FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | June 25, 2004
by Kate Kendell
(San Francisco, CA, June 25, 2004) — As we conclude another Pride Month with its attendant celebrations all across this country, it is impossible not to feel exhilaration at the events of the past year and hope that our forward progress will soon mean a more fair, equal and just society for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Americans. In my 8-year tenure as Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, I have seen so much pain, tragedy and meanness directed at so many of my LGBT brothers and sisters. Coming to NCLR from my home state of Utah (never at the vanguard of LGBT equality and acceptance), I felt I was quite prepared for the worst homophobia and unfairness this country could dish out. Boy, was I rudely jolted out of my ignorance.
Day after day in those first months as NCLR's Legal Director, I felt emotionally raw at encountering the heart-rending stories of loss, fear and shameful government-approved-and-sponsored injustice: Irene Wilson, who first lost her partner Lois of 19 years to cancer and then lost everything she and her partner had accumulated in their years together when Lois's family came in and cleared out the house; Mary Ward, who lost custody of her 9-year-old daughter Cassie, a daughter who had lived with Mary exclusively since Mary and her ex-husband John separated when Cassie was 3. But when Mary went to court to enforce John's obligation to pay child support, he sued for custody based soley on the fact that Mary was a lesbian, in a stable, several years long relationship. John won, his victory the most staggering evidence of legally supported homophobia I'd ever seen - because another important facet of this case is that John was a convicted murderer who had served eight years in prison for shooting to death his first wife. While our case was on appeal, Mary died of a heart attack.
These real-life stories infuse the progress and legal gains we have made these past months with poignancy and urgency. Abolishing laws that criminalized our love eliminated perhaps the most effective tool of homophobia wielded against us. Winning the right to marry will indeed mark a profound and powerful breakthrough in challenging cultural and legal oppression. Electing political leaders who refuse to sacrifice us and other marginalized communities on the altar of political gamesmanship will once again breathe life into a progressive vision which makes possible real strides forward for all of us committed to an expansive social justice agenda.
We all should celebrate and reflect with real pride on how far we have come. We all must commit that we will never go back. We all must assure that the arch of progress is truly forward. We all must answer the call to step up, shout out, and be now, more than ever, active and engaged participants in our own liberation. We must do it for ourselves, each other, and for every Irene and Mary.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.