Harnessing Our Outrage

Ben Franklin Quote“…Later that night I held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered

—Warsan Shire


Two days after a sniper killed five Dallas police officers, this poem, by expat Somali poet Warsan Shire, who came to world’s attention when her words were spoken on Beyonce’s visual album “Lemonade,” showed up in my Twitter feed.

That was three days after the killing of Philando Castile in Minneapolis, which occurred one day after the killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, which followed by 25 days the body blow that was Orlando. Forty-nine of our mostly Latinx brothers and sisters died that night. In a time of nonstop shock and horror, Shire’s words echoed through me. And not even one week passed before we grimly witnessed the killing of eighty-four in Nice, France. And three days after that, the killing of three Baton Rouge police officers.

So much death. So much pain. In the span of just 37 days.

Yes, it hurts everywhere. We are all feeling shattered and broken. We know we need a change unlike anything we have ever imagined. What is clear here, in this country, is that the staggering and entrenched injustice that has led to the countless and needless deaths of men and women of color must be upended. Despite the demand and the pleas that Black Lives Matter, these killings suggest otherwise. This must change.

And it is also clear that striking back at police and killing officers is a repugnant and rightly condemned response, which in fact adds fuel to the cycle of deadly violence. This must stop.

And then in the midst of this national crisis on race and policing comes the Republican National Convention, which wholly fails to address this crisis with anything substantive or meaningful but instead mocks and blames Black Lives Matter, stokes race-based fears and scapegoats the most vulnerable. As if that were not enough, the delegates ratify the most vicious anti-abortion and anti-LGBT platform in history. The platform endorses a constitutional amendment banning abortion, calls for “Supreme Court justices who will reverse decisions in favor of abortion rights,” condemns women’s health organizations, and opposes “the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike a Texas anti-abortion law.”

It also endorses the torture known as conversion therapy, supports anti-trans bathroom bills, trashes our U.S. Supreme Court marriage victory by saying marriage should be between and man and a woman, and insults millions of families by insisting that children should only be raised with a married mother and father.

If you did not believe it before, know it now: We are in the midst of a full-throated backlash against our lives and our common humanity.

And yet in the middle of this storm of conflict, disruption, misogyny, toxic racism and blatant homophobia, I have hope. More than at any other time, it is clear to me, and millions of others who seek justice and who wish to elevate our common humanity, that our unity can bring into being the change we so desperately need. More than any other time it is clear that we are in this together.

Dismantling patriarchy, subverting white supremacy, eroding racism, and ending homophobia and transphobia will not be easy, but imagine if we succeed even a little bit. There are policy and systems changes—from voting out lawmakers who traffic in bigotry to demanding and seeing through systemic reforms in policing, immigration, education and our broken criminal justice system—that could help erode the systems that demean and subjugate.

Whatever your priority is, whether it’s a ban on high-magazine weapons, police accountability, reproductive justice, safety for queer youth, LGBT equality, racial justice or economic and education changes that break the cycle of poverty, now is the time to engage, demand, roil our leaders, and displace the haters.

We are in the midst of a major global disruption. Unmoored and unbalanced. But in this deep unease there is opportunity. Finally we may be at the tipping point Benjamin Franklin had in mind when he said: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

Let’s harness that outrage and serve justice. We are limited only by the strength of our will.



Alex’s Story: A Triumph of Courage, Authenticity, and Hope

Click to Learn About “Saving Alex”

When I first heard the story of what was happening to Alex in St. George, Utah a few years ago, I could not believe it.

I’m from Utah, and I know it can be tough for LGBT kids there, but I had no idea that charlatans could torture and keep prisoner a young girl based on her refusal to deny who she was. Alex’s parents’ attempts to change her sexual orientation were wrong, misguided, and ill informed, but what makes  Alex’s story—detailed in her book, “Saving Alex,” out March 1—so horrific is that virtually an entire town turned a blind eye to what was happening.

Alex’s engrossing and shocking story is the triumph of courage, authenticity, and hope over shame, bigotry, and ignorance. This nightmare is a key reason we will soon succeed in ending the cruel and dangerous practice of conversion therapy.”
—NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell on “Saving Alex”

But Alex did not give up. She found a way to reach out to Paul Burke, a genius lawyer in Salt Lake City. Once Paul heard Alex’s story he worked tirelessly and creatively to get her out. Paul got NCLR involved and we helped as needed. I knew Paul would win release one way or another for Alex.  But I honestly did not know if she would make it.  I did not appreciate how strong and courageous she was.

She found a way out, Paul made sure she stayed out.

And now we must work to make sure that no one ever again has to endure what Alex did. Those who tortured her and the townspeople who abandoned her must live forever with their cruelty.  But our commitment must be that no LGBT young person ever suffers for who they are.

In 2014, NCLR launched #BornPerfect: NCLR’s Campaign to End Conversion Therapy in five years. Learn more about #BornPerfect.



Trump and the Déjà Vu of Our Shameful History

When leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump suggested that we respond to the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., by barring Muslims from entering the U.S., most Americans, even many in the Republican Party, were rightly appalled if not completely surprised. Trump’s preposterous and shocking pronouncements are, at this point, predictable. But what is truly disturbing is his boisterous refusal to be accountable to facts and the significant percentage of Republican voters who, despite this, declare him worthy of leading this nation. Yet again, we seemed doomed to repeat a scapegoating history we know all too well.

We’ve been down this road as a nation before, and as LGBT Americans we have been in the role of scapegoat, political wedge, or demeaned minority so we have common cause with our Muslim sisters and brothers generally and with LGBT Muslims specifically. So now it’s a new political moment and there is a new target. This never ends well, and yet we seem incapable of learning from our past missteps.

Read the full piece in the Advocate


I Quit: I’m Leaving the Mormon Church

I just did something I thought I would never do. I resigned my membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) and asked that my name be removed from the records.

Even at the height of church involvement in the passage of Proposition 8 in California, I never seriously considered removing my name. It just didn’t matter that much to me. Spiritually and emotionally, I left the church I grew up in decades ago. And despite being a “known gay activist” to the church, I was never excommunicated, so my name remained on the church rolls as a member. Not anymore.

Continue reading original piece in the Washington Post


When Religion Does Right

Kate’s daughter Emily with her wife Heather, Barb Young, Kate, and Steve Young at the International Affirmation Conference

The past 10 days have been filled with a lot of religion. Ten days ago, I spoke at the International Affirmation Conference, the LGBT Mormon gathering in Provo, Utah. And last week it was 24/7 Pope Francis.

Both of these events left me a bit unmoored.

The church of my childhood, the Mormon church, and the Catholic church I thought I knew, have transformed in ways more fully embracing of dignity justice and belonging. Yes, as a politically progressive, vaguely agnostic, lesbian feminist, there is still a lot to not like, such as the canonization of Junipero Serra, who brutalized Native Americans, and his support of a claimed religious “liberty” to discriminate.

But in the past week, “wow” replaced my usual “it figures.”

I’ve never heard a Pope condemn the death penalty and plea for better care for the earth, and I’ve never had a devout Mormon leader apologize to me for the church’s involvement in supporting Proposition 8.

But in the span of six days, I lived both.

I last attended an Affirmation Conference 12 years ago. At that time, I met many LGBT individuals who still deeply yearned to be part of a church that rejected them, with many of them also having been rejected by their families and parents. The pain was palpable. At the Affirmation Conference 10 days ago the mood could not have been more different.

Many parents were there with their LGBT kids or sisters with gay brothers or daughters with lesbian moms. It was a family conference.

My first encounter was with a key Mormon leader who I had met during Prop 8. It was a shock to see him there. More shocking was his warm embrace of me and his clear regret for the church’s full throated support of Prop 8. He got emotional. I got emotional.

These two experiences have made it clear to me that despite my previous bias, perhaps formerly conservative religions and dogmatic religious leaders could be a force for true justice.

I know there are many progressive religious leaders who have long spoken about and been champions for a broad vision of justice, inclusion, and celebration of human dignity.

I also know that the church of my childhood and the Catholic church have not been in this fold before. Part of the resonance of Pope Francis’s visit was a belief that he spoke for more than just faithful Catholics. And part of the power I felt at the Affirmation Conference was that many Mormon leaders and Mormon faithful were embracing of their LGBT family members in a way that was unprecedented.

I will not pretend to know “what would Jesus do?”. But what I can say with some confidence is that those committed to true human dignity and equality and justice cannot truly claim those values without embracing the poor, the vulnerable, people of color, immigrants, the disabled, or those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

I would not have imagined 10 days ago that my commitment to full justice and human rights would be buoyed by conservative religions or religious leaders. But here I am.



We Still Need the Voting Rights Act


I turned 18 in 1978 and voted in my first presidential election in 1980.  Jimmy Carter was on his way, sadly, to being a one-term president. It wasn’t until 1992 that the candidate I voted for won the White House. That was the year Bill Clinton won, and I still remember the raucous party held at the home of a friend in my hometown of Ogden, Utah.

Going back to all those elections, I felt certain that my vote never really mattered in the national contest for president (and since I was in Utah it really didn’t). Despite feeling this way, I gamely went to the polls to exercise my franchise. My parents were not political or well-educated, but they too always voted. I understood even then that there might not be much I could do to influence the course of national events. But I also believed that if enough like-minded people voted too, we actually could influence national events.

But voting doesn’t just matter to citizens wishing for a voice; it matters most to those who are being denied a voice. And currently, the efforts of those who are trying to silence the voices of others have become our greatest incentive for protecting this hard-won right. They know too well that voting is a real power and they don’t want us to have it.

Today, even as we mark the 50th snniversary of the Voting Rights Act, those who engineered the evisceration of the act are smug and satisfied. In 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Shelby Co. v. Holder nullified some of the most important protections in the law and severely undermined its power. The motivation for diluting the act and for pushing voter ID laws and other measures that make voting more difficult is as clear as it is cynical and abhorrent. It is no coincidence that these actions suppress the votes of millions of African-Americans and other voters of color, effectively disenfranchising these communities and easing the path for the election of those hostile to civil rights, economic equality, social programs for the poor, protection of the environment, and LGBT equality. And then we all lose.

When President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, it was in response to a litany of deplorable actions — most but not all by Southern states — to deny black citizens the ability to vote. Yes, the Confederate flag, that symbol of slave-owning heritage, no longer flies over the South Carolina State Capitol, but modern-day white supremacists across the country aren’t trifling with symbols; they are bent on actual disenfranchisement of voters whose vision of the nation they wish to smother. Not surprisingly, many of the states originally targeted in the act are now the ones enacting law after law choking off access to voting and reproductive health care, and proudly defying the Supreme Court’s recent recognition of marriage equality — by withholding marriage licenses and pushing laws to codify discrimination in the name of religious liberty.

The good news is, this is still a democracy. Citizens still matter. That bumper sticker, “Don’t blame me, I voted,” still matters. Despite the majority ruling in Shelby Co., we can still bend this nation to the will of those of us who value justice over inhumanity, equality over stigma, and dignity over shame. There are current efforts to restore the promise of the Voting Rights Act, including the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015. But much of our success in reclaiming and reviving the Voting Rights Act is up to every individual voter. We must speak up, rise up, be outraged, and never give in to the notion that our voice and our vote does not matter, for it matters a great deal to those who wish to deny this fundamental right.

This piece originally appeared in The Advocate on August 6, 2015.


My Family. Race. And The Work Ahead

Kate_s_collageI don’t know about you, but the past three weeks have been a whirlwind. The June 26th U.S. Supreme Court ruling acknowledging our freedom to marry is a new high water mark for our movement. As this new reality settles in, I feel a profound gratitude to be here as a witness. It is the highest honor of my career that NCLR played a central role in winning marriage equality. You made this possible.

Now it’s time to harness this new energy. Now is the time to capitalize on this momentum and our newly minted liberty, to redouble our efforts to finish the job of assuring that every LGBT person lives with full dignity and equality.

You all know how much I love this job and the passion I feel every day for our work and for your investment and support. I’ve been living that passion every day since June 26th.

I am also blessed with having a most supportive, loving, and “live life to the fullest” wife and kids. These past three weeks have intertwined these two parts of my life in ways both joyful and poignant. The product of this “marriage” (sorry, I couldn’t help it!), was published in the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday, July 19.

Two realities can coexist, but when one of those realities imperils our future and our gains, we need to change it. I have absolute trust that you will help us get there once again.






Kate Kendell

NCLR Executive Director


No Time for a Honeymoon

Above: Roberta Achtenberg (left) and Kate Kendell celebrate the Supreme Court ruling.

Today, America is closer to being a country that walks the talk of “Equal Justice Under Law.” After last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in our Tennessee marriage case (one of four cases before the Court), striking down discriminatory state marriage laws and affirming our freedom to marry, millions of families are more equal and secure.  Today, in every corner of this nation, every lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender person can take a deep breath and walk a little taller.

The ground has shifted and, for the first time in history, same-sex couples who wish to marry enjoy full equality under the law.  

Justice and love won.  

I know that you made sacrifices for this moment.  You risked family, friendships, livelihood, belonging. You insisted on living your truth and that meant living authentically regardless of the consequences. You are now vindicated.

NCLR has been in the fight for your equality since 1977. We stand on the shoulders of so many who came before.

In the wake of the Court’s ruling, I asked NCLR founder, former San Francisco Superior Court Judge Donna Hitchens what thoughts she wanted me to share. She said: “The Lesbian Rights Project (the precursor to NCLR) was formed in 1977 to bring children and family issues to the LGBT civil rights agenda. But, I never dreamed we would see this victory during my lifetime. I am so proud of Kate and the staff of NCLR for what they have achieved on behalf of all of us. They are courageous, tenacious and bold. Today, our families matter.”

Roberta Achtenberg, who followed Donna as NCLR’s leader also shared her thoughts: “This ruling impresses upon me the impact the children of our LGBT families had on this conversation. They were the ones in the discussion of these cases who humanized our movement in the hearts and minds of the nation. They ensured that everyone saw that LGBT mothers and fathers are loving parents who foster families. Thank you to my own son Benjie, and to Kate and Megan and Ruthie and all the other children of LGBT families who were our inspiration in this long fight.”

Our charge at NCLR is now to harness this moment and capitalize on the momentum, visibility, and electricity to assure that the embrace of justice is felt by everyone in our community.  

We know that LGBT people live in every community and are present in every demographic. So as long as racism blooms and economic inequality festers, our people suffer.  

From attacks on transgender women of color, to the shocking number of LGBT homeless youth, to police misconduct, to the denial of parenting rights or recognition, to conditions in detention centers, prisons and jails, to even the basic right to get and keep a job, to refusals of service or attempts to change sexual orientation or gender identity through conversion therapy, and so much more, the daily reality for many is fear, isolation or stigma. 

Much of this is work we, and many other organizations, have been doing for years. We were always involved in a range of work for our community because we know we do not lead single issue lives.

You know this. You have stood with us every step.  You are why we are here. You are why we won.

But we now have a more structurally sound scaffolding to build a new America for every LGBT person and beyond. This is a once in a movement chance to alter the future for every successive generation.

Let’s do this!

Kate Kendell, Esq.
NCLR Executive Director

P.S. Have questions about the historic Supreme Court marriage victory? We have answers.



NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell Responds to Supreme Court Marriage Case Hearing



On April 28th, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in our Tennessee marriage equality case and cases from three other states. A decision is expected by the end of June. The following is the reaction from NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, who had a seat at the historic hearing.


Using Religion to Justify Discrimination is Blasphemy

Kate and mom
Above: Kate Kendell and her mother, Afton Kendell, on her grandparents porch, circa 1988.

I came out to my mother at 21, while she was driving us to see my grandparents in Oregon. I was prepared for the worst. Looking back, the idea that I would reveal this information in a fast moving vehicle now seems risky, but I needn’t have worried. Despite my mom’s devotion to her Mormon faith and her love of Jesus Christ, whom she regarded as her Savior, she took my trembling hand and said, “Honey, honey, the only thing that matters to me is that you are happy.”

Over the years as we discussed my life and work, my mom would occasionally lament over how hard it was to be gay in this culture. If she were alive today, she would have so enjoyed seeing the gains we have made. She would have been elated by my marriage to Sandy and cried at our wedding. My mom found a way to reconcile her love for me and her love for her faith. When I asked her how she did this, she would remark, “God gave me you and He gave me my faith. These are great blessings; I love both. He must have a plan.”

Because my Mom did not see a tension between loving me and her faith, it is disquieting to see religion invoked to justify rank bigotry against LGBT people and others. Our opponents aren’t even waiting for the Supreme Court to decide on marriage equality. They are out there now, pressing for bills to deny our full participation in civic life before we have even achieved a clearly established right to it. They mask this denial in an insidious lie: That religion is “under attack.”

Across the country, state legislatures are considering—and in some instances have passed—extreme laws that would permit employers and businesses to violate anti-discrimination laws simply by invoking religious beliefs.

Last month, one of the most draconian of these proposed measures was signed into law by Indiana Governor Mike Pence. The law would have permitted any person or business to refuse to comply with almost any law they feel burdens their religious beliefs. Any law. The breadth of this law was unprecedented and unleashed a firestorm of protest. For good reason. As drafted the Indiana law would have gutted all of the state’s anti-discrimination protections, including laws that protect citizens from unequal treatment based on their race, gender, or religion.

In the wake of massive protests and negative reaction to the law, Indiana lawmakers modified the law. They made clear that religion cannot be invoked to deny services to LGBT people. The law is still far from perfect. There are still NO statewide protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. But the most corrosive version of the law was stopped.

In some ways, I am relieved my mom did not live to see this erosion of the faith she embraced and of the deeply humane teachings she lived daily: to love others as you love yourself and to treat everyone with dignity and respect. Using religion to justify discrimination is blasphemy.

In the struggle to win the freedom to marry, nothing about this nation’s deeply embedded protections for religion have changed. The First Amendment is still there, alive and well. What has changed is the place of LGBT people in this culture and society. More and more we feel valued and supported by our friends, our families, our churches and our country. What has changed is that our government is no longer a source of oppression and shameful laws. What has changed is that we no longer tolerate discrimination and exclusion. If you are a person of faith whose faith tells you that LGBT people are sinful and wrong, your right to those beliefs will always be sacrosanct. But if you choose to do business in the public square you cannot use your faith to plunge the LGBT community back 20 years.

By June, we may win the freedom to marry nationwide, but as with the past landmark moments in other civil rights movements, we will not be done. The struggle against prejudice and bigotry will continue, and opponents of justice and full equality will never cease their attacks. But, if we contine to be vigilant, their voices will diminish and their power will ebb.

My mom taught me the power of love and acceptance as the sure path to vanquish fear and intolerance. I know how this ends and so does she.