(San Francisco, CA, May 7, 2016)—Today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) honored the co-founders of Black Lives Matter for their commitment to justice, a transgender boy whose courage has shaped the national conversation around transgender youth, and a lesbian mother who fought for her parental rights at its 2016 Anniversary Celebration.
More than 2,000 people attended the sellout event, known as the LGBTQ party of the year and recognizes those who have stood up for themselves and our community, becoming role models to millions of people across the country in the process.
“Each of our honorees has demonstrated incredible perseverance to stand up for what’s right—becoming role models to every single one of us,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, who was also recognized for her 20 years at the helm of the organization. “They are visionaries who refuse to accept that the systems of oppression cannot be undone, they are teaching others to embrace their transgender sons and daughters, and to fight for our families. We applaud the commitment of our honorees to fulfilling the promise of equality and justice for all members of our community. Their leadership gives us great hope for our future.”
The Awards & Honorees:
Justice Award— Black Lives Matter co-founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Kahn-Cullors, and Opal Tometi
Garza, Kahn-Cullors, and Tometi co-created #BlackLivesMatter and the Black Lives Matter National Network as a call to action following the acquittal of George Zimmerman who brutally murdered 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
The Network, which was catalyzed by organizers and activists in Ferguson, MO, spurred a broader movement and promulgated an international conversation about anti-Black racism, American democracy, and the experiences of Black people across the globe. Black Lives Matter “is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression,” Garza said.
The co-founders said: “We’re proud to receive this award on behalf of our global Network of faithful organizers and changemakers. Thank you to the NCLR family for this acknowledgement and for your commitment to safeguarding the fundamental rights of LGBTQ families.”
Liberty Award—Tiara Yates and Family
Tiara and Sheena Yates were high school sweethearts. They became civil union partners in New Jersey in 2011 and married three years later. They conceived their youngest child, who is now nearly 3, using a known sperm donor through at-home insemination. Since they were civil union partners when their son was born, they are both listed on his birth certificate.
But they had to fight to both be recognized as legal parents. When their son was about 1, the sperm donor sued them for custody and visitation. The trial court wrongly held that he rather than Tiara was the child’s second legal parent even though he had barely had any contact with the child.
New Jersey generally recognizes a man as a sperm donor only if the sperm is first provided to a doctor. But for many low-income families, like the Yateses, going to a doctor or clinic for inseminations can be too expensive. In March 2016, with the help of NCLR and Lowenstein Sandler, LLP, Tiara and Sheena succeeded in having the sperm donor’s lawsuit dismissed and his paternity order vacated.
Said Sheena Yates: “NCLR stood beside us and worked tirelessly for us during the most emotional experience of our lives. Like most parents, our children are our lives and we would do anything to protect them. When Tiara’s rights as a parent were challenged, we were devastated, but we weren’t going to sit by and do nothing. With NCLR at our side, we won. I’m overwhelmed to be honored with this award by NCLR, which did so much to protect my family and our rights as parents.”
Courage Award—Ryland Whittington and Family
NCLR worked closely with Ryland, an 8-year-old transgender boy who won the hearts of millions when his supportive parents, Jeff and Hillary, shared his inspirational journey through a YouTube video that went viral. When Ryland was about a year old, Jeff and Hillary learned that Ryland had profound hearing loss, and made the decision to obtain cochlear implants for him.
As their child grew, they provided him with unconditional love and support, ensuring that Ryland knew he was just like any other child and his hearing did not make him any different. When Ryland began to talk, some of his first words were “I am a boy,” prompting Jeff and Hillary to research the issue. But, like many parents, they realized unconditional love is what their child needed most, providing him with the support he needed to become a happy, healthy, and well-adjusted boy.
The family—who NCLR helped through Ryland’s transition—has since shared their courageous story with millions, including in a new book, in hopes that their story will help other transgender children and their families.
Said Hillary Whittington: “We are humbled to be recognized by NCLR and the LGBTQ community with this award. We made a promise to Ryland that we would do anything and everything possible to help him. We never imagined that by sharing our journey we would help thousands of people around the world embrace and celebrate their transgender children. We are eternally grateful to NCLR for the support they’ve given us along the way and for all the work they do to bring full equality and dignity to transgender children.”
NCLR—which celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2017—has been a leader in the movement furthering the civil and human rights of the LGBTQ community since its start. It was the first organization in the country to launch projects advancing parent, youth, immigrant, and transgender rights, and many others, and fully embraces the diverse needs and intersections that our community faces. It continues to shape the legal landscape for all LGBTQ people and families across the country through its precedent-setting litigation, legislation, policy, and public education.
The Anniversary Celebration is NCLR’s annual signature event. This year’s event was held at San Francisco’s Marriott Marquis and the City View at Metreon. The Premier Sponsors were AT&T, Marriott International, and PG&E.