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Our History

Twenty-five years ago, a group of talented LGBTQ attorneys gathered together and decided that it was time for change. From a small meeting room in the LGBT Community Center of New York City, the Lesbian and Gay Immigration Rights Task Force (and what would one day be known as Immigration Equality) was born. At the time, it had been only four years since the U.S. government lifted its ban on “homosexual” immigrants from entering the country. It was also the first year that the Justice Department formally recognized sexual orientation as a fundamentally protected human right for refugees. 

Since our founding, Immigration Equality has fought and won giant victories in the halls of Congress, in the arena of public opinion, and in the federal courts. This has been true no matter which party was in power or which person occupied the White House.  

25 Years of Immigration Equality

1994: Three passionate volunteer attorneys form Immigration Equality to advocate for LGBTQ and HIV-positive immigrants

1996: The Defense of Marriage Act is passed into law, prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriages

1997: We open our national headquarters in New York City

2000: Congress introduces our signature bill— Permanent Partners Immigration Act— to permit green cards for U.S. citizens with same-sex immigrant partners

2006: Immigration Equality releases landmark report titled Family, Unvalued exposing the harms of immigration discrimination against same-sex binational couples

2010: Immigration Equality and coalition partners succeed in pushing Congress to overturn the decades-old ban on immigration for people living with HIV

2012: Immigration Equality sues the U.S. government on behalf of five same-sex couples, calling for an end to the Defense of Marriage Act

2013: In case of United States v. Edie Windsor, Supreme Court declares Defense of Marriage Act ban on federal recognition of same-sex couples unconstitutional

2015: Supreme Court declares in Obergefell v.Hodges that no state can prohibit same-sex marriage

2017: Immigration Equality marks its 1,000th asylum

2019: Immigration Equality wins victory against the State Department in federal court, affirming U.S. citizenship of two-year-old Ethan Dvash-Banks, who was denied citizenship because his parents are gay

2020: Today, our 18 staff members and 1,150 lawyers in our pro-bono network provide free legal services to  over 760 individuals in 28 states. We have four open cases against the U.S. State Department on behalf of same-sex couples, and this past August of 2019, we installed a toll-free detention hotline, which has been made available to detention facilities across the nation and has already received over 1,500 calls from LGBTQ asylum seekers.

None of this could have happened without our generous supporters. We’re so grateful to celebrate 25 years of giving hope to our LGBTQ and HIV-positive clients—and to look ahead to even more.

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