I’m back at my desk after four days in Dallas at the annual Creating Change conference organized by The Task Force. Every year I return reenergized and inspired. What I love most about Creating Change is the energy and vibe. There were over 2,500 folks this year and the crowd truly represents the full, vibrant, and fierce diversity of our community. Folks from all over the country, young and old, virtually every ethnic and religious identity, and a wide spectrum of abilities and backgrounds. There is so much strength in our differences and yet those differences also present critical opportunities and challenges. While at Creating Change it feels like our power and unity are unstoppable. But then we all go back home and, I fear too often, back into our familiar, siloed approaches to our work in this movement. I can’t help but think what a force we would be if we truly saw the strength in our difference, and built the kind of coalitions and cross-cultural political movement that to date, we have only dreamed of. So as NCLR does it’s work in this coming year, my commitment is to always look for ways our core work can enhance and be enhanced by strategies and partnerships with new activists, other progressive organizations, and emerging and established leaders in the LGBT and allied movements.
During the federal trial on Prop 8 here in San Francisco, I was profoundly affected by the testimony of Gary Segura, an American politics professor at Stanford. Segura testified about political power: how you get it and what it is. He defined political power as the “ability of a group, on its own or with reliable allies, to achieve its goals.” By this standard, it should be obvious that many communities, and certainly the LGBT community, lack political power. The plain fact is to get anything done we always need allies, and as we have recently seen, the reliability of those allies waxes and wanes with political winds. This fact makes it all the more urgent that we develop new tactics and strategies with other groups who have been stigmatized by the law and culture and that we join forces to consolidate our power and ability to win full equality for all. I, like so many others, am tired of waiting and tired of being used as a political tool. Damn, enough already!
While at Creating Change the great folks at Bilerico gave me a chance to interview some of the attendees, so you can see a bit of what I’m talking about. So now let’s hit the ground running and commit to making sure that creating change isn’t relegated to simply a catchy conference name.
On Saturday, January 24th, over 120 people gathered for theOrgullo y PoderLatino conference—a first of its kind leadership event for LGBT people and allies in the heart of California’s Central Valley. The conference program was fully bilingual in Spanish and English. Attendees arrived from all corners of California’s Bible Belt: the Central Valley, Central Coast, Imperial, and Coachella Valleys.
Even as the federal case against Proposition 8 unfolds, conference goers recognized that they continue to play a key role in the fight for equal dignity and respect. Participants agreed that as a movement we must work both inside and outside of courtrooms to dismantle the fear and ignorance that have led so many to believe that LGBT people are inferior.
The conference program centered on the theme: Your Voice Is Your Power. Throughout the day, speeches, workshops, and an on-site art gallery inspired and trained leaders to share their stories with various audiences—our families, our neighbors, even the media. Together we learned the many ways our unique voices can be a tool for change. By telling our story in conversations, art, video, online, and even by filling out the census survey, we can do our part to transform the world. At the very least, particularly in rural areas, we can stop our communities from denying our existence and our right to belong.
The conference was hosted by Proyecto Poderoso, a joint project of NCLR and California Rural Legal Assistance to improve legal services and advocacy for low-income LGBT people in rural California. Several other local agencies, civil rights groups, and Latino organizations provided critical support: Bienestar, Equality California, Gay Central Valley, Gente Latina de Ambiente (GELAAM), Somos Familia, Somos LGBT, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, the Diversity Center of Santa Cruz, the GSA Network, the Immigration Legal Resource Network, the Transgender Law Center, and Planned Parenthood Mar Monte. Conference attendees convened at the First Congressional Church of Fresno for a day packed with inspiration, critical knowledge, and many new friends from across the state.
NCLR Heads to the United States Supreme Court with Christian Legal Society v. Martinez
Like many public schools, the University of California - Hastings College of Law allows law students to organize student groups that can apply for university funding and other resources for group-related events. To be recognized as an official student group, all student groups must abide by Hastings’ policy on nondiscrimination. In 2004, the Christian Legal Society (CLS) filed a lawsuit against Hastings, arguing that the nondiscrimination policy violated the group’s First Amendment right to discriminate against LGBT and non-Christian students. Together with our co-counsel Paul M. Smith of Jenner & Block LLP, NCLR represents OutLaw, the LGBT student group at Hastings, which intervened to defend the University's policy. Hastings is represented by Gregory Garre and Maureen Mahoney of Latham & Watkins LLP and Ethan Schulman of Crowell & Moring LLP.
The Hastings policy requires that any officially recognized student group must be open and accessible to all students. The Women’s Law Association, for example, must admit men, which it does. Likewise, the Black Law Students Association admits white students, and OutLaw is open to heterosexual students. It is notable that a variety of religious groups have existed at Hastings for many years. All of them comply with the nondiscrimination policy—except the Christian Legal Society.
On March 17, 2009, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of Hastings and OutLaw, rejecting CLS’s arguments that the school’s policy violates its rights to freedom of speech, religion, and association. The Court explained: “Hastings imposes an open membership rule on all student groups—all groups must accept all comers as voting members even if those individuals disagree with the mission of the group. The conditions on recognition are therefore viewpoint neutral and reasonable.” The Ninth Circuit's decision affirmed an earlier ruling by United States District Court Judge Jeffrey White upholding the nondiscrimination policy against CLS’s First Amendment challenge.
The case now heads to the United States Supreme Court. Oral argument is expected in the spring of 2010, with a decision to be issued by early July of 2010.
From Inside the Courtroom: the Federal Prop 8 Challenge
NCLR was inside the courtroom for the amazing two and a half weeks of testimony in the federal challenge to Proposition 8, Perry v. Schwarzenegger. This trial was a truly historic moment for our community. It was the first time a federal court has heard, first hand, about the harm that the denial of marriage equality causes LGBT people and our families every day. It was also the first time a federal court has heard the arguments in favor of marriage equality presented live in court by an array of internationally renowned scholars who are truly experts in their respective fields.
What stood out the most is how overwhelmingly one-sided the evidence in this case turned out to be. The plaintiffs, represented by Ted Olson and David Boies, laid out a well-crafted, meticulous case, backed by the testimony of half a dozen of the most respected historians, psychologists, economists, and political scientists who study marriage, sexual orientation, and child development. Using the Prop 8 proponents’ own outrageous and inflammatory words, ads, and emails, the plaintiffs powerfully demonstrated that Prop 8 was a direct product of hostility, fear-mongering, and demonization of LGBT people. And through the deeply moving testimony of the plaintiffs and other members of our community, they proved beyond question that denying same-sex couples the right to marry causes great harm to LGBT people and our children.
This trial showed more powerfully than ever that there truly is no substance to the arguments of those who would deny equality to our families. It’s a shame that the public was unable to see the trial in video, but it has been extremely gratifying to see those arguments aired out in public, before a smart, independent-minded judge, in a way that’s never been done before. To make sure that everyone was able to witness this historical trial, NCLR’s Legal Director Shannon Minter and Senior Staff Attorney Chris Stoll, provided daily analyses of the proceedings, hosted live chats on Pam’s House Blend to answer questions, in addition to our legal team live tweeting up-to-the minute updates from within the courtroom.
NCLR, with Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Northern California, have filed an amicus brief(pdf), in support of the Plaintiffs, arguing that Proposition 8 unconstitutionally denies same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry.
Judge Walker will now take some time to review all the evidence that has been presented. The lawyers for both sides will return to court in a few weeks (on a date still to be determined) to present their closing arguments. NCLR will be back in the courtroom live tweeting and providing daily legal summaries.
Fifteen-year-old Lawrence King identified as gay and was out to many of his classmates at E.O. Green Junior High in Oxnard, California. Like many other LGBT youth, Larry was the target of ridicule and harassment. But this harassment and bullying escalated far beyond what many LGBT youth have endured. On February 12, 2008, in the middle of his morning computer class, Larry King was shot twice in the head by his classmate, 14-year old Brandon McInerney. Larry died two days later.
As the second anniversary of his death approaches, we join with organizations and individuals across the country to remember Larry King. Numerous vigils are scheduled across the country in memory of Larry, to celebrate his life and raise our voices in unity to call for an end to violence and harassment directed at LGBT youth. To find a vigil or other community event in your area, or to list a remembrance event in your community, visit www.rememberinglawrence.org.
With LGBT youth coming out at younger ages, it is vital that our schools—especially our junior high and middle schools—create safe and positive environments for all young people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Schools must teach students tolerance and respect. Passing state laws and implementing district policies aimed at preventing harassment and violence in schools is a necessary starting point. We also must ensure that teachers and administrators are well-trained and are able to respond to harassment in a way that stops it and keeps it from escalating.
The change that we are calling for is vital to the future of our community. Today, because of our persistent, hard work and the hard work of fellow LGBT youth advocates, we are a little bit closer to living in a world where all LGBT young people can grow, thrive, and live authentic lives free of violence and discrimination—but we still have a long way to go. We must continue to write and help pass laws and policies that prohibit discrimination and harassment in schools. We must continue to train teachers, lawyers, and administrators on meeting their legal responsibilities to better protect LGBT youth and create environments that foster respect. And we must continue to work with youth to empower them to know their rights so they can demand that the adults responsible for their safety and well-being treat them with the respect that they deserve and that the law requires.
Today, as we remember Larry King, we renew our commitment to changing the culture of violence and intolerance in schools so there are no more deaths, and all LGBT youth know they are valued and respected.
NCLR and California Rural Legal Assistance Launch National Legal Aid Listserv
In January, NCLR and California Rural Legal Assistance jointly launched the National LGBT Legal Aid Forum, a new listserv dedicated to improving legal services for low-income LGBT people. This listserv is a forum for advocate members to post questions and answers related to serving LGBT clients, and to share resources and updates on new developments in LGBT-related law. Throughout the country legal aid advocates provide representation and counsel to low-income communities. As a result, this forum will be a significant opportunity for NCLR and other LGBT legal advocates to funnel important information to advocates who are the frontlines representing low-income LGBT people and their families.
Legal aid advocates who are committed to effectively advocating for LGBT people and their families are invited to apply for membership. Attorneys from national, state, and regional LGBT legal organizations who work on issues related to legal aid advocacy are also invited to apply. The Forum’s members include advocates with expertise in various aspects of LGBT-related law, including, but not limited to, family, employment, health, immigration, and domestic violence law.
This listserv is jointly administered by NCLR’s Family Protection Project and California Rural Legal Assistance, NCLR’s partner in Proyecto Poderoso/Project Powerful. A committee of attorneys from New York Legal Assistance Group, Lambda Legal, and Legal Services of Northern California provide critical guidance and support.
The Latest News from Capitol Hill: Federal Legislation Update
NCLR has been working closely with members of Congress and ally organizations in Washington D.C. to pass crucial LGBT legislation. There are several bills, including two new bills, pending before Congress and we are truly at a moment in history where change is possible. NCLR will keep you updated every step of the way and let you know what you can do to help pass these crucial pieces of legislation.
Student Non-Discrimination Act
On January 27, the Student Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 4530) was introduced to ensure that all students have access to public education in a safe environment free from discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation and violence. The Student Non-Discrimination Act(pdf) would provide nationwide comprehensive protection against discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The measure would provide victims of such discrimination with meaningful and effective remedies, modeled after Title IX. Rep. Polis (D-CO) introduced the bill, which currently has 58 co-sponsors. NCLR helped draft this key legislation and applauds its introduction.
Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
At the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington on February 4th, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton both condemned the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that is currently being debated in Parliament in Uganda. President Obama referred to it as an “unconscionable” and “odious” law. And Secretary of State Clinton, noting how religion can be “used as a club to deny human rights . . . and to discriminate,” emphasized that the administration is working to bridge religious divides and is “standing up for gays and lesbians.”
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill is a virulently homophobic law that would reaffirm penalties for homosexuality, criminalize the "promotion of homosexuality," and create an offense of “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by death. This bill targets LGBT Ugandans, their advocates, and anyone else who fails to report them to the authorities whether they are inside or outside of Uganda.
As a member of the Council for Global Equality, NCLR has helped bring attention to this outrageous measure and signed onto letters to Ugandan Ambassadors Rugunda and to Ambassador Kamunanwire, urging its swift dismissal.
In Congress, two resolutions condemning the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill have been introduced in the House and the Senate last week. The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-CA), introduced House Resolution 1064(pdf) on February 3rd, with bipartisan support from more than three dozen members of Congress. A Senate resolution was introduced the following day by Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Susan Collins (R-ME).
With the Employment Non-Discrimination Act delayed in Congress, it is absolutely critical to be more vocal and visible than ever to pass ENDA. NCLR continues its grassroots efforts and Capitol Hill work in ensuring the Employment Non-Discrimination is passed immediately. We continue to urge Congress to pass this long overdue protection against discrimination in the workplace and demand no more delays. Visit endanow.com to find more information on action in ENDA, including volunteering for one of our phone banks.
Click play and plug into video of Kate Kendell and members of our legal team on the topics that matter most to our community. Learn more about our cutting edge programs and how NCLR is changing the legal landscape for every LGBT person, simply by tuning in to the NCLR channel.
Celebrate with Us! NCLR’s 33rd Anniversary Celebration - May 1
On Saturday, May 1, 2010, NCLR is celebrating 33 years of championing LGBT civil and human rights with a fun, energetic community party for our entire family of supporters and friends. The Kates (Kendell and Clinton) will be there, and there will be plenty of noshing, drinks, and dancing, along with 1,699 of your closest friends.
We have the privilege of honoring two very special guests this year. Vicki Randle, lead singer and percussionist of the acclaimed Tonight Show Band, will receive the Voice and Visibility Award, which recognizes an individual who has helped to give voice and visibility to LGBT people. Vicki has worked openly as a lesbian in the music and television industry for more than 20 years. Her musical career began as a singer and acoustic guitarist, and she divided her early career between political causes such as anti-war, LGBT, and women's rights rallies of the 70’s and 80’s and showcase clubs around Southern California. Celebrated singer-songwriter and pioneer of women’s music Cris Williamson will present the Voice and Visibility Award.
NCLR is thrilled to honor Will Phillips, the ten-year-old fifth grader from Arkansas who gained international attention for his refusal to say the United States Pledge of Allegiance at West Fork Elementary School because of its false promise of “liberty and justice for all.” Will captivated the nation when he simply stated his support for LGBT equality. During an interview with CNN, he explained, “I’ve grown up with a lot of people and I’m good friends with a lot of people who are gay and I think they should have the rights all people should, and I’m not going to swear that they do.” To recognize his courage and support, NCLR will honor Phillips with the Fierce Ally Award, presented by Judy Shepard, activist and founder of the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
Ellen Spertus and her husband Keith Golden are computer scientists living in San Francisco who recently became one of our newest eScrip donors, and we asked Ellen to tell us about why they support NCLR, and why she chose to sign upto support NCLR through eScrip.
When and how did you first hear about NCLR?
My husband and I have long been supporters of equal rights, and we wanted to know how best to give our time and money when marriage equality became a possibility in California (we live in San Francisco) and other parts of the country. I asked around among long-time activists and was told that NCLR was one of the most effective organizations, not just for lesbians but for all LGBT people. Reading the NCLR newsletter since donating has confirmed how much good they do on so many issues.
What inspired you to give to NCLR through eScrip?
I was delighted to read about the eScrip program in the NCLR newsletter because I do lots of shopping online. It's great to be able to provide additional support to NCLR, beyond our direct donations, at no cost to ourselves. There is also the extra pleasure of knowing that I'm helping NCLR when buying a Christmas present from NewEgg for my right-wing brother-in-law who voted for Prop. 8 or a Hanukkah present from Amazon for my niece who cried when Prop. 8 passed.
What are your hopes for and expectations of NCLR and our movement in the next few years?
Despite some heart-breaking disappointments, it's clear that the tide is turning, and the only question is when, not if, LGBT people will have equal rights. I hope and expect that NCLR and other movement leaders will build on our gains, learn from our losses, and harness volunteers’ and donors’ contributions effectively.
What do you tell others about NCLR?
First of all, I’d like people to know it's not just for lesbians. My husband and I made a donation to NCLR in honor of the marriage of our male friends Barton and Felix, who were delighted, as well as for the marriage of an opposite-sex couple, Gen and Tom, who also requested donations for marriage equality. In addition to its effectiveness, another benefit of gifts to NCLR is that they are tax-deductible, which is not true of all organizations working for same-sex marriage, allowing donors to give more to the cause and less to the government.
Imagine donating to NCLR each month without any cost to you—that is what eScrip helps you do!
What is eScrip? It’s a simple way for you to support NCLR at no cost to you. All you have to do is register your credit/debit cards and ATM cards with eScrip, then any time you use one of them to shop with a participating merchant, the merchant will donate up to 8% of the purchase amount to NCLR.
NCLR’s Group Name: “National Center for Lesbian Rights” or “NCLR”
NCLR’s Group ID #: 500022336
Over 150 merchants at which you already shop participate, including Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Andronico’s, Mollie Stone’s, Bristol Farms, Working Assets, Sharper Image, Round Table Pizza, Chevron, OfficeMax, Budget Rent-A-Car, Payless Shoes, Orchard Supply Hardware, and many more. You can see the full list of participating merchants here.
Register with eScrip online now: under “Make a difference in 4 easy steps,” click on “Sign up, it’s free!” Your credit card information will only be used for this purpose and is guaranteed to be safe and secure.
That’s right: text JUSTICE to 20222 to give $5 to NCLR!
Because a little gift goes a long way.
The fine print: a one-time donation of $5 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance. Message and Data Rates May Apply. All charges are billed by and payable to your mobile service provider. Service is available on most carriers. Donations are collected for the benefit of the National Center for Lesbian Rights; by the Mobile Giving Foundation and subject to the terms found at www.hmgf.org/t. You can unsubscribe at any time by texting STOP to 20222; text HELP to 20222 for help.