John F. Stafstrom, Jr. a lawyer with Pullman & Comley a Bridgeport-based law firm, has won many accolades for his work over the years. Moreover, he’s made significant contributions to supporting LGBTQ+ communities through nine years on the board of Lambda Legal, the last two as chair of the national board of directors. When he stepped down last fall, he was honored at a Connecticut Cares event that raised more than $400,000 for Lambda Legal’s ongoing work.
As he looks at the legal landscape today, two of the key issues he sees affecting LGBTQ+ communities are the attempt to limit privacy rights and limit expression in violation of the First Amendment.
Particularly in a climate where nearly 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures, with the vast majority coming in 2022 according to GLAAD; these are attempts to regulate everything from access to healthcare to public performances with potentially life-threatening impacts.
During his tenure as board chair, Stafstrom oversaw a revamping of Lambda Legal to better position the organization to address the inevitable legal challenges these bills will face. Asked how people should respond to the current situation, he said, “I think people need to be vigilant. I think people need to be vigilant that this can happen anywhere. Connecticut is blessed. We have about as much rights as anybody’s state can have. I think we’re even ahead of California. We’ve had very progressive leadership in this state.”
Even with vigilance, he adds, some of these bills will get through, and they will need to be challenged. Supporting local organizations—and national ones like Lambda Legal—help make these organizations more effective.
Stafstrom notes that what is happening at the legislative level is a “red herring.” In other words, saying that anti-drag and anti-trans bills are designed around the concept of “protecting our children.” However, he says, “they’re cloaked that way, but what they’re doing in many states are the exact opposite of what they’re talking about.
“These folks who are supposed to be for parental rights are taking away the rights of a trans parent to decide how their kids should be raised and what they should do. It all goes back to the right of privacy, which was obviously recognized by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut, which was a birth control case. And, if you notice, we’re actually fighting the battle over birth control pills now, too, which is unbelievable.”
Stafstrom adds that the long-term risks of these kinds of bills go beyond taking away rights from families, children, and the trans community. He says, “we’re also tearing at the fabric of society, in my view. Just because your neighbor is different, that doesn’t mean they’re bad. I have to say a lot of these bills are just intrinsically evil. They really are. They are aimed at driving a wedge between communities and between people. How does it affect a neighbor if parents are making the right decision for their trans child? How does it affect the other kids in school, other than perhaps sending another happy child to school as opposed to an unhappy child to school.
“I have to say it’s intrinsically, evil. I don’t think we ever thought we’d be fighting the Roe v. Wade fight 50 years later. Right? But what I say to the gay community, is wake up folks because you know what, we all went to sleep a little bit after we got marriage equality. It’s not just marriage equality that’s on the line but it’s your equal rights to housing, and it’s your equal rights to employment. And it’s a lot of other things that, at least in some states, we’ve come to take for granted.”
Stafstrom is thinking long-term. When asked if he thought that the current situation, particularly as it’s being played out in educational settings was going to force kids back into the closet or keep them from coming out in the first place, he took it one step further. “I think now every kid knows there are gays and lesbians, and trans kids in the world. I think that when the government starts to discriminate against these people, it carries over into the implicit—and in some cases explicit—education that kids are getting in certain states, and I think it’s so much more evil than just pushing people back into the closet.
As to what to do, Stasftrom encourages Connecticut residents to look beyond just our state, pay attention, donate when possible, and supporting those organizations and candidates that support the LGBTQ+ communities in real ways.
Stafstrom is still involved with Lambda Legal. He’s co-chairing the organization’s 50th Anniversary drive to raise $50 million.
For more on Lambda Legal’s work, how you can get involved, and donate, visit lambdalegal.org.