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What Is "Sex"? Federal Legal Protections for LGBT People


Speaker(s): Amy Whelan, Peter F. Laura, Ria Tabacco Mar
Recorded on: May. 23, 2017
PLI Program #: 213177

Amy Whelan has been a Senior Staff Attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) since 2011 and works on NCLR’s full range of litigation, policy, and public education work. Amy litigates complex civil cases around the country regarding marriage equality, employment discrimination, Title IX, family law, access to healthcare, prisoners’ civil rights, the First Amendment, and other constitutional matters. Before joining NCLR, Amy was an associate at the San Francisco firm of Rosen, Bien, Galvan & Grunfeld LLP. There, she represented individuals, organizations, and classes of people in litigation before federal and state courts and administrative agencies, principally in the area of civil rights. In 2008 and 2009, Amy was a member of the trial team in Coleman/Plata v. Schwarzenegger, a combined lawsuit challenging the California prison system’s unconstitutional provision of medical and mental healthcare. A unanimous three-judge panel ruled in favor of the prisoners in that case and the United States Supreme Court affirmed that decision on May 23, 2011. Amy received her Bachelor’s Degree from Princeton University and her Juris Doctorate from Northeastern University School of Law.


Peter F. Laura is a Senior Trial Attorney in the San Francisco District Office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  He attended college at the University of California at San Diego graduating in 1981 and law school at the University of California at Davis graduating in 1984.  Prior to joining the Commission, Mr. Laura was in private practice in Los Angeles for seven years in the field of employment law.  During that time, he tried the case of DFEH (Chadbourne) v. Raytheon, which established HIV as a disability under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.    He started with the Commission in 1991.  He has tried a number of cases, including the cases of EEOC v. JBS, Inc. in Omaha, Nebraska, and EEOC v. Imperial Palace in Las Vegas.  He also obtained summary judgment in the case of EEOC v. Luce Forward, Hamilton & Scripps.  He represented the Commission in the matter of Cusick v. Cirque du Soleil.


Ria Tabacco Mar is the Director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, where she oversees the ACLU’s women’s rights litigation.

Previously, she was a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project, where she fought gender stereotypes, sex segregation, and attempts to use religion to discriminate in schools, at work, and in public places. Ria was part of the ACLU’s litigation team representing Aimee Stephens and Don Zarda, whose cases were decided as part of Bostock v. Clayton County. She also led the ACLU’s team in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the case in which a same-sex couple was refused a wedding cake because they are gay.

Ria is a frequent commentator on gender justice issues, appearing on television programs including All In with Chris Hayes, Politics Nation with Al Sharpton, and PBS’s Firing Line with Margaret Hoover, and has authored opinion pieces for the New York Times, Washington Post, and other outlets.

Ria has been recognized on The Root 100 annual list of the most influential African Americans ages 25 to 45 and as one of the Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40 by the National LGBT Bar Association.

Prior to joining the ACLU, Ria served as Assistant Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, an associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, and as a judicial law clerk to Judge Julia Smith Gibbons of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and to Judge Victor Marrero of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Ria graduated from New York University School of Law and Harvard College.