More than 1,300 people Attend NCLR’s 34th Annual Celebration in San Francisco

(San Francisco, CA, May 22, 2011)—The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) presented its highest honors to five trailblazers in the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality at its 34th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday, May 21, 2011 in San Francisco.

Voice & Visibility Award: First-ever openly LGBTQ country music star Chely Wright and her father, Stan Wright.

Founder’s Award: NCLR founder and retired San Francisco Superior Court Judge Donna Hitchens.

Justice Award: Former Belmont University soccer coach Lisa Howe.

Spirit Award: First-ever openly transgender Division I basketball player Kye Allums.

“I am so honored to be recognized with Chely and Stan and such incredible clients, who are my true role models,” said Judge Hitchens. “Their courage and willingness to stand up for what is right is and always has been the real foundation of this organization. I have been lucky to be a part of it from the beginning, and to see NCLR turn 34 is truly amazing.”

Said Howe: “It’s a privilege to be recognized with this honor from NCLR, which has provided me with a tremendous amount of guidance and support over the last six months. They have literally been at my side, helping me through this process and coaching me through media interviews. One of the most memorable experiences was a conference call I had with them the morning before I gave my first interview. Without saying it directly, the tone of that phone call made me understand how influential I suddenly was, and how many people of all ages in all parts of the country were depending on me to represent the LGBTQ community. I’m truly grateful for them, as well as my Nashville attorney Abby Rubenfeld. I am honored to get to work with such an amazingly powerful group of people, and to receive this award.”

Added Allums: “I am truly humbled that NCLR honored me with the Spirit Award. The love, and support from my friends and family has made my coming out experience an unforgettable one.”

Additionally, NCLR’s special guests were NCLR clients Desiree “Dez” Shelton and Sarah Lindstrom, out high school lesbians, who successfully challenged their Minnesota school district in January 2011 so they could walk together as part of the royal court of their school’s winter formal. “Each of our honorees and special guests are our true role models,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “They stood up for their beliefs, not only changing history, but helping positively change the lives of thousands of LGBTQ people across the country for years to come—making them champions in our movement for equality and justice.”

More than 1,300 people from across the country attended the Anniversary Celebration, NCLR’s signature event that each year celebrates victories in the movement for full LGBTQ equality, and honors those who have become role models for thousands of people through their unfailing commitment to justice.

Founded in 1977, NCLR is a national legal organization devoted to advancing LGBTQ justice and equality through litigation, public policy, and public education. Since its start, NCLR—which helps more than 5,000 people each year—has embraced every aspect of the diverse LGBTQ community through its work, recognizing that the community comes from many different backgrounds and faces a wide range of issues.

About the awards and honorees:

The Voice and Visibility Award: Country Music Star Chely Wright and her father Stan Wright

The Voice and Visibility Award honors an individual who has helped to give voice and visibility to LGBTQ people. This year’s award was presented to country music star Chely Wright and her father Stan Wright. Chely has shown unwavering courage since coming out in 2010, at the height of her career in Nashville, as the first openly LGBTQ country music star. She became a role model for others by sharing the painful, inspiring, and moving story of the heartache she suffered by trying to live in the closet, and the despair that finally propelled her to choose between taking her own life or coming out. Chely has used her fame to speak out about the terrible shame, pain, and harm that are inflicted on LGBTQ people—and especially on LGBTQ youth—by a culture that still views LGBTQ people as sinful and immoral. Chely’s father, Stan Wright, has stood by her side through every step of her journey, showing his unconditional love—an example for LGBTQ children and adults who may fear losing their family’s loving support by living authentically. Chely and Stan continue to stand up and speak out as people of faith, unchanged by the fact that Chely is a lesbian.

Founder’s Award: The Honorable Donna Hitchens

The Founder’s Award acknowledges a person whose life embodies NCLR’s vision and values of equality and justice and who has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to activism on behalf of our communities. This year’s award was presented to the Honorable Donna Hitchens, who, known as one of the nation’s most well-respected judges, retired from the San Francisco County Superior Court in November 2010. She has changed the lives of thousands of people through her commitment to justice, not only while serving on the San Francisco County Superior Court bench, but by founding the National Center for Lesbian Rights in 1977, where her vision of fighting for LGBTQ equality continues to change the nation’s legal landscape.

Justice Award: Former Belmont University Soccer Coach Lisa Howe

The Justice Award honors an individual who has shown the courage and perseverance to fight for justice and sacrificed to make broad social change for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. This year’s award was presented to former Belmont University soccer coach Lisa Howe. Howe stood strong in the face of ignorance and bigotry, becoming a role model for not only her players and students, but this country, by living honestly and loving her family. She has put a face on the continued need to fight employment discrimination in Nashville, Tennessee, where Belmont University is located, and in every corner of this country. Lisa has helped to transform the hearts and minds of her community and colleagues, inspiring them to launch an unprecedented public discussion about the place of openly LGBTQ people in private Christian colleges and universities, and prompting Belmont to change its non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation.

Spirit Award: George Washington University Basketball Player Kye Allums

The Spirit Award honors an individual whose strength of character embodies and invigorates the spirit of the LGBTQ community. This year’s award was presented to George Washington University basketball player Kye Allums. Kye is a pioneer in the world of intercollegiate sports. In November 2010, he became the first Division I basketball player to come out as transgender, demonstrating extraordinary bravery and character in living genuinely and unapologetically as a transgender man. Through his simple act of continuing to play the sport he loves as the man he is, he has helped to change the landscape for other athletes.

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.