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From the desk of Kate Kendell, Esq.
Dear Friend of NCLR,
Earlier this month, I was in Denver for Creating Change, the annual activist conference sponsored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The event was packed with LGBT folk of every description, from all over the country. I reconnected with many dear friends and colleagues whom I have had the pleasure of getting to know in my twenty or so years in this movement. Just as importantly, I met many people for the first time. Seeing so many new faces and feeling a major buzz the entire weekend was both energizing and exhilarating; I could feel progress in the air.
read more from Kate's blog: Out for Justice
Prop 8 Legal Challenge Update
On January 21, the final briefs were filed in our lawsuit challenging the validity of Proposition 8. NCLR is lead counsel on the case, Strauss v. Horton, which is currently pending, along with two others, before the California Supreme Court. The Court, recognizing the importance of this case for all Californians, has implemented an expedited briefing schedule that has been grueling, and oral argument has been set for March 5. We encourage you to read our original writ petition asking the court to take the case, our reply brief, and our answer brief to amici curiae, all of which are available on our website. The briefs set out exactly what is wrong, from a constitutional perspective, with Prop 8 itself and the process by which it was passed.
The depth and breadth of support for our case is extraordinary, with the full gamut of civil rights organizations and law professors from California and across the nation, as well as California legislators, local governments, bar associations, business interests, labor unions, and religious groups supporting our argument. A total of 43 friend-of-the-court briefs were filed urging the Court to invalidate Prop 8, which, incredibly, is even more than were filed in support of our arguments in In re Marriage Cases.
Many of the nation’s leading legal scholars agree that Proposition 8 is invalid because it seeks to eliminate a fundamental right only for a targeted minority group, which cannot be done through the amendment process. Professors from universities and law schools in California and across the country authored briefs urging invalidation of Prop 8, including scholars from Harvard University, Stanford University, Yale University, University of California (Berkeley, Los Angeles, Hastings, Davis, Irvine), University of Southern California, University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers University, University of San Francisco, Loyola Law School, Santa Clara Law School, Chapman University, and Pepperdine University.
Oral argument has been set for March 5—less than a month away. Shannon Minter, NCLR’s incredible legal director, will once again argue the case for our side, as he did so powerfully in the marriage case just a year ago. We are confident in our argument, humbled by the support of such powerful allies, and hopeful that the principles underlying California’s constitution will protect all citizens of California.
We extend deep thanks to our co-counsel, Lambda Legal, the ACLU, the Law Office of David C. Codell, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.
Enormous thanks are due to our client Equality California and the client couples in this case who agreed with grace and courage to step forward and represent all those whose constitutional rights are at stake in this case. We are proud to work on their behalf. For up-to-the-minute updates on the Prop 8 legal challenge, visit www.nclrights.org/overturn8.
NCLR's full Case Docket
Overturn 8: Online Rally Supporting the Prop 8 Legal Challenge
Oral argument in the Prop 8 legal challenge has been set for March 5 and NCLR has kicked off a month-long rally to keep you informed and engaged: Overturn 8: Online Rally Supporting the Prop 8 Legal Challenge. As lead counsel in the Prop 8 legal challenge, NCLR is working to educate people about the importance of overturning Prop 8—a radical and unprecedented change to the California Constitution that puts all Californians at risk.
Prop 8 marks the first time that an attempt has been made to use the initiative process to change the California Constitution to take away a fundamental freedom from a particular group and to mandate government discrimination against a minority. NCLR is doing all it can to make sure that this harmful proposition is overturned. Participation is simple: just join us online, click “attending,” change your profile picture, and share this event with all of your friends. With your help, we can create a large online base of support for the Prop 8 legal challenge.
In addition to our online rally, NCLR staff is working to make sure that we are everywhere you are. From hosting events across the country to creating an account on Twitter for Kate, our goal is to bring you the latest updates on all of our work as it happens.
Check us out online:
Victory in Iowa Family Law Case
Johnson v. SooHoo | Victory! (Iowa)
Marilyn Johnson and Nancy SooHoo adopted two children from China while they were in a committed relationship. Because they could not adopt children from China as a same-sex couple, only Johnson legally adopted the children. The couple parented the children together and they were a family for over two years. When the couple broke up, Johnson unilaterally cut off contact between SooHoo and the children.
The Minnesota Supreme Court held in 2007 that SooHoo was a person “in loco parentis” who had a parent-child relationship with the children, and found that it was in the children’s best interest to have visitation with SooHoo, whom they called “mommy.” In 2008, Johnson moved the children to Iowa and later filed a petition in Iowa in an attempt to end SooHoo’s visitation with the children.
In December 2008, an Iowa trial court held that under federal law, it could not reconsider the visitation decision made by the Minnesota court. The court held that the Minnesota court has exclusive jurisdiction under the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act as long as SooHoo continues to live there, with the result that SooHoo maintains visitation rights with her children. This case is an important victory for LGBT families who move to different states and deserve the same respect and recognition for their families as in their home state.
SooHoo was represented in Iowa by the firm Nyemaster, Goode, West, Hansell & O'Brien, P.C., with NCLR’s assistance.
click here to read more about NCLR's Family Law Project
NCLR's full Case Docket
Defending California's Safe Schools Law: S.B. 777
S.B. 777, passed in February 2007, was legislation to clarify and strengthen laws securing the equal rights of all students in California’s public schools regardless of disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression. These laws protect what should be every child’s right—to learn in a school environment free from bias, harassment and discrimination.
Anti-LGBT groups are challenging S.B. 777, but are making it a moving target.
Case #1, now dismissed: In November 2007, anti-LGBT organizations filed a lawsuit in federal court in San Diego, challenging S.B. 777. NCLR clients Equality California and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network got involved in the case in order to defend and protect the anti-discrimination laws. In January 2008, shortly after NCLR and our co-counsel filed an amicus brief asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit, the anti-LGBT organizations voluntarily dismissed their federal case.
Case # 2, now dismissed: Soon after, in March 2008, the anti-LGBT organizations filed a similar lawsuit in California state court in San Diego, and NCLR and our co-counsel again filed an amicus brief supporting the California Attorney General’s motion to dismiss the case. Just before the scheduled hearing in that case, in November 2008, the anti-LGBT organizations dismissed that case as well.
Case # 3, pending: Now the anti-LGBT organizations have re-filed, this time in California state court in Sacramento. The California Attorney General has filed a motion to dismiss this third case, and a hearing is scheduled for March 2009.
NCLR’s co-counsel in the case are Lambda Legal, the Transgender Law Center, and the Law Office of David C. Codell.
NCLR's full Case Docket
Reach Out Now to Congress for a Unified ENDA
With more fair-minded members of Congress and President Barack Obama openly supporting a civil rights agenda encompassing LGBT-inclusive civil rights legislation, it might be tempting to relax. However, with so many pressing issues at stake in Washington, we must work together now, to push our national elected representatives to focus on combating discrimination and advancing LGBT equality. We must make our collective voice heard loudly right from the start in this 111th Congress.
Among the top priorities on the federal legislative agenda is a unified ENDA: a federal law that would protect against workplace discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity. This legislation is both desperately needed and long overdue. Click here to act now.
Bringing an end to workplace discrimination is the key to so many important things: the ability to support oneself and one’s family, to have somewhere to live, to one’s dignity and self-respect, to health insurance and other employee benefits, and more. With more fair-minded members of Congress and a president who has said he supports this legislation, our longstanding hopes of securing federal workplace protections for LGBT people can be realized, but each one of us must do our share to persuade Congress that ENDA is a top priority for our community.
President Obama has already pledged his support of an inclusive ENDA—let’s help put the bill on his desk to be signed: get involved here.
Meeting Highlights Issues Faced by LGBT People in California Prisons
In December of 2008, the California Senate Committee on Public Safety held an informational meeting about the serious health and safety issue of discrimination against LGBT people in California’s prisons. Chaired by Sen. Gloria Romero (D-East Los Angeles), the meeting focused on the unfair treatment, disproportionate violence and harassment directed at LGBT people in prison.
According to Just Detention International, 67% of all LGBT people in prison report being assaulted while incarcerated. A crucial segment of the meeting addressed the root causes for this alarming statistic. In addition, LGBT people in prisons often encounter barriers in seeking medical treatment, and face difficulties returning to the community after incarceration. This is due in part to lack of understanding by prison staff of medical issues facing LGBT-prisoners and mishandling of violence directed at LGBT prisoners.
Participants in the meeting agreed that a crucial first step is offering trainings to prison staff. As those with most consistent and direct contact with the prisoners, prison staff must have accurate information about the LGBT community and our health needs while incarcerated. Training should provide skills to mitigate violence and harassment by other prisoners and prison staff and equip staff to provide the necessary medical attention to all prisoners.
NCLR, along with Equality California, Just Detention International (JDI), the Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex (TGI) Justice Project, and the Transgender Law Center worked with the office of Senator Gloria Romero to organize this groundbreaking meeting. We commend Senator Romero and the Senate Public Safety Committee for holding this hearing, which is an important first step in bringing these issues to light and ensuring the health and safety of LGBT people in prisons.
NCLR Assists in the Development of Best Practice Recommendations for Serving LGBT Homeless Youth
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth are overrepresented in the homeless population and hundreds of thousands of LGBT youth will experience homelessness at some point. Most LGBT youth become homeless because of family abuse due to conflict over their identity, while others run from foster and group homes where they have been mistreated or harassed. Unfortunately, LGBT homeless youth all too often experience further discrimination and abuse when trying to access services designed to help homeless youth. Without access to these services, LGBT homeless youth are at great risk of abuse and exploitation on the streets and upon entering the juvenile justice system—perpetuating a cycle of homelessness, abuse, and dysfunction.
In order to aid these agencies and increase their competency in working with LGBT homeless youth, NCLR, in collaboration with the National Association to End Homelessness (NAEH) and other Advisory Council organizations, has written and developed the first-ever set of LGBT best practice recommendations for agencies serving homeless youth so that they can evaluate how well they are currently meeting the needs of LGBT homeless youth and to inform the development of services, practices, and policies that are best for LGBT youth.
The National Best Practice Recommendations for Serving LGBT Homeless Youth will be available to download from NCLR’s website in February 2009, check back with us later!
click here to read more about NCLR's Youth Project
Christopher Stoll Esq., Senior Pro-Bono Attorney
Christopher F. Stoll, Esq., formerly of the law firm Heller Ehrman LLP, joins the staff as Senior Pro Bono Attorney with a focus on litigation and policy work. Over the past five years, Chris has assisted NCLR as co-counsel on several major cases, including serving as a valuable member of NCLR’s “Marriage Team” of attorneys. He also assisted NCLR in representing Sharon Smith in the wrongful death case brought on behalf of her partner Diane Alexis Whipple. Chris attended Harvard Law School and lives in San Francisco with his partner. We are deeply grateful for his generosity and the invaluable role he is playing in our Prop 8 legal challenge.
Amy K. Todd-Gher, Esq., Senior Staff Attorney
Amy K. Todd-Gher will join NCLR as a Senior Staff Attorney in our San Francisco National Office this March after over nine years of practicing employment litigation, most recently as a Senior Associate with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in its California and New York offices. While there, Amy worked as pro bono counsel with NCLR to file a lawsuit in California state court seeking redress for sexual orientation discrimination in Alan Lessik and John Manzon-Santos v. East Bay Iceland, et. al. Amy has represented a variety of clients in high-profile litigation matters, including representing Google and securing review before the California Supreme Court in a significant case for California employers entitled Brian Reid v. Google Inc.
Amy began her legal career in Phoenix, Arizona, where she practiced with Streich Lang, LLP, and joined the Arizona Human Rights Fund and the State Bar Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Amy earned her Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude from the University of Richmond in 1994 and her J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law.
Jaan Williams, Field Organizer for Transgender Equality
Jaan Williams joined NCLR in its Washington, D.C. office in January of 2009. Jaan will be working with local action teams in key communities across the U.S. to educate members of Congress and their staffs about the problem of gender identity and expression discrimination. Jaan is working closely with a coalition of national organizations and grassroots leaders to achieve these goals. Prior to joining NCLR, Jaan was an Organizing & Training Fellow with the Task Force on the No on 8 campaign. In 2007, Jaan interned with the National Center for Transgender Equality and tracked and reported on federal legislation including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the federal hate crimes bill. Jaan studied Human Rights, Gender & Sexuality Studies and Religion at Bard College.
Senior Staff Attorney for the Southern Regional Office in Miami, Florida
The National Center for Lesbian Rights seeks a highly skilled, enthusiastic, articulate, and motivated Senior Staff Attorney to lead and manage its Southern Regional Office located in Miami, Florida. The position includes regional development responsibilities and management of daily operations of the office, as well as the responsibility to handle all aspects of litigation in precedent-setting cases at the trial level and on appeal, including developing litigation strategy, performing legal research, and drafting briefs. Law degree plus minimum of seven years of experience that prepares the applicant to independently manage ongoing litigation, a high level of independence and initiative, good judgment, excellent speaking, and writing abilities are a must, as is strong management experience. The ideal candidate will also have demonstrated fundraising and donor cultivation experience. For more information and to apply, please visit our website or contact Joshua Delgado at email@example.com.
click here to read the full job description
Urban Outfitters Supports Marriage Equality
Urban Outfitters has teamed up with NCLR and Equality California in support of marriage equality. A new shirt featuring this logo is now available in stores and online. This unisex tee will be carried in 39 stores across CA, AZ, FL, MA, CT, and NJ, and Urban Outfitters has graciously pledged to donate 100% of profits from the sale of this shirt to NCLR and Equality California in support of marriage equality. You can buy your shirt online here or check out your nearest Urban Outfitters.
New Year’s Resolution: Justice
Here’s one New Year’s resolution you can keep!
2009 has started off strong and we need you to keep us going throughout the year. Join NCLR to make sure your favorite LGBT civil and human rights legal organization is strong for the year to come, as we fight to protect your rights.
Visit www.nclrights.org/donate to find out more.
Do You Have Your Overturn 8 T-Shirt Yet?
Show your support for the Prop 8 legal challenge! We've got everything you need in our Overturn 8 Store for you to say it loud and clear: Equality should not be put up for a popular vote!
Anniversary Celebration: Save the Date
San Francisco, CA
NCLR’s 2009 Anniversary Celebration
Saturday, May 30, 2009 - 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.
Celebrate NCLR's 32nd anniversary with an evening of food, drinks, dancing, a live auction, and a sell-out crowd of nearly 2,000 supporters from across the country!