Our public policy team works to address the structural barriers that reduce access to care and perpetuate the discrimination that LGBTQ and other marginalized communities face. We have expertise in HIV law and policy, LGBTQ health disparities and experiences of discrimination, the criminalization of sex work and other survival economies, and health care reform. We partner with Whitman-Walker Health’s Legal Services and Public Benefits and Insurance Navigation teams – including our first-in-the-nation Medical-Legal Partnership – to enact legislative and regulatory change at the local, state, and federal levels.


Our work has influenced law and policy all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. For example, the Court cited a brief Whitman-Walker submitted along with Lambda Legal and a coalition of medical providers and public health authorities in Bragdon v. Abbott, the 1998 Supreme Court case holding that asymptomatic HIV infection is a protected disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Our legal and policy experts advocated for many years against the HIV ban in U.S. immigration law, resulting in the repeal of that ban at the beginning of 2010, and have successfully advanced laws and policies prohibiting discrimination against transgender people in health care and health insurance at every level of government. We also have been involved in advocacy to expand legal protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity under federal sex law for many years. The ideas we advanced, along with other LGBTQ legal advocates, finally bore fruit in victories such as the Supreme Court’s landmark 2020 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, in which the court ruled that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination are forms of sex discrimination that are prohibited by law.

Whitman-Walker Institute is also a national leader in science, policy, and practice related to the collection of data on sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status. We participated in a landmark consensus study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that developed standards for the collection of these data by the National Institutes of Health, and we regularly provide technical assistance to the federal agencies, Congress, and public and private partners across the health care landscape on how to collect and use these data to better serve LGBTQ people and their families.

Our Work

Our policy work began during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. During that era, Whitman-Walker’s advocacy efforts were largely devoted to fighting HIV discrimination, providing other desperately needed legal assistance to people living with HIV and AIDS, and providing community education to dispel misconceptions and prejudice.

Today, we continue to advocate for people who have been discriminated against by society, including not only people living with HIV, but also our transgender patients, LGBTQ people generally, and immigrants who are seeking equal access to healthcare services.

We believe in the strength of a collective effort. That’s why our policy team collaborates with our healthcare providers and researchers, and with local, regional and national advocacy groups to advocate for our patients’ rights to quality healthcare.