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The Job of a Lifetime

Leading the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) has been the job of a lifetime. I feel extremely honored to have held this position and privileged to have experienced the countless moments of joy and awe that have forever changed our lives as LGBTQ individuals. After 22 years, with a full and grateful heart, I will step-down as the Executive Director of NCLR at the end of this year.

I never imagined I would live in San Francisco or lead an organization at the forefront of the fight for LGBT civil rights. I grew up Mormon in Ogden, Utah, was the eldest of three and the first to go to college in my family. Growing up, my parents never talked politics or current events. I never saw my Dad reading a book or newspaper. We never traveled out of the country or even east of Colorado. We went on an airplane once. I could only dream of one day being a lawyer and I was sure that my sexual orientation would make it impossible for me to get a job. I most certainly never dreamed I would be the executive director of NCLR, nor that I would hold such a role for 22 years.

But I did and I have.

I came to NCLR as Legal Director in 1994 and became Executive Director in 1996. In my first weeks as Executive Director, I took a call from Mary Ward, a lesbian mom in Florida who had lost custody of her 8-year-old daughter based solely on her sexual orientation. Nothing about Mary’s story was unusual at this point in the conversation; I had heard the same facts countless times. Then came the kicker: Mary’s ex-husband had served 8 years in prison for murdering his first wife. I almost dropped the phone. An abusive murderer was deemed more fit for custody of a young girl then her lesbian mother. While our case was on appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, Mary died of a heart attack. I remember where I was when I got the call about her death as if it was yesterday.

Two weeks ago our victory for Suzan McLaughlin means she is a fully recognized legal parent to her 7-year-old. Suzan and her former partner were married. Her wife gave birth to their child in 2011. After they separated in 2013 her ex would not allow Suzan to see her child. We sued to have Suzan recognized as a parent and we won. In an e-mail to us upon hearing that her relationship with her child was secure, Suzan wrote: “I am so happy right now I think I’m going to burst!!”

And last year, for the first time in our 42-year history, we sued a sitting U.S. President over his move to ban transgender soldiers from military service. At every stage of this groundbreaking litigation we’ve won and January 1 of this year trans recruits began enlisting in our military.

These cases, one early in my tenure and the others just days ago and ongoing are a snapshot of our work. They illustrate both how far we have come and how powerful this work is. I have innumerable such stories and the impact NCLR has made. When now retired San Francisco Superior Court Judge Donna Hitchens founded NCLR in 1977 she could not have imagined the impact she, and NCLR would make. Her legacy, nurtured by several other leaders before me, has allowed LGBTQ people to live openly and authentically. Nevertheless, we all know our work is not done.

At a moment filled with both promise and challenge for the multiple movements that impact LGBTQ people, NCLR has never been more important. To lead this next phase of our progress, I believe it is the right time to welcome a new generation of leadership to chart and lead a bold and fierce future.

My time at NCLR has widened my vistas and laid open my heart. I’ve been at the center of enormous NCLR victories, four at the U.S. Supreme Court, including the freedom to marry, a fight that was fanciful to me 22 years ago.  Most importantly, I have been held up by so many. I would not be who I am without all of you. I have been unalterably marked by this work and by the many relationships that have brought me so much joy.

I feel enormous gratitude to have been a part of the NCLR legacy, part of the history of the fight, still on-going, for full lived justice for all LGBTQ people. I am forever beholden to you all for making me better. The honor, truly, has been all mine.

Dearest staff, board, colleagues and generous supporters of NCLR, I am forever indebted for the opportunity you have given me.  From a full to bursting heart, thank you for your steadfast support of me, NCLR and our vision of what the world can be. The road ahead will be both challenging and filled with possibility. The needs of our community will be both pressing and complex. But you can rest assured that NCLR will be here, rising to the moment as we have for 41 years. Your continued support will assure that we meet every challenge head on. We have much more to do and more history to make.

With mad love and respect,
Kate

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World AIDS Day Message from Executive Director Kate Kendell

This year, NCLR celebrated four decades of work to advance LGBTQ equality. We know that we are stronger and better able to fight today’s battles because of our deep history in the movement—growing with, standing with, and supporting our community. And today, on World AIDS Day 2017, we renew our commitment to the fight against HIV, supporting our family members living with HIV, and honoring those who have died.

Former executive director Roberta Achtenberg recently reflected on our early work in support of those living with HIV during the height of the epidemic in San Francisco: “When I think back on that time, it was a slaughter, a disaster impacting hundreds of thousands of young men. Particularly because of our social justice background and the more progressive inclinations of the lesbian community in our own town and nationwide, we did everything we could think of in the middle of such dramatic loss and terrible tragedy.”

For NCLR, then called the Lesbian Rights Project, that included delivering free legal services to individuals living with HIV, laying the groundwork that helped establish the AIDS Legal Referral Panel, and coordinating with a deep bench of volunteer attorneys both in San Francisco and across the country.  In 1988, Achtenberg and others helped secure the first ruling in the nation granting custody to a parent living with AIDS. At the time, Achtenberg commented that the ruling, “strikes a blow against the ignorance that surrounds both AIDS and homosexuality.”

Yet despite the incredible significance of the fight against AIDS for our community, yesterday, President Trump failed to acknowledge the LGBTQ community and people of color in his World AIDS Day Proclamation. Under this administration, it’s more important than ever that we remember our history—and counter these repeated attempts at erasure.

Today, and every day, we honor those community members lost to HIV/AIDS, and we stand with those living today with HIV. We are here for you and will keep fighting and advocating for you—in Washington and across the country.

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We must smash white supremacy. Together.

Yesterday, the President of the United States defended white supremacy and virulent racism on national television. He derided the journalists who challenged or questioned his comments, and he created a false equivalence between anti-racism protesters and Neo-Nazis.

This is not normal. And we cannot allow this to become the new normal.

Trump did not make yesterday’s statements in a vacuum. He made them against the backdrop of a nation reeling from the recent deadly racist rally in Charlottesville and a lethal string of unjustified police killings of innocent Black people. Through its actions, this administration has repeatedly emboldened white nationalists and implicitly condoned attacks on people of color, Jewish people, immigrants and the LGBTQ community. This Presidency is a national tragedy. And every day there are more victims.

Our nation’s failure to deal honestly with race and injustice is not new. Multiple generations have pushed white people to acknowledge our nation’s legacy of slavery and racist subjugation.  Repeatedly, that legacy has been denied, lied about, and perpetuated by white people, even as it has continued to exert a crushing burden on people of color. But that past failure need not be our future.

We can, must, and will turn this tide.

As Elie Wiesel once said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter never the tormented.” There is no moment to doubt, cower or dismiss. THIS is a moment where moral courage and action is demanded. None of us can do anything alone. But if every day you vow to do what you can, about what you can, we will see change.  At NCLR we will use our platform to denounce racism and white supremacy and fight every day for justice.  For me personally it means engaging in all sorts of conversations, asking everyone I know to speak out and get involved, to be relentlessly engaged, and to seek out difficult conversations and search for common ground.

Never in our lives has there been a more consequential moment.  The world has witnessed how fascism flourishes. “Never Again” must be our personal pledge: we will not allow our nation to slide further into the abyss of hatred and oppression. Stand up, speak out, support us and other organizations who are fighting back. We can and will make a difference.

We can end this national terror, but only if we rise up, resist and fight back in ways and with a resolute passion never unleashed before.

We pledge to do that work every day. Join us.

Kate

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All For One And One For All

From Kate_KatePicI have been lucky enough to have had many mentors who led by modeling the adage “we are all in this together.” At a time of such tremendous gains for the LGBT community in this country, I am mindful every day of the importance of that mindset.

There is an often unseen—but nevertheless unbreakable—link between all civil rights and social justice movements. At our best, we learn from and lean on each other, and together we reinforce the ethic of a true commitment to justice.

When I was asked by the Rosenberg Foundation to collaborate with two social justice lions I have long respected—Ben Jealous from the NAACP and Maria Echaveste from Center for American Progress—on an article in support of immigration reform, I jumped at the opportunity.

Even as we witness breathtaking progress in our work to end formal discrimination against the LGBT community, at NCLR we see every day the human toll our shattered immigration system takes on many in our community and in our larger human family. Basic humanity and decency demand change. We must reform this system. I know if we work hand in hand we can win reform. I know because I have seen firsthand how far we have come on other challenging cultural questions. When we asked our fellow Americans “what kind of nation do you want to live in?” many answered by embracing LGBT equality. Now, we are asked this same question on the issue of immigration. Let us answer in kind.

Take a look at our joint article below, or read it here.

In solidarity,

Kate Kendell, Esq., NCLR Executive Director

 

 

 

Harnessing the Power of the New American Majority

By Maria Echaveste, Benjamin Todd Jealous, and Kate Kendell

“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity.”
President Barack Obama, Second Inaugural Address, January 21, 2013

Last November, Latinos, African Americans, women, the LGBT community, and youth came out to vote, returning President Barack Obama to the White House for a second term, and bringing concurrent big wins for women and the LGBT community. One writer compared the unprecedented voter turnout that led to the re-election of our country’s first African American president to a “diverse tapestry that reflected a changing America.” It now is clear that a presidential candidate can no longer win without appealing to the broad and diverse population of this country.

What motivates particular groups to support President Obama varies, but there are some unifying, key themes—fairness, justice, and opportunity. One new priority that embodies these themes is the urgent need to create a common-sense and comprehensive immigration process, an issue that long has been left on the back burner. The President promised a strong push for a new immigration process, and in January unveiled his vision for what that looks like. Across the board, labor groups, faith leaders, moderate Republicans, leaders in the LGBT community, and others are now pushing hard for reforms that will provide a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

The question now is, can we ensure that this issue will remain a national priority until it is accomplished? Can we harness the powerful voter engagement and empowerment we saw on November 6 to usher in policy changes that can transform this nation? Can we work together to elevate human dignity and opportunity over stereotypes and prejudice? This moment represents a real possibility for us all—as well as a test of our commitment to the principles of full justice and equality.

Today, we face a unique opportunity to build consensus and to build a movement, one in which immigrants can work with African American and LGBT communities, organized labor, and progressives to flex the muscle of a powerful new majority.

We believe that the push for immigration reform requires leaders from this new American majority to work together at both the national and state levels to turn electoral victories into policy shifts. The three of us, together with our many allies in social justice, state here our full commitment to doing all we can to educate, engage, and empower our communities to make comprehensive immigration reform a clear and urgent priority. We take to heart the charge that our own journey toward equality in our own organizations will not be complete until we put the muscle of our communities behind this fight and stand side by side with our brothers and sisters who live in shadows.

Immigration is often painted as primarily a Latino issue, but in reality it is a complex matter that connects and affects all of us. The current approach relies heavily on punitive measures, costs us billions, creates an underclass, and is an enormous drag on our economy and our humanity.

For people of color and LGBT communities in particular, ours is a shared story of struggle. Black immigrants comprise about eight percent of the foreign-born population in the U.S. and number about three million. Despite attaining more education and degrees than any other immigrant group in the U.S., Black immigrants earn lower wages and, in 2011, suffered from the highest unemployment rate of any immigrant group.

Our current immigration system also has a detrimental impact on LGBT communities, tearing apart families and exposing hundreds of thousands of undocumented LGBT immigrants to severe discrimination in virtually every aspect of life, from education to employment. Moreover, current laws deny same-sex bi-national couples the ability to protect their relationships and stay together in this country.

Ensuring a fair, humane, and comprehensive immigration process and a path to citizenship for immigrants has both social and economic benefits. Research shows that immigration reform would add $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years to the U.S. gross domestic product and $4.5 billion in new tax revenue over the next three.

Most of us want to live in a country where we do not make policy decisions based on scapegoating, where we do not force people and families to live in the shadows, and where we end the arrest and detention of individuals who have committed no crime and are swept up based only on their undocumented status.

A majority of Americans are united in their support for a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants, according to several polls. Meanwhile, an NAACP poll shows that 80 percent of African Americans back comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, with more than 50 percent of respondents saying they “strongly favor” such a plan. A new Field Poll shows that 9 out of 10 of California’s voters support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

As the President said in his inaugural speech, from “Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall,” the American story has been about the inexorable push for fairness, justice, and opportunity. It is up to us—the new American majority—to make real the promise that this moment holds to propel us forward in our collective journey. We can start by working together to win a just and comprehensive immigration process. We also can continue calling for and expanding civic engagement, empowerment, and alliance building among all communities. In doing so, we can weave together a movement that can be a powerful and unifying force, yielding results for years to come.

Maria Echaveste is a senior fellow at Center for American Progress. Benjamin Todd Jealous is the 17th president and CEO of the NAACP. Kate Kendell is the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

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Ever Had a Dream? You’re Not Alone

From Kate_KatePicIt’s been an incredible few weeks. President Obama made history last month when he announced his plan to bring humanity and decency to our nation’s immigration policy, and underscored the urgency of coming together to bring major reform now.

The President’s speech outlined his vision for a clear path toward citizenship that includes a streamlined pathway for DREAMers, those young women and men who came to America as children and know only this country as their home. They have waited for the comprehensive immigration reform that would create a pathway to citizenship for those who came here as children, standing in the shadows and hoping. Many of the young men and women who have pushed the DREAM movement forward are members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

These young women and men—our sisters and brothers, friends and neighbors—have contributed to this country’s fabric, yet, they are treated differently because of who they are.

We first met Carla when she volunteered with us last year through the Queer DREAM Summer project, an internship program that connects LGBT DREAMers with social justice organizations. She recently received a grant through the LGBT DREAMers Fund that we launched to help DREAMers pay for two-year work permit applications that are now available to them through a new federal program.

She’s an amazing young woman, who wants nothing more than to give back to the country that’s not only her home, but the place that has defined her and made her strong, passionate, and determined.

Today, we’re launching www.LGBTDREAMersStories.com to highlight some of the DREAMers we’ve had the opportunity to meet. And we want you to meet them too.

This is Carla’s story.

In solidarity,

Kate Kendell, Esq.
NCLR Executive Director


DREAMs Come True: A Personal Story

Legal_CarlaLopez_photo

By the time all of my peers were enrolling in driver education classes and mastering the rules of the road, I had already mastered the rules of how to go unnoticed. No jaywalking. No riding my bicycle without a helmet. And absolutely no mentioning my status as an undocumented immigrant to anyone. I was to do nothing that would set me apart from the rest.

I was 2 years old when my parents, wanting nothing more than to improve their lives—and mine, brought me to America from Mexico. We soon headed to the San Francisco Bay Area, where my parents held a number of jobs—construction, janitorial, washing dishes in restaurants—saving enough money to move away from the couch we shared in a friend’s home into our own one-bedroom apartment.

School became a priority, with me working hard not only to earn high grades, but to eventually make it into the University of California, Davis with money that my parents had saved for my education. But I constantly walked around in fear, wondering whether the immigration stances of my teachers and peers would affect their view of me. Adding to this confusion were the stories being told by my peers and the media. I grew up in a world where immigration raids were taking place at work, school, and even in the “safety” of homes. For me, the time period between 5 and 6 a.m.—when immigration raids are usually conducted in homes—would be filled with much panic and anguish, as I lay awake in my bed—afraid that either my parents or I would be next.

I saw discriminatory laws, such as California’s Proposition 187, Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, Alabama’s House Bill 56 and Secure Communities, go into effect, instilling anxiety in all immigrants, whether documented or not. I also saw legalized attacks on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community in the form of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). And while I acknowledge that our communities have had their share of triumphs, the blows have made growing up in this world as an undocumented queer woman of color a constant struggle.

Since I was told at the age of 16 that I was an undocumented immigrant, an alarming, constant fear has lived deep inside of me. However, on December 15, 2012, everything I had felt, everything I had known was turned upside down—my life had changed. Late that afternoon, I received a text message from U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) that would, for the first time in years, have me feeling at ease. As soon as I realized the extent of what the text message meant, I immediately rushed to my computer to check my case status. As soon as I saw the word “approved,” I handed the computer over to my partner, who immediately had tears of joy in her eyes. It was the response to my application for President Obama’s new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows young people who were brought to the country as children to apply for relief from deportation and for two-year renewable work permits.

I checked my DACA approval status again and again. With shaky hands, I grabbed my phone to call my parents. Their reactions were just as I had expected. While my father congratulated me and sighed in relief, my mother started to cry. She told me that my news was the best Christmas and birthday present she had ever received.

Throughout the rest of that day, I had a series of random thoughts pop into my head. What are the hours for the local Social Security Office? Should I have my bangs to the side for my driver’s license photo? Will leasing an apartment become an easier process? Will I still feel slightly nervous anytime I see a police officer? And although I have known all along that this is all temporary, that night I went to sleep calmly knowing that a new life awaited me.

While I am now embarking on a new chapter in my life, I am keenly aware of the many others who still live in constant uncertainty and fear because of our broken immigration policy. In January 2013, federal lawmakers and President Obama outlined principles to reform the immigration system that could help millions of people, creating pathways to citizenship for all immigrants, including the DREAMers, and uniting U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents with their same-sex partners. As I continue to patiently—and sometimes not so patiently—wait for these things to occur, I am now navigating the process of figuring out who I am—again.

For the longest time, I have known myself to be a woman of color, slowly unveiling my undocumented and queer identities. I have grown accustomed to how my identities function and intersect on a daily basis. But now I have been informed that I am an undocumented queer woman of color WITH a work permit. Seriously? Undocumented AND with a permit?

With my work permit in hand, I recently started working at the National Center for Lesbian Rights as a projects assistant, where I’m specifically helping other LGBT immigrants and asylum seekers.

I never thought I would see the day. So, who am I now? I guess I will just have to sit back and let those answers come to me as I navigate my way through a whole new world.

Visit www.LGBTDREAMersStories.com to read more stories about DREAMers.

Carla Lopez is a project assistant at NCLR. She resides in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Victory…

From Kate_KatePicI am elated beyond words! President Obama has been re-elected. Marriage equality prevailed in ALL four states—Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington—that faced ballot measures. AND Tammy Baldwin is now

Senator Baldwin, the first out LGBT person voted into the U.S. Senate.

So many victories, including the Iowa Supreme Court justice who
supported marriage keeping his seat and a host of openly LGBT folks being elected to public office.

Mark this moment. We see a new future. Anything is possible.

Love,

Kate Kendell, Esq., NCLR Executive Director

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“Quackery” No More—CA Gov. Brown Signs Bill Protecting LGBT Youth From Psychological Abuse

“Relegated to the dustbin of quackery.”

When I read those words from California Governor Jerry Brown after he signed Senate Bill 1172— the bill protecting LGBT minors from deceitful mental health professionals who falsely claim they can change sexual orientation or gender expression—into law, I thought “FINALLY!”

With that powerful and apt description, Governor Brown has intervened to save current and future generations of young people from being subjected to a discredited, denounced, harmful, and barbaric practice at the hands of state-licensed therapists in California.

And what’s more is that YOU made this happen. Donors just like you who have given whatever they can, whenever they can have made this victory possible. NCLR led the way on this bill, making it an organizational priority to end this horrific practice. And now that we have won in California, we are taking it to other states across the country.

Will you donate today to help us bring the shameful and unconscionable psychological abuse of so-called “conversion therapy” to an end across the United States? Your gift of $25, $40, or even $75 will bring these protections to other states that have already been in contact with us to make this the law there.

I heard the news that the Governor was signing this bill on Saturday night. In the days since, I have come to the full realization of what this means, and can hardly maintain my composure. Over the past 18 years I have been at NCLR, I have heard many stories from men and women who were subjected to this psychological abuse, most when they were young teenagers. Because there are no standards for this sort of quackery, the range and shocking nature of these practices is alarming and harrowing. But every story has one thing in common: the young people subject to this abuse all feel as if they were living in a nightmare, betrayed by the parents who professed to love them and abused by therapists with deeply anti-LGBT views. These teenagers grow up bearing the deep scars of their “treatment”—that is, if they make it to adulthood.

The true consequences of these state-licensed practices have been depression, self-harm, low self-esteem, substance abuse, alienation from family, and suicide. The human toll has been staggering. But with this new law in California, we intend to end this abuse nationwide. Enough is enough.

This practice dupes parents, harms kids, enriches charlatans, and destroys relationships and families. This bill is one of the most important things we have ever worked on—and since you know us, you know that is saying something.

Our opponents, who are fine with the abuse of LGBT young people, have announced plans to challenge this law in court. We will be here to defend the law at every step. But we need you. Legislators in other states have reached out wanting to enact such a law in their own states to protect their young people. We stand ready to help in every state with leaders who want to protect kids. But we can’t do it without you. Your gift today will tell us that you know how important this law is, and that you are ready to help us take it nationwide.

We need and deserve a society where parents are not duped by fraudulent claims that sexual orientation or gender expression can or should be changed. Our kids deserve a society where they are not made ashamed of who they are, and where they cannot be harmed by state-licensed therapists.

We can defend this law and we can help enact more laws like it in other willing states. But we cannot do either alone. We need your support and investment. You know we can do this. You know we mean what we say. You know we will make you proud. Please stand with us today.

 

In solidarity,

Kate Kendell, Esq., NCLR Executive Director

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Bunk “Study” Defames Same-Sex Headed Households

FromKate Family PicMany times, when the anti-gay industry pops out with a new absurd lie, I simply sigh, remind myself of the arc of history, and move on. But the latest vicious volley landed, quite literally, too close to home.


Earlier this week, a University of Texas sociologist named Mark Regnerus published a paper purporting to show that kids raised in same-sex households have poor outcomes as adults. His conclusion runs counter to 30-plus years of peer-reviewed research and contradicts the formal positions of every major child welfare and psychological association in the country. Perhaps most importantly it defies the actual, lived experience of same-sex households and the family, friends and neighbors who know us.

So what gives?

One would think that if you wanted to find out if kids raised by same-sex couples were impacted by their parents’ sexual orientation, you would compare those kids to kids raised by opposite-sex couples, right? Well, no. If you’re a “researcher” who wants to game the outcome to match your pre-determined bias, you don’t compare intact, long-term relationship — instead you find a bunch of young adults whose families had endured significant transitions such as divorce or foster care.

Then, leaving nothing to chance, you don’t find actual committed same-sex parents. Instead, you ask the research subjects if their moms or dads ever had a same-sex relationship. (Apparently, one-nightstands and occasional booty-calls count.) Now, with your sample group sufficiently skewed, you ask these now-grown young adults how they are doing. Turns out, some of them report significant problems. You then compare this group of young adults to those raised in intact, long-term opposite-sex relationships, and voila! You have your headline.

The Regnerus paper is a hit piece, plain and simple. It was financed by a staggering $785,000 in grants from two far-right foundations, the Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation. Even Regnerus himself acknowledges he wasn’t comparing apples to apples: “I realize that one same-sex relationship does not a lesbian make, necessarily. But our research team was less concerned with the complicated politics of sexual identity than with same-sex behavior.” In other words, “We wanted to make sure not to mess up our bought and paid for bigotry with fair and credible methodology.”

The saddest fact in this sordid piece of bunk is that many Americans will read the headline and begin to doubt that their growing acceptance and support of our families is wise. The first headline I saw was in the Mormon-owned Deseret News out of Salt Lake City: “Studies challenge widely held assumptions about same-sex parenting.” My greatest concern in reading that headline was the welfare of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender parents and their kids currently living in Utah. How would their Mormon family members react to this bogus “research”? I got an answer from my Mormon sister, Sharon. When I asked her what she thought of the story, she said, “Well, I think immediately of you and Sandy and your remarkable, well-adjusted, well-mannered, happy and accomplished kids, and I think that study is not true.” Thanks Sharon. Let’s hope the majority of the nation allows their own experience and heart to be their guide as well.

In solidarity,

Kate Kendell, Esq., NCLR Executive Director

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Where Were You When Obama Made History?

FromKate Family PicWhere were you when you first heard?

I was in front of Lincoln Center (I’m in New York City this week for a meeting with other LGBT civil rights attorneys from across the country) when NCLR Deputy Director Arcelia Hurtado screamed, “He did it!”

I turned around and said, “What?” To which she replied, “Obama came out in support of marriage!” We both screamed and hugged, teary eyed. The New Yorkers walking past us didn’t care. But we knew that this was a historic and indelible moment.

Yesterday’s incredible news is the latest addition to the president’s already impressive record of supporting the LGBT community and our families. Since taking office, President Obama has signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. He ended the legal defense of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA). He has ensured equal hospital visitation rights of LGBT patients and their loved ones. He has made important efforts to target and address violence in the LGBT community. He has helped make the transgender community more secure by simplifying the process of changing gender markers on passports. He has taken huge steps to extend fair housing rights and equal access to housing programs to LGBT people and their families. He has worked to prevent school bullying and endorsed the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would provide necessary federal protections against bullying, violence, and harassment targeting LGBT youth. He has worked to eliminate barriers in healthcare by extending crucial nondiscrimination protections to the LGBT community.

And then—yesterday, in a short and simple interview, when asked about his feelings on marriage equality, our president told the truth and did the right thing. Today, I could not be more proud.

I am still taking it in. No two ways about it—this changes everything. It changes the game. It changes our culture. It has changed our history—no matter what happens next, for the first time ever, a sitting president of the United States said publicly that same-sex couples deserve the same respect and dignity afforded to other couples. He publicly acknowledged that our relationships and lives are equal. And this simple act will have a ripple effect for years to come.

Nothing before this has even come close. Yes, former presidents have done the right thing and told the truth about their support of marriage equality, but only after they had long left office.

President Obama, you made history when you were elected and took office, and you continue to make history today, even as you campaign for the chance to do so for another four years. With the deepest gratitude on behalf of the love of my life, Sandy, and our kids—I thank you.

To a new day,

Kate Kendell, Esq., NCLR Executive Director

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Remembering Paula

FromKate_PaulaI was in Portland, Oregon on Friday when I got the news. Paula Ettelbrick had died. It is odd how something can not be a surprise and yet still be a shock. Many knew that Paula’s ovarian cancer, a particularly vile and aggressive type, was back. Just 13 days before her death, Paula sent a message to a list of friends who asked to be kept updated on how she was doing, telling us news that had me bursting into tears at the breakfast table—she was ending all treatment and beginning hospice care. Her note ended by telling us how much we mattered to her and how important our work was. Vintage Paula.

And yet, I still could not believe she was gone. As I walked the streets of Portland that morning, I reflected on the amazing leader and advocate that Paula was. She was unflinching in her feminist vision of full inclusion and justice for all. Paula tirelessly and fiercely fought for the almost forgotten and often ignored. Whether it was people, or issues, Paula was always asking and challenging us to think bigger, more broadly, more expansively.

There are many places where you can read a full account of Paula’s amazing life and work. But what I keep coming back to, even in my dreams, are memories of Paula as a person. When I called Sandy to tell her the news Friday morning I could hardly contain my grief. Sandy, ever wise, said, “Honey, Paula was one of those people who you knew you could count on, who was part of a small close circle of colleagues who you knew you could always trust.” That is so true and for so many.

Paula had integrity, ferocity, tenacity, and intellect. We will miss, surely, all of that. But where I feel most diminished, is to lose her laughter, her wit, her passion. Paula knew something important about everything, and every conversation with her was a rollicking good time. While Paula had strong and deeply held opinions, as our Legal Director Shannon Minter noted to me, “If you had a differing view, or disagreed, she welcomed that. She always valued other perspectives.”

Paula was also generous, kind, and loyal. When I had the chance to teach in Amsterdam in the summer of 2005, I took the whole family. Julian was 9 and Ariana was 4. Paula was part of the faculty as well. Her kids, close in age to ours, could not join her. Right away, Paula offered to watch our kids so Sandy and I could have an evening out. We, of course, took her up on the offer.

I last saw Paula and her kids when they came to a small event for NCLR in New York this past June. In the midst of everything else going on in her life, she took the time to come support me and NCLR.

Our movement and my life are lessened by Paula’s passing. She would allow us to indulge our sadness for maybe one more day, and then she would say, “Ok, back to work, there is still too much to do!” Vintage Paula.

RIP my dear friend.

Yours,

Kate Kendell, Esq., NCLR Executive Director