Avery Belyeu is proud to be part of the Lambda Legal team
Tammye Nash | Managing Editor
When Avery Belyeu joined the staff of Lambda Legal last November as south central regional director, headquartered here in Dallas, she brought with her a wealth of experience as an LGBT advocate and in suicide prevention. But she also brought the unique perspective on the battle for equality that being a master’s student at Brite Divinity School has given her.
Belyeu, who is transgender, said she began her advocacy work as an intern at Equality North Carolina when she was in graduate school there. She was part of the team that helped get inclusive anti-bullying legislation passed in that state.
From there, she moved to New York City to join the Trevor Project, a organization committed to providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ people under the age of 25. She was the fourth staff person hired by the Trevor Project.
“It was a busy time,” Belyeu recalled. “The Trevor Project was growing fast, and it gave me an opportunity to really learn about working in the nonprofit field.”
She held several positions with the organization, ending as education director, before leaving The Trevor Project to go to work for the Massachusetts-based Education Development Center. There, she focused on suicide prevention strategy with the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.
Working for the EDC gave Belyeu “a federal perspective that I’d not really had before,” she said. She worked with federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Health and Human Services, as well as with others in the private and public sectors to help develop a national strategy on suicide prevention.
Belyeu worked for EDC for more than four years, staying with the organization even after she moved to Fort Worth, where she and her prtner still live, to begin attending Brite Divinity School.
“I’m a Southerner,” Belyeu said, explaining why she decided to move back south after her years in New York and New England.
“I was dealing with some of that queer flight guilt,” she added, noting how many LGBT people leave their rural roots to find a more accepting home in the bigger cities, and how many LGBT people from the South head north for the same reason.
But, Belyeu continued, “our movement needs experienced LGBT leaders everywhere, and I felt like I had that experience to offer.”
She said she chose to go to divinity school because so many of the attacks on the LGBT community have been based on religious rhetoric, and she wanted to be able to fight that rhetoric on its home turf.
“I didn’t expect to have this great opportunity with Lambda Legal to come along,” Belyeu said. “It is a really great fit for me. I couldn’t pass it up.”
She said she is thrilled to have the chance to work with Lambda Legal, because the agency is “a crucial part of our movement right now, and it is a smart part of our movement. We have some of the smartest people in the LGBT community working with Lambda Legal.
“Lambda Legal is strategic and it is thorough, and that’s what our movement needs,” she added.
Lambda Legal focuses on providing legal representation to LGBT people in cases that can set legal precedents to advance the cause of equality. The organization also operates a national legal help desk to help LGBT people needing legal advice and representation with a network of cooperating attorneys.
Texas has the third-largest number of calls to the help desk of any state, Belyeu noted.
As the Trump administration continues to attack transgender people in the U.S. military, Lambda Legal continues to participate in legal efforts to block Trump’s ban on trans people in the military through the lawsuit Karnoski v. Trump. Transgender issues are also at the forefront of several other Lambda Legal cases, Belyeu said.
The organization is also participating in cases involving HIV-positive military servicemembers, adoption and foster parent rights — including a case out of Fort Worth, Marouf v. Azar, in which a Catholic adoption agency receiving government funds refused to allow a lesbian couple to adopt or be foster parents — and more.
Belyeu said she believes her education at Brite Divinity will help as Lambda Legal ramps up its efforts to stop so-called “religious exemption laws,” which are popping up in state legislatures around the country, including Texas. These laws, she explained, allow individuals, businesses or organizations to sidestep nondiscrimination laws based on religious beliefs.
Belyeu said one of her goals is to include progressive faith leaders in the debate so the religious-based rhetoric is not one-sided.
Belyeu said this is “an exciting time” to be part of the battle for LGBT equality, and especially to be part of Lambda Legal. “We have an amazing team of people, nationally and here in the South Central Region, and we have an amazing group of supporters here,” she said. “Everyone here is energetic and excited about the work we are doing, and I am proud to be part of that.”
Reach the Lambda Legal Help Desk online at LambdaLegal.org/HelpDesk or by phone, in Texas, at 214-219-8585. Help desk phone numbers for other states are listed on the Lambda Legal website.