Achieving LGBTQ Equality Through Litigation, Legislation, Policy, and Public Education


November 2019

Alex Cooper and members of Trapped crew at premiere
Client Spotlight: Alex Cooper

On September 28, Lifetime aired Trapped, a film adapted from the book Saving Alex by conversion therapy survivor and NCLR client Alex Cooper. (Alex is second from right in the photo above from the premiere, with Mathew Shurka of NCLR’s Born Perfect Campaign and Elizabeth Lanyon, NCLR Leadership Gifts Manager on the left and Michelle Paradise, who wrote the screenplay, on the right.)

As direct as it is, the subtitle of Alex Cooper’s story, Saving Alex: When I Was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I Was Gay, and That’s When My Nightmare Began doesn’t begin to prepare you for the litany of physical, psychological, and emotional abuse heaped on Alex.

After coming out to her devout Mormon parents, they signed over parental custody to a couple in Utah who kept Alex against her will for eight months in an unlicensed “conversion therapy home.”

They took away her clothes and belongings and replaced them with items from a thrift store deemed more appropriate. They cut off her contact with friends entirely and limited contact even with her parents. When she tried to escape, they beat her. In an attempt to impress on her the “burden” of being gay, they forced her to wear a backpack filled with heavy rocks from morning to night for several months.

Alex’s story of surviving this horror and finally escaping is gripping. Her strength of spirit is inspirational. And NCLR is proud to have helped her and her pro bono lawyer in Salt Lake City, Paul Burke. In her book, Alex talks about how instrumental NCLR was to her case:

One of the people Paul connected with right away was Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Kate immediately promised to help with my case by connecting Paul with legal experts who had expertise with situations like mine. Shannon Minter, NCLR’s legal director, had done research on LGBT kids and mental health, and he stressed to Paul how great the risk of suicide was in my case. If I had attempted it once, chances were I would try again. It was crucial that Paul encourage me not to lose hope while we worked on a solution. …

His talking to Shannon changed the way Paul saw my situation. He came to realize that it was a matter of life or death.

NCLR’s contributions to the case went beyond expert witnesses and legal opinions. Alex also felt the love and support from our entire team – including one very familiar name!

Certainly some remarkable sources of support had lined up for me. I’ll never forget the day I clicked open my email to find a message from Kate Kendell, the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights:

From: Kate Kendell
Date: Wed, Sep 7, 2011, at 2:23 P.M.
Subject: You are an inspiration

Dear Alex: You don’t know me, but we here at the National Center for Lesbian Rights know of you. Paul has been in touch with us about your situation and we have helped him where we can. He is an amazing lawyer and is very committed to making sure that you are safe and that you have the support you need and deserve. It has been so distressing to hear of the harassment and mistreatment you have endured just because you want to live a true and authentic life. The fact that you did not give in or give up, but fought back, has inspired all of us at NCLR. I am from Utah and grew up Mormon. I do not believe I would have possessed the strength and courage to do what you have done.

You are on the path to a spectacular and fulfilling life. Living honestly is the most important thing we can do as human beings. I know that being true to yourself will bring you much joy and confidence. I hope so much to meet you one day. Please stay strong and know that you have many friends whom you have never met, who are pulling for you, and we are all here to do whatever we can to help you
live your dreams.

Take care,

With the help of our supporters, we hope to stop conversion therapy everywhere so no child will ever be subjected to this dangerous practice again.

Interviews with Alex Cooper:
Exclusive Interview: Conversion Therapy Survivor Alex Cooper
Alex Cooper Survived Conversion Therapy. Now Her Incredible Story Is a Movie.

Excerpt from Saving Alex

In appreciation:
Jan Zobel (1947–2018)
Jan Zobel

NCLR’s 42-year history has been rich with loyal supporters who make our work – and progress for the LGBTQ community – possible. Jan Zobel stood with NCLR for 32 years, making her first gift in 1986 and continuing her support until her death in September 2018. What a legacy she left!

Many knew Jan from her tax preparation classes and practice in the Bay Area, but even that simple fact tells only part of her story. From her arrival in San Francisco in the early 70s, Jan made her mark.

People's Yellow Pages

First, she was involved with the collective that published the alternative resource “People’s Yellow Pages.” Then she helped create OPTIONS, a group that began as part of UCSF’s Sexuality Program to educate groups and individuals about the then-scandalous “gay lifestyle.” OPTIONS soon morphed into its own non-profit organization which helped defeat the notorious “Briggs Initiative” in 1978, which sought to prohibit LGBT people from working in public schools.

Jan’s activism didn’t stop at the ballot box. Not content to just help women-owned, and especially lesbian-owned, small businesses thrive with her tax preparation services, she also wrote Minding Her Own Business to help self-employed women navigate the intricacies of taxes and financial records.

Jan’s intersecting passions led to her next achievement, as Domestic Partner and then same-sex marriage laws came on the books. Jan once again led the way, working with her local lesbian tax-preparer group to unravel complex state and Federal regulations and sharing their findings and recommendations through her tax seminars so that her beloved community could reap the benefits of the rapidly changing tax laws.

Jan truly walked the walk. Like many of our donors, Jan’s support for our work developed over time, from her first membership gift in 1986 to later joining our Anniversary Circle with her generous annual donations. She cemented her legacy by including NCLR in her estate plans as a member of our Friebe Legacy Circle.

Thanks to Jan’s most generous bequest to NCLR, the fight for equality she waged until the end will continue. And thank you to NCLR partner and estate attorney, Deb Kinney. Bequest gifts come from the heart and require great skill and grace to shepherd through. These wishes would not be realized without the legal expertise that makes them possible.

Ming Wong with his husband and mom
Sidebar with:
Ming Wong, Esq.
Supervising Helpline Attorney

Ming Wong will celebrate his 12th anniversary with NCLR in January, and while his title is Supervising Helpline Attorney, he wears multiple hats at NCLR – including one as NCLR’s in-house lyricist and choreographer for staff celebrations. A man of many talents!

Managing our helpline, Ming has witnessed first-hand the effects of the Trump Administration’s hostility to LGBTQ concerns and, especially, LGBTQ asylum seekers. His team receives about 1,500 calls every year from across the country. The helpline fields questions not only on asylum and immigration but family law, housing, employment and healthcare discrimination, and school issues.

The need, especially since January 2017, has been staggering, and NCLR can’t represent all of those who contact us about discrimination or harassment. That’s where NCLR’s legal aid training program has been an under-the-radar success story. Ming develops curriculum and trains attorneys and other staff at legal aid and legal services organizations to provide culturally competent services to low-income LGBTQ clients.

Ming also serves as a staff attorney for our Immigration Project, representing those fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or because of their activism around LGBTQ rights in their countries of origin. The project represents people at all stages of the immigration process, including applying for asylum and permanent residency (green card), and naturalization.

On top of all that, Ming organizes our Rural Pride convenings, which bring together LGBTQ+ youth and adults to build community and elevate the work and voices of LGBTQ+ advocates in rural areas of the country.

But wait, there’s more! Ming also runs our law clerk program – training and supervising law students in our San Francisco office, helping them to meet their educational and professional development goals during their clerkships.

In his free time (and yes, he insists he does have some), Ming enjoys spending time with family, especially on hikes – as you can see in the photo with his mom and partner Ben on a recent vacation. He also runs a regular D&D game with friends, and firmly believes that imaginary dragons are cool.

The Latest

NCLR Analysis of Title VII Supreme Court Hearings. Listen Now!

One of America’s Worst Anti-Trans Lawsuits Has Been Dropped
NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter wrote an op-ed for OUT Magazine on the dismissal of the Boyertown School District case (in which the Alliance Defending Freedom challenged a school district’s trans-supportive policy as a supposed violation of privacy rights for other students) and how similar arguments are playing out in the Title VII case before SCOTUS and the transgender military ban litigation. Read the op-ed

Shannon Minter and Mary Bonauto from GLBTQ Advocates & Defenders on critical reproductive rights case coming to the US Supreme Court.

New podcast on reproductive justice and LGBTQ issues featuring NCLR Policy Director Julie Gonen. Listen Now!

Did you know?
As a special benefit to NCLR supporters, we’ve teamed up with FreeWill to give you the opportunity to write a free, legal will online so you can protect your family and their futures just as you’ve helped protect the futures of our LGBTQ community.Even if you’d prefer to write your will with the assistance of an attorney, you can still use FreeWill to create a list of documented wishes, which will save you time and money at the lawyer’s office!

© 2020 National Center for Lesbian Rights. All rights reserved. Give us Feedback. Read our Privacy Policy. State Regulations.
LGBTQ+ rights are Human Rights! Renew your 2020 support today!