Chief Strategy Officer & Legal Director, Lambda Legal
Sharon M. McGowan is the Chief Strategy Officer and Legal Director of Lambda Legal, the country’s largest and oldest legal organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and individuals living with HIV. Relying on her litigation expertise and her experience in the Obama administration, Sharon leads the Legal Department’s talented team of more than thirty attorneys and paraprofessionals who advocate for our community in courtrooms, statehouses, and other venues throughout the country. As Legal Director, McGowan oversees Lambda Legal’s efforts to resist any attempt by the Trump Administration – or any other opponent of LGBTQ equality – to thwart or roll back our community’s progress toward full formal and lived equality. McGowan joined Lambda Legal in February 2017 as its Director of Strategy, and established Lambda Legal’s Washington, D.C. office.
Previously, McGowan served as the Principal Deputy Chief of the Appellate Section of the Civil Rights Division in Department of Justice. In addition to supervising attorneys working on a broad range of civil rights appellate matters in the U.S. Supreme Court and federal courts of appeals, McGowan advised Department of Justice leadership on high-profile and sensitive litigation and policy matters relating to sexual orientation and gender identity, and served as co-chair of the Division’s Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Working Group.
McGowan was repeatedly recognized by the Attorney General for her efforts on LGBT issues, receiving awards for her role in convincing the Department of Justice to stop defending the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA), in developing the arguments advanced by the United States in support of nationwide marriage equality, and in guiding the Department of Justice to its position that discrimination on the basis of sex encompasses discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
As a political appointee in the Obama Administration, McGowan served as Acting General Counsel and as Deputy General Counsel for Policy at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). As Acting General Counsel, McGowan ensured OPM’s rapid and robust implementation of United States v. Windsor, resulting in married federal employees receiving health care and retirement benefits within days of the Supreme Court’s decision, regardless of whether they lived in a state that recognized their marriage at the time. She also worked within the agency to lift the blanket ban on transition-related health care within the federal employee health insurance program.
Earlier in her career, McGowan was a Staff Attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & AIDS Project. While at the ACLU, McGowan was lead counsel in Schroer v. Billington (D.D.C.), which resulted in a landmark ruling that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination also protects individuals who are undertaking or have undertaken a gender transition. Prior to joining the ACLU, McGowan was an associate in the Washington, D.C., office of Jenner & Block, where she was part of the litigation team that worked with Lambda Legal on Lawrence v. Texas, which resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court striking down all remaining sodomy laws as unconstitutional.
McGowan served as a law clerk to the Honorable Norman H. Stahl, U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and as a law clerk to the Honorable Helen G. Berrigan, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. McGowan is a graduate of Harvard Law School and the University of Virginia.