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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

Ria Tabacco Mar is a senior staff attorney with the national ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project. Her work includes fighting attempts to use religion to discriminate against LGBTQ people at school, at work, and in public places. Ria was part of the ACLU’s litigation team in Miller v. Davis, the challenge to Kentucky clerk Kim Davis’s refusal to issue marriage licenses after the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the case of the same-sex couple refused a wedding cake because they are gay.

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, where she participated regularly as amicus curiae on cases involving marriage equality and was a member of the Board of Directors of the New York Civil Liberties Union. Ria served as a law clerk to Judge Victor Marrero of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and to Judge Julia Smith Gibbons of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. She also worked as a litigation associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP.  Ria graduated from New York University School of Law and Harvard College.


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.