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LGBTQ people must oppose Trump SCOTUS nominee

* This piece originally appeared in the Los Angeles Blade and the Washington Blade on July 12, 2018.

On July 9, President Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. Kennedy, who authored the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision and a number of other landmark LGBT rights cases, was an occasional swing vote on the Supreme Court. Though he almost always sided with the conservative justices, sometimes he voted with liberal Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor on civil rights issues, including those affecting LGBTQ people.

By all measures, Brett Kavanaugh is considerably more conservative, ideological, and partisan than Justice Kennedy. When President George W. Bush nominated him to the D.C. Court of Appeals in 2003, his confirmation took three years because of his expressed partisanship. Additionally, in a rare move in 2006, the American Bar Association downgraded Kavanaugh’s ranking based on interviews with more than 90 fellow judges and colleagues who described him as  “less than adequate,” “sanctimonious,” “insulated,” and “immovable and very stubborn.” A recent study by political scientist Lee Epstein found that Kavanaugh’s voting record tilted him to the right of every current justice except Clarence Thomas.

If confirmed by the Senate, Kavanaugh would tilt an already conservative court to the far right. LGBTQ people need to urge the Senate to do everything within its power to prevent his nomination. Here’s why:

Kavanaugh supports virtually unchecked executive power. From barring Muslim immigrants to separating children from their parents at the border, Trump has repeatedly taken reckless and precipitous actions that blatantly violate constitutional and humanitarian norms. But Kavanaugh’s record suggests that he will fail to subject Trump’s policies—including those targeting LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups—to meaningful judicial review. 

Kavanaugh co-authored the 1998 Starr Report that described President Bill Clinton’s sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky in salacious detail and reportedly strongly urged Special Counsel Ken Starr to use those details to embarrass Clinton during a grand jury investigation and to get an impeachment.

Kavanaugh has since completely reversed course. He now says a sitting president should be immune from any civil suits, criminal investigation, or criminal prosecutions. More broadly, his decisions indicate that he has an extremely expansive view of executive power and might well uphold even policies that violate constitutional rights if the president claims they are necessary to combat terrorism or for other national security reasons.     

The Family Research Council, one of the most venomous anti-LGBTQ groups in our country, loves him. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated FRC as a hate group because it promotes bias against LGBTQ people. In 2005, FRC strongly supported Kavanaugh’s nomination to the D.C. Court of Appeals and, more recently, applauded his nomination to replace Justice Kennedy, vowing to work with Trump and senators to secure his confirmation.

Kavanaugh believes religion can be used to discriminate. In the recent Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case, the Supreme Court affirmed the importance of anti-LGBTQ discrimination protections and rejected religion as a basis for discrimination. The court held that the government “can protect gay persons, just as it can protect other classes of individuals, in acquiring whatever products and services they choose on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public.” At the same time, the court did not unequivocally resolve the question of whether businesses can ever invoke religious liberty or free speech to justify denying services to LGBTQ customers.

Meanwhile, several states have passed laws permitting taxpayer funded adoption agencies to deny services to anyone, including same-sex couples, based on their religious beliefs, and legal challenges to these laws are likely. The determination of the conservative majority in the House of Representatives to pass “license to discriminate” measures underscores the need for a balanced court that will enforce the Constitution’s commitment to equality for all.

There are strong reasons for concern that a Justice Kavanaugh would vote to permit religious-based discrimination. FRC president Tony Perkins has praised Kavanaugh for his opposition to what Perkins terms a “growing assault on religious freedom.” As an attorney in private practice, Kavanaugh supported student-led prayers at public high schools and the use of taxpayer funds for religious schools. As a judge on the D.C. Circuit, Kavanaugh wrote that an employer should be able to deny contraceptive coverage based on the employer’s religious beliefs.        

Kavanaugh is willing to diminish our most fundamental Constitutional rights.

Last year, in Garza v. Hargan, Kavanaugh dissented from an appellate court decision allowing a 17-year-old detainee in a Texas immigration facility to obtain an abortion after she was raped. Kavanaugh’s dissent showed a shocking disregard for the young woman’s constitutional right to control her own reproductive choices. This decision should give the LGBTQ community and other vulnerable communities serious pause about his commitment to preventing the erosion of fundamental Constitutional rights and upholding justice and equality for all.  

New LGBT issues are likely to come before the Supreme Court and a Justice Kavanaugh could put the rights of our community at risk. This is a time to speak out and take action. It is critical for the future of our community and others that we urge senators to use every tool available to them to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination.

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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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A Note for Those in Our Community Planning to Enlist in the Military

On January 1, for the first time in history, transgender Americans will be able to openly enlist in our nation’s military. This is an incredible moment, and one we can all celebrate.

We know that many transgender Americans have been planning and preparing for over a year for this day.  And many others will now begin considering this as a real option for the very first time.

The military has put considerable time into preparing for this day, and has developed guidelines for those charged with processing new recruits. If you are planning to begin the enlistment process in January or in the coming months, we encourage you to connect with a knowledgeable recruiter, or with an organization like SPART*A or OUTSERVE-SLDN, to ensure you understand the guidelines and requirements.

It is in the interest of both the military and our community for the enlistment process to go smoothly, and we believe it will.  That said, it is possible there will be small hiccups as things get underway. If you do encounter anything confusing or concerning, we encourage you to remain calm, and know that it does not mean the problem will be ongoing.  Do reach out to one of our legal organizations and let us know of your concern:

Military service is a serious and admirable undertaking. We are grateful for the many courageous transgender Americans who are currently serving and who will begin serving soon, with dignity and honor.

Thank you.
GLAD and NCLR

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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