Good evening and thank you for spending tonight with us. My name is Imani Rupert-Gordon, my pronouns are she/her/hers and I am honored to be the new executive director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
I’m thrilled to be here. And I want to acknowledge that my heart is in Minneapolis right now, so I want to start with a message to the folks who are a part of the uprising that has spent the last several days demanding justice for George Floyd and for countless black citizens across this country who have been victims of state-sanctioned violence. This week, the president of the United States called you thugs. That’s what he sees. But that’s not what I see.
Throughout the history of this country, black people have been subjected to violence, and tragically, it still persists today. But as long as there has been justice denied, there have been those who demand it. And when I see you, I am reminded of that legacy. The same urgency is in the voices that promised “we shall overcome,” as those that insist that “Black Lives Matter. The same impulse that brings people to the streets in Minneapolis and Louisville and a growing number cities across this country brought people to the streets of Ferguson, Watts and Birmingham.
And to those of you in the streets tonight remember that history is your birthright. You are the latest but not the last in a long line forging our path to justice. People like Angela Davis and Larry Kramer. Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. Marsha P. Johnson, Huey Newton, Sylvia Rivera, Robbie Smith, Donna Hitchens and so many others. Each and every movement was built because of people like you. And as we are on the cusp of the 50th anniversary of Pride month here in San Francisco—let’s not forgot that our LGBTQ movement started with an uprising, and we are here because of that. So that’s what I see in Minneapolis.
Social change happens in different ways— and many of the battles that start in the streets end in the courts and I’m honored to join the fight at NCLR. I’ve been in this role just over 2 months, and I love my job. I love the brilliance and determination of our team, and I love the strength and resilience of our community. But what’s next? Where is our movement headed? What is the vision for NCLR? Those are the questions I get asked the most. And that is the easy part. I want NCLR rise to the moment that we find ourselves in, and boldly, to move us forward. I want us to be a leader in making our movement more intersectional and more inclusive than it’s ever been before. I want us to recover from recent setbacks and not just win back, but win forward. That’s how I see us getting to victory.
But the question I don’t get enough is why I want that—and so that is what I’m going to focus on this evening.
This week was an ugly reminder for many of us just how pervasive racism is in this country. But some of us didn’t need that reminder because we’ve never been allowed to forget.
And we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, where not all essential workers are paid or treated like they are essential, we have to remember that nothing affects communities in the same way. We know that race, gender, sexual orientation, and every other part of our identity creates a nuance and informs our access to resources, our health outcomes, and our treatment in systems and institutions.
So what does LGBTQ equality mean for a single lesbian mother that is under-employed that has to choose between having healthcare or having a roof over her head? What does LGBTQ equality mean to a black transgender man like Tony McDade who was tragically shot by the people that have sworn to protect us, and then misgendered in publications in his death? What does it mean for LGBTQ people in Flint Michigan that don’t have access to clean water to drink? What does LGBTQ equality look like for a black gay people like Christian Cooper if he can’t go bird watching without being threatened? To get to equality, we have to recognize the experience of the entire person. And then we ALL win.
And so our strategy and process will be inspired by, and carried from that lens, perspective and lived experience.
We are reminded that though we are all in the weathering the same storm, we are most certainly not in the same boat. And our movement has to honor that.
And this frame has always been at the center of NCLR’s work. NCLR continues to serve as a political home that we can be proud of while redefining the legal landscape of this country by fighting discrimination in all of its forms.
And we have a lot to be proud of in securing wins for our entire community. Because we’re leading change.
We’re leading change in economic justice.
In DC we are working in coalition with the National LGBTQ poverty network to build a more inclusive economic justice movement so that who you are is not a factor in your ability to access resources.
We’re leading change in schools.
We have an unbroken record of success in challenging so-called “no promo homo” laws. These laws erase LGBTQ identity in schools– from sex education to history, and this year we’ve secured huge wins in Arizona and South Carolina, making schools safer and more educational for everyone.
We’re leading change at our borders.
NCLR’s groundbreaking immigration project continues to support DREAMers and LGBTQ asylum seekers—those who are escaping persecution in their own countries just for being who they are. And we still have an unblemished record for never having lost an asylum case.
We’re leading change to end gender-based discrimination.
Along with our community partner GLBTQ Advocates & Defenders, NCLR continues to lead the challenge on behalf of transgender service members, who have been viciously targeted by this Administration.
We’re leading change to protect the rights of those who have been incarcerated
NCLR continues to win precedent-setting victories for incarcerated transgender prisoners, such as our recent victory of behalf of Adree Edmo, a Native woman incarcerated in Idaho.
We’re leading the change in ending conversion therapy.
NCLR’s Born Perfect project continues to lead a national campaign to protect youth from the harmful effects of conversion therapy, so that they know that they are enough and valuable as who they are. This year, Born Perfect had landmark victories in Utah and Virginia, which means that 20 states have now passed these lifesaving laws.
And in the midst of COVID-19, NCLR’s Youth Project has successfully mobilized new strategies and models to meet the urgent need to decarcerate LGBTQ youth, who are locked up in starkly disproportionate numbers, and to keep as many youth as possible in their own families and communities and out of facilities where no child belongs.
Founded by feminists, activists, and leaders– NCLR stands on the shoulders of giants. We walk the path charted by those who came before us, and we honor them when we widen our circle—broadening who we’re fighting for because we recognize the simple truth that we are all better when we are all better.
On our path to liberation, I want to remind you, that it takes all of us to get there. From stopping traffic to structural change. As we take this time to focus on the needs of our community, and bringing more and more people into our fight each day – our circle widens. Our reach becomes greater. The step becomes a marathon. The drip becomes a storm. Because we realize our greatest power when we are together.
Thank you for being together with us.