100 Women We Love: Class Of 2019

Sharon McGowan

Photo by Lambda Legal

Sharon McGowan’s early career was marked by two landmark victories. She was part of the team that brought Lawrence v. Texas to the Supreme Court, which struck down sodomy laws still on the books in 13 states. She was also later lead counsel in Schroer v. Billington, which ruled transgender or transitioning individuals were guaranteed protection under existing sex discrimination laws. These cases marked the beginning of her career as a legal champion for LGBTQ rights. While with the Justice Department in the Obama administration, she was critical in reversing the Department’s defense of DOMA and in crafting the argument for marriage equality that advanced to the Supreme Court. She promoted the protection of gender identity under existing sex discrimination laws and, while with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, saw the implementation of policies protecting same-sex benefits and transition-related health care. She is now the chief strategy officer and legal director for Lambda Legal, where she and her team continue to fight against discrimination in both military and civilian sectors, including by opposing the appointments of anti-LGBTQ judges to federal positions. Although it might be tempting to let today’s current political and judicial climate get us down, McGowan reminds us that “[w]e are brave, beautiful, and resilient, and we cannot let the forces of hatred and fear break our spirits.” For her good fight, she was among the winners of the American Bar Association’s 2019 Stonewall Award. —RK

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