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Dear Friend of NCLR,
This year we have seen unprecedented movement on LGBT issues in the 111th Congress with long overdue legislation pending in both the Senate and House of Representatives. Today, more than ever before, federal bills provide an opportunity to improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people nationwide. From the Uniting American Families Act to the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, NCLR is working to ensure that all members of the LGBT community will be included in federal protections.
But it will take all of us to pass this legislation. With the August congressional recess before us, it is the perfect time to schedule meetings with your Representatives and Senators while they are at home in their districts. We know nothing is more effective at moving individual members of Congress than hearing the voices of constituents. Congressional action to end discrimination against our community is long overdue. We must not let this opportunity pass! Even if you have never done so before, I urge you to schedule meetings, make phone calls, and send letters and emails asking Congress to support legislation that protects LGBT people.
We need to hold their feet to the fire, and it will require our entire community to engage with our federal elected officials in order to see change in Congress. Right now, we have the potential to see these three bills reach President Obama’s desk, and he has committed to signing them. It is time for us to unite, to be visible and vocal, and demonstrate that our community deserves the same protections and equality as the rest of the nation. We have accepted our second-class status for far too long. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations of LGBT people to demand that our federal representatives take meaningful steps to end blatant government discrimination against our families.
This is why NCLR is committed to engaging not only in litigation, but also in public education and public advocacy for changes in federal law. We play a distinct but vital role in the arena of federal advocacy, especially in working to ensure that those most vulnerable are included. NCLR has two of our most seasoned attorneys, as well as a full-time ENDA organizer, based in our Washington, D.C. office. We have a long history of being involved in federal legislation—as advisors, policy experts, witnesses, and authors. NCLR is committed to bringing our unique point of view and cutting edge legal expertise directly to lawmakers. We will continue to have the conversations that need to take place. We will continue to be instrumental in building and maintaining coalitions. We will invest the necessary resources to take advantage of the opportunities within reach.
The time is now, my friends. We must be our own fierce advocates.
Perry v. Schwarzenegger: The Federal Challenge to Prop 8
California is one of the most diverse states in this country, and is home to more same-sex couples than any other in the nation. The freedom of those LGBT couples is at stake in Perry v. Schwarzenegger—the federal Prop 8 challenge.
It is vital that the LGBT community—especially families—be represented as the Court weighs the harms inflicted by Proposition 8. That is why NCLR, the ACLU, and Lambda Legal filed a motion to intervene in this historic case on behalf of Our Family Coalition, Lavender Seniors, and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). We believe the involvement of the LGBT community will significantly help the Court decide the case.
The hearing on our motion to intervene will be held on August 19, 2009 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.
NCLR hopes to illustrate for the Court the diverse needs of the LGBT community. Again and again we’ve seen that the more courts know about LGBT people, the better they understand why everyone must be free to exercise the same constitutional rights regardless of sexual orientation. We look forward to the day—a day we feel confident will arrive—when California restores marriage equality. Perry v. Schwarzenegger is an important step towards that day, and we hope the faces of California’s LGBT families will be included in this historic moment.
NCLR's full Case Docket
NCLR Secures Asylum for Three More Clients!
LGBT people who seek asylum in the U.S. do so because they have suffered persecution and danger in their countries of origin, often including life-threatening physical attacks and verbal threats of death. They turn to NCLR for specialized immigration help as their last hope—to turn their escape into the possibility of a safer life. Only a handful of years ago, the U.S. immigration authorities rarely, if ever, granted asylum based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. That makes our recent victories all the more celebrated.
Victor is a gay man from Mexico who suffered physical, sexual, and emotional abuse at the hands of family members, classmates, and people in his neighborhood. He moved to Tijuana when he was 25, but the abuse continued when his neighbors discovered his sexual orientation. Police ignored his calls when his home and car were repeatedly vandalized and when he was physically threatened. After neighbors violently attacked him with a bat, he fled Mexico seeking a safe haven in the United States. Upon his arrival to San Francisco, his friends referred him to NCLR and his asylum was granted in June of 2009.
Yerceelyn is a transgender woman from Mexico who suffered severe physical and mental abuse from her family because of her gender identity. Growing up, her family insisted that she act more “masculine,” and she was physically abused when she refused. She went to the police, but they ignored her need for protection. In February 2007, Yerceelyn was badly beaten by gang members who left her bleeding from head wounds. Fearing for her life, she fled to the United States. In February 2009, she was detained by the police and detained in the Yuba County Jail. As a transgender woman, she was housed with male prisoners. It was a very demoralizing situation for her and she often struggled with her decision to remain and fight for her asylum instead of returning to Mexico where she would be in danger. Yerceelyn’s cousin contacted NCLR and in February, 2009, NCLR with the help of attorney of counsel Cara Jobson, successfully obtained asylum for Yerceelyn in July 2009.
Roberto is a gay man from Peru who struggled from an early age with his identity. When family members noticed his feminine mannerisms, they urged his aunt who was his guardian to take him to see a psychiatrist to “cure” him. The psychiatrist tried to convince 11-year-old Roberto that he should be attracted to girls and Roberto often lied in order to make the sessions less painful. Growing up, he was targeted, harassed, and bullied at school and in his neighborhood. As the violence escalated, he eventually dropped out of high school and went to work in a factory. He was subjected to further violence at the factory, and he was frequently assaulted. Because of the increasing violence, he fled his job and was forced into a life of poverty. At last his brother came to help and offered Roberto a job. However, when his brother found out about Roberto’s sexual orientation, he fired him and called him an embarrassment to the memory of their parents. He suffered another violent attack and finally decided to move to the United States. He entered the U.S. in November 2008, applied for asylum in March 2009 and it was granted in July 2009.
NCLR’s careful and meticulous work on behalf of our clients secures the safety and freedom of LGBT immigrants. Since 1994, when we founded our Immigration Project—the first project of its kind in the nation—we have advocated for LGBT immigrants to help them overcome the unique legal hurdles they face in the U.S. We hope to have more victories to report soon.
read more about NCLR's Immigration Project
The Latest News from Capitol Hill: Federal Legislation Update
The National Center for Lesbian Rights has been working closely with members of Congress and ally organizations in Washington D.C. to pass crucial LGBT legislation. There are several historic bills pending before Congress and we are truly at a moment in history where change is possible. There are four bills that are moving quickly through Congress. 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.
Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)
The Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a bill to create a federal law that would prohibit discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity, defined to include gender expression. It would provide critically-needed protection for people at serious risk of job discrimination. Currently, twelve states, the District of Columbia, and more than 100 localities have non-discrimination protections that protect all LGBT workers, covering nearly 40 percent of Americans. According to numerous surveys, 60 percent of likely voters in the United States support an inclusive federal employment non-discrimination law. President Obama has identified passing an inclusive ENDA as one of the priorities of his civil rights agenda.
An inclusive bill was reintroduced in the House of Representatives on June 24, 2009. The bill was introduced in the House by Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) and includes 10 co-sponsors. And, on August 5, 2009, Senator Jeff Merkley (OR-D) joined by Senators Susan Collins (ME-R), Olympia Snowe (ME-R), and Edward M. Kennedy (MA-D) introduced ENDA in an important show of bipartisan support.
read more and take action
Federal Hate Crimes Bill
Hate violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression is a serious national problem that should be addressed by Congress, and passage of a federal hate crimes act that covers sexual orientation and gender identity is long overdue. We've been fighting for federal hate crimes protection for a long time now—and thanks to the commitment of supporters like you, it's finally within our reach.
On June 17, 2009 US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the passage of a federal hate crimes bill is one of the top priorities for the Department of Justice under the Obama Administration. He also expressed the support for the recent passage of the Federal Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act in the House of Representatives which expanded the existing hate crimes legislation to include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in its protections.
On July 23, 2009, the Department of Defense authorization bill, which contains the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (bill number S.909), passed in the Senate. However, in an effort to torpedo this historic legislation, some lawmakers are seeking to impose a mandatory federal death penalty provision into the bill. That provision which is strongly opposed by Matthew Shepard’s family undermines the core purpose of the bill, which is to reduce hatred and discrimination. This provision can and must be removed in conference committee where differences between House and Senate versions will be worked out during the August recess.
read more and take action
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)
New York Representative Jerrold Nadler is poised to introduce a bill in the House of Representatives that would repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Currently, section 2 of DOMA purports to permit states to refuse to recognize legal marriages of same-sex couples married in other states. Section 3 prohibits the federal government from recognizing marriages between same-sex couples for purposes of all federal benefits and protections, ranging from social security survivor benefits to the right to petition for permanent residence for a foreign spouse. Representative Nadler’s DOMA repeal bill would eliminate both of those discriminatory provisions. President Obama also supports DOMA repeal.
read more and take action
Uniting American Families Act Congress is currently considering a bill that would grant U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the right to sponsor their same-sex permanent partners to immigrate to the United States. The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) (formerly Permanent Partners Immigration Act) is a proposed bill that would provide same-sex couples with the same immigration benefits as opposite-sex couples.
On June 3, 2009—for the first time in Senate history—the Senate Judiciary Committee considered an immigration reform bill that includes members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community by including UAFA. New York Senator Schumer is currently authoring a comprehensive immigration reform bill to be introduced before Labor Day in Congress. It is critical that this legislation includes the Uniting American Families Act.
read more and take action
NCLR Urges the Removal of Federal Restrictions on Legal Aid
In June of 2009, NCLR signed on to a letter to the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittees of Congress urging members to remove restrictions on legal aid funding. NCLR joined a coalition of organizations led by the Brennan Center for Justice in an effort to eliminate costly and ineffective restrictions on federal funding for legal aid for low-income people.
These restrictions limit the methods available to legal aid attorneys, making it difficult for attorneys to fully serve their low-income clients. These restrictions also apply to all funding that legal aid organizations receive—including private donations—so many states are forced to set up separate organizations to provide these missing services at a much greater cost.
“Legal aid provides vital services to low-income LGBT people with urgent legal needs,” says NCLR Staff Attorney and Family Protection Project Coordinator Cathy Sakimura. “It’s important to the LGBT community that legal aid attorneys have all the necessary resources to be able to advocate successfully on their behalf.”
NCLR’s Family Protection Project improves access to family law services for low-income same-sex parent families, with a focus on serving families of color. The project provides free representation and legal information to low-income LGBT parents and their children; trains and supports attorneys providing free and low-cost services to these families; provides free technical assistance to attorneys representing LGBT parents; and works in coalition with organizations serving communities of color to provide culturally competent services to families of color.
Since its inception, the Family Protection Project has trained over 400 attorneys and provided assistance to attorneys representing low-income LGBT parents and their children in nearly 35 pro bono or low-cost cases. NCLR and the Family Protection Project has also litigated 6 cases and provided brief assistance to over 100 low-income LGBT parents and their children.
Eliminating restrictions on legal aid funding is crucial to ensuring access to legal resources for all members of the LGBT community.
Idaho State Board of Corrections Releases Two New Transgender Prisoner Policies
In 2007, NCLR secured a major victory on behalf of the transgender community in a case involving a transgender prisoner and the Idaho State Board of Corrections. Jenniffer Spencer, a transgender woman, is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for a non-violent crime. Since she has been incarcerated in Idaho, Jenniffer made repeated requests—75 in total—for treatment for her gender identity disorder (GID), but the Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) failed to provide her with any appropriate care. She attempted suicide when she learned that prison doctors would not provide any care.
On July 27, 2007, Judge Mikel Williams of the Federal District Court for the District of Idaho ruled that, based on extensive expert medical testimony, Jenniffer is entitled to receive female hormone therapy while her case was being decided. Judge Williams held that “gender identity disorder, left untreated, is a life-threatening mental health condition.” On September 7, 2007 Judge Williams denied a motion for reconsideration and again held that Jenniffer must receive hormone therapy. Because there are so few decisions addressing this important issue, this is a tremendous victory that sets a precedent for other transgender prisoners who are being denied medically necessary care.
Following this incredible victory, the IDOC released two new policies to improve the delivery of health care to transgender prisoners:
Prison Rape Elimination (pdf)
Healthcare for Prisoners with Gender Identity Disorder (pdf)
“We are very pleased to see that the IDOC is taking the healthcare issues of transgender prisoners seriously,” says NCLR Staff Attorney Jody Marksamer, who worked on this case. “These two new policies will help ensure that all transgender prisoners in Idaho will receive medically necessary healthcare. This is an important step towards ensuring that all transgender members of our community are treated equally and have access to basic necessary healthcare.”
Jenniffer will be released in late 2009.
read more about NCLR's Transgender Law work
Announcing Equal Opportunity for Transgender Student-Athletes: A National Think Tank
On October 25-26, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana, NCLR’s Sports Project and the Women’s Sports Foundation are sponsoring a groundbreaking Think Tank to discuss how to develop fair and effective policies governing the participation of transgender athletes in high school and collegiate athletics. A group of more than 20 athletic leaders, medical and legal experts on transgender issues, student-athletes, and NCAA officials will participate. Following the meeting, NCLR and the Women’s Sports Foundation will disseminate a report based on the Think Tank discussions that will provide information, resources, and model policies about the inclusion of transgender student-athletes in high school and collegiate athletics.
As increasing numbers of young people identify as transgender in high school or college, their participation in all areas of academia, including athletics, is more visible. This Think Tank will provide an opportunity to identify and develop effective model policy guidelines and education for high school and collegiate athletic leaders governing the inclusion of transgender student-athletes.
Stay tuned for more news on this exciting project.
read more about NCLR's Sports Project
Proyecto Poderoso Leadership Conference and Speakers Bureau
Since its inception, NCLR’s groundbreaking collaboration with California Rural Legal Assistance, Proyecto Poderoso, has made a positive difference for LGBT low-income people in rural California by providing legal services to address anti-LGBT discrimination. Proyecto Poderoso also provides community education to inform people about existing LGBT civil rights. Now, Proyecto Poderoso is organizing a leadership conference and launching a rural LGBT speaker’s bureau, with an emphasis on reaching Spanish language audiences.
This conference will lay the ground work for our community outreach efforts as the project moves into its third year. The first two years were focused on extensive community education through local events and media interviews. Now, we need to increase the number of LGBT Spanish speaking and bilingual spokespersons who can advocate for LGBT people in rural California—people who would appear before community groups, local services agencies, school, churches, and the media. The conference will bring together LGBT people and their allies who are willing to speak out about their life experiences and answer questions before rural audiences. This one-day conference in fall 2009 will be a great opportunity to inspire, train, and enlist LGBT individuals and allies in a unique speaker’s bureau that will promote a safer and more accepting environment for LGBT workers and families in rural areas.
read more about Proyecto Poderoso
NCLR Releases New LGBT Elder Law Manual: Planning with Purpose
This exciting new guide for LGBT elders provides much needed information about the most important legal issues for LGBT elders and their families and caregivers, including relationship recognition, finances, health care, long term care, planning for the care of minor or disabled children, inheritance, elder abuse, and discrimination against LGBT elders. Planning with Purpose covers many areas where rights, benefits, and protections are generally provided to heterosexual people based on spousal status, but are denied to same-sex couples, even if married or in other legal unions.
download the pdf
read more about NCLR's Elder Law Project
Molly Tafoya Departs NCLR
Molly Tafoya, who serves as Communications Associate, will leave NCLR at the end of August to return home to her native Hawai`i. In her two years with NCLR, Molly brought tremendous talent, passion, and energy to the organization. She was an instrumental player in launching our newly redesigned website, and then grew to take the lead on day-to-day web operations. NCLR wishes her the best of luck as she returns to her island paradise.
“NCLR was very fortunate to have the benefit of Molly’s many talents,” says NCLR Communications Director Calla Devlin Rongerude, “especially her passion for LGBT equality and her outstanding website and e-communications skills. She will be greatly missed.”
Cecille Isidro Joins NCLR as Communications Associate
NCLR is pleased to welcome Cecille Isidro, who joins NCLR as the new Communications Associate. Moving from Washington, D.C., Cecille brings a wide range of nonprofit experience in online content management, media relations, and a personal commitment to the promotion of equal treatment of members of the LGBT community. She served as the Research and Development Coordinator for Acorn Active Media Foundation, where she worked with human rights organizations from around the world to support new ways information technology could support their invaluable work. As the Media and Communications Associate for New America Foundation, she helped implement public relations campaigns including supporting the organization’s online presence and promoting its other outreach efforts. Welcome Cecille!
NCLR Champions of Justice: Jan Felshin & Edrie Ferdun
NCLR is blessed to have a strong and generous family of individual donors who are the foundation of support for the life- and law-changing work we do. And just who are these donors? We want to know, so we talked to Jan Felshin & Edrie Ferdun, who recently celebrated their 50th anniversary and their 1st wedding anniversary! For this special occasion, their friends threw them a surprise party, including pulling together $3,000 in honor of their golden anniversary, which was contributed to NCLR.
Read on to find out the secret to 50 happy years together!
When and how did you first hear about NCLR?
We met in California and have an affinity for the consciousness, activism, and character of the Bay Area. We have always been “out” and active in supporting the goals of both feminism and the gay and lesbian rights movements. I cannot remember when we were first involved with NCLR, but we have been spending time in the winter in South Beach for the last twenty-five years. At some point, a good friend, Meryl Friedman, invited us to a fundraiser at her home in Ft. Lauderdale, and we were very impressed with the NCLR leaders who attended and spoke to the important and effective ways of moving the law and the society to the civil rights we all deserve.
What inspired your first gift to NCLR, and is there anything in particular about NCLR that has motivated you to continue giving through the years?
In more recent years, and in retirement, we felt it was time for us to decide which groups would get our major support. NCLR has always seemed to us to be one of the most focused and graceful organizations. Legal issues, of course, are of paramount importance, so we have devoted the major share of our contributions each year to NCLR, Lambda Legal, and Astraea Foundation, and, of course, these groups are represented in our estate planning.
Whenever possible, we try to attend events of these organizations; in fact, in 2008 we planned a trip to the Bay Area (to see Edrie's family) to coincide with NCLR's 31st Anniversary Celebration. We returned to California the next month to get married in Los Angeles two days after it became legal.
How has supporting NCLR been of benefit to you personally?
Our support for NCLR gives us a sense of fulfilling our responsibility in creating a better future for lesbians as we acknowledge that the blessings we personally have had are not shared without our collective action. We are always pleased and proud of the successes NCLR has in the courts and in society. We are especially proud to be represented by Kate Kendell whenever and wherever she appears. She is unfailingly inspirational and gracious and serves our cause in an exemplary fashion.
What is your greatest hope for the future?
Our greatest hope is that women, gays and lesbians, African Americans, and others who do not always get respect or are presumed to have lesser importance in society will be able to operate from a more supportive ground of regard and opportunity. We sincerely hope for increased civility, commonality, and responsibility to our global future on the part of all.
Last, but not least: what is the secret to 50 happy years together?
Ah, the secret of fifty happy years together—Jan usually answers with her favorite three-letter word, but as Edrie puts it, “keeping romance alive with ever-present intimacy.” We know how lucky we were to find each other and to withstand the vicissitudes of all long-term relationships. We have always insisted (one of us a bit more strongly than the other) on being perceived as the couple we are; not “sisters,” not “friends,” but “lovers,” and forty-nine years later became “spouses.”
We admire and respect each other and support each other in being the successful and caring adults that we are. We have wonderful friends in each of the three places that we live and they help us to realize and actualize our relationship and our values. Each of us has independent interests and abilities, but our greatest joy is being together. We are well aware that love cannot forestall the growing pains each partner has experienced in life, but love can create deeper and longer-lasting values in a shared life. Of course, we have two wonderful pussycats and memories of the ones we have lost, but we did not have pets until we had been together for twenty years!
Support NCLR through eScrip
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.
Take a Sweet Vacation with NCLR
Cruise the Caribbean and help your favorite cause! This November the National Center for Lesbian Rights sets sail with Sweet on the largest lesbian cruise ever from Sunday, November 8 to Sunday, November 15, 2009.
Make sure to mention NCLR when you book your Sweet Caribbean Cruise, and Sweet will make a $50-500 contribution per person to NCLR. That’s right: you get a Sweet vacation and get to fight for your equal rights at the same time. Sweet’s awesome 12-month payment plan means your vacation starts at $71 per month per person. Call Sweet today at 877-SWEET-30 (877-793-3830) to reserve your cabin.
Whether you want to relax on the white sand beaches, enjoy a catamaran party cruise, or peer at the brightly colored fishes from on top of the water or underwater, you’re sure to have a blast. On board, you’ll experience the best in lesbian entertainment. And don't forget to check-in with NCLR while you're on board. NCLR board member Rachel Robasciotti will be there giving you the latest news and a legal policy workshop so you stay informed, even out at sea.
For more information, visit http://www.discoversweet.com/.
NCLR & Wolfe Video Like Girls
Back by popular demand: NCLR at 30! This ten-minute short film that showcases the breadth of NCLR’s work and captures the struggles and victories of the organization and the larger LGBT civil rights movement is featured on the Wolfe video, She Likes Girls 4: Tomboys & Tough Girls, a new lesbian short film collection from Wolfe featuring eight terrific portrayals of girls who like girls. Click here to order.
Wear your NCLR pride! New styles, shirts, and products have just been added, including organic cotton! Be the coolest kid on the block during the heat of summer with your NCLR shirt, cap, water bottle, tote bag, or even boxers. Check out the NCLR shop now!