News & Commentary written by James Esseks

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James Esseks

Director, LGBTQ & HIV Project



James D. Esseks is Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer & HIV Project. Through litigation, legislative lobbying, policy advocacy, organizing, and public education, the ACLU seeks to ensure equality and justice for LGBTQ people and people living with HIV.

James was counsel in Bostock v. Clayton County, which established that LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination under federal law; in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that won the freedom to marry nationwide; in United States v. Windsor, which struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act; in Gavin Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board, about whether a Virginia school board can bar a boy from the common restrooms because he is transgender; in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, about whether a business open to the public can turn away LGBTQ customers based on its religious or artistic objections; and in successful challenges to bans on adoption and foster parenting by lesbians and gay men in Arkansas, Florida, and Missouri.

James and the ACLU have also worked extensively to fight anti-LGBTQ and specifically anti-transgender bills in the states and to fight the use of religion to justify discrimination against LGBTQ people.

The National LGBTQ Bar Association awarded James the Dan Bradley Award in 2013, the organization’s “highest honor,” recognizing individuals whose work “has led the way in our struggle for equality under the law.”

James graduated from Yale College and Harvard Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. Prior to joining the ACLU in 2001, he was a partner at Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, PC. James clerked for the Honorable Robert L. Carter, United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York, and the Honorable James R. Browning, United States Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit.

Selected Writing

The Next Big Case On LGBTQ Rights Is Already Before The Supreme Court, Washington Post
Gay Marriage Is Legal, But We’re Still Not Equal, Daily Beast
How To Win The Fight For Trans Rights, Daily Beast
Five Reasons We’re Winning The Bathroom War, The Advocate

Selected appearances

Same-sex couple who were refused wedding cake: ‘We were mortified’, Today Show with Megyn Kelly
A Victory for Democracy, MSNBC with Thomas Roberts
“Religious Freedom” Bill Draws Anger in Mississippi, CNN
Could the Hobby Lobby Ruling Be Reversed?, NOW with Alex Wagner, MSNBC