lisa Pond, at Jackson Memorial Hospital in 2007, the federal government ordered that all government-subsidized hospitals offer equal treatment to patients with nontraditional families.
If you look at our record, giving to Lambda Legal is an investment in change,” Cathcart said. “Look at the Langbehn case, which changed the regulation on hospital policies in every state in America.”
Sunday’s fundraiser at Bonnet House Museum & Gardens will honor longtime Lambda Legal volunteer Peter Pileski of Fort Lauderdale, who in 2011 helped raise more than $300,000 for the group.
“Last year we had the largest LGBT money-raising event in Broward County: $325,000,” said Pileski, who co-chaired the 2011 Fort Lauderdale fundraiser.
Pileski, who co-directed the recent Broadway revival and tour of A Chorus Line, said he first learned of Lambda Legal about 30 years ago when he arrived in New York to pursue a theater career.
“My first job was for an LGBT law firm. One of the founders of Lambda was a partner in the firm, William J. Thom,” said Pileski, whose longtime partner is Bob Avian, original choreographer of A Chorus Line. “I really didn’t have that much of a political conscience, frankly. Bill Thom raised my consciousness about the importance of giving back to your LGBT community.”
IF YOU GO
- What: Lambda Legal reception
- Where: Bonnet House Museum & Gardens, 900 N. Birch Rd., Fort Lauderdale
- When: 5 to 7:30 p.m. Sunday
- Tickets: $150, available at the door or www.lambdalegal.org.