Effective July 1, California will restrict state-funded travel to Idaho as a result of two anti-trans bills signed into law despite “significant concerns” from that state’s attorney general, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office said in a press release.
Idaho Governor Brad Little signed House Bills 500 and 509 into law on March 30, 2020.
“U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced in a statement Friday the Trump administration would intercede in the lawsuit against the Idaho law, known as House Bill 500 and the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, to protect the statute on the basis that “allowing biological males to compete in all-female sports is fundamentally unfair to female athletes.”
“Under the Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause allows Idaho to recognize the physiological differences between the biological sexes in athletics,” Barr said. “Because of these differences, the Fairness Act’s limiting of certain athletic teams to biological females provides equal protection. This limitation is based on the same exact interest that allows the creation of sex-specific athletic teams in the first place — namely, the goal of ensuring that biological females have equal athletic opportunities.”
“The Justice Department takes this position even though the Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County determined anti-transgender discrimination is a form of discrimination, thus prohibited in employment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The logic of the decision applies to all laws against sex discrimination, including Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in schools and requires schools to offer equal opportunities boys and girls in athletics.”
Restrictions on California state-funded travel resulting from another state’s anti-LGBTQ laws has been in place since 2016.
House Bill 500 repeals protections that enabled transgender students to compete on athletic teams consistent with their gender identity and House Bill 509 prohibits the amendment of birth certificates to be consistent with gender identity, says the release.
“Where states legislate discrimination, California unambiguously speaks out,” said Becerra.“The State of Idaho has taken drastic steps to undermine the rights of the transgender community, preventing people from playing sports in school or having documentation that reflects their identity. Let’s not beat around the bush: these laws are plain and simple discrimination. That’s why Idaho joins the list of AB 1887 discriminating states.”
The press release notes:
“Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden had raised concerns about the bills’ compliance with equal protection and privacy laws. House Bill 500, among other things, runs contrary to existing guidance by the National Collegiate Athletic Association that encourages equal opportunity for transgender students to participate in athletics. Dubiously named the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” House Bill 500 overrules existing local school policies in Idaho and directly works to ban transgender girls and women from school sports. Similarly, House Bill 509 not only authorizes but actually requires discrimination by prohibiting the amendment of birth certificates consistent with gender identity, a right previously recognized by an Idaho federal court on equal protection grounds. The laws are currently set to go into effect in Idaho on July 1, 2020.
AB 1887, which took effect beginning in 2017, restricts state-funded travel to states with laws that authorize or require discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. AB 1887’s restriction on using state funds for travel applies to California state agencies, departments, boards, authorities, and commissions, including an agency, department, board, authority, or commission of the University of California, the Board of Regents of the University of California, and the California State University. Each applicable agency is responsible for consulting the AB 1887 list created by the California Department of Justice to comply with the travel and funding restrictions imposed by the law.
For additional information on AB 1887, including the list of states subject to its provisions, visit: www.oag.ca.gov/ab1887.’
There is something reminiscent of black gay author James Baldwin in Alphonso David’s intense bearing, though the new president of the Human Rights Campaign is considerably more down-to-earth and welcoming than the defiant intellect who scorched racist America in “The Fire Next Time.”
For David, it is the fire this time that is fueling his drive for full equality and his fight against the dark amoral forces demolishing democracy through the rapacious black hole that is President Donald Trump.
David may be uniquely qualified to meet the LGBTQ leadership challenge of this historic moment.
Born in Silver Spring, Md., in 1970, he was one year old when his family moved to Monrovia, the capital of Liberia founded in 1822 by freed Black American slaves. David’s great uncle was the country’s president and his father was elected the city’s mayor in 1977 while his mother worked in the Liberian Department of Finance.
In 1980, David’s world was violently overturned as a military coup assassinated his uncle, imprisoned his father and kept the family under house arrest for 18 months. When his father was released a few years later, he applied for political asylum in the U.S., which was granted because Alphonso had been born in Maryland.
“My interest in the law is fairly self-evident,” David told The New Amsterdam News in 2014, “in part because of the war and understanding democracy and understanding how things work.”
After graduating from Temple University Law School, David clerked for Clifford Scott Green, the African-American District Court judge who found that there was, indeed, racial discrimination in the Philadelphia Police Department. David then joined a Philadelphia law firm before moving to Los Angeles for work as a litigation associate at Blank Rome LLP to help pay off “substantial” student debt. He also got heavily involved in pro bono work, such as helping victims of domestic violence.
David was in LA when the Supreme Court issued its watershed ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, decriminalizing homosexuality. That was an inflection point, motivating him to give up private practice to join Lambda Legal in 2004.
In 2007, David took a job as Special Counselor at the New York State Division of Human Rights, which led to Special Deputy Attorney General for Civil Rights under Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and eventually, in 2015, his historic appointment as the first black man and first openly gay man to serve as Chief Counsel to Gov. Cuomo. He was dubbed the third most powerful person in New York state government.
So why HRC?
“We are living in very complex, perilous times,” David tells the Los Angeles Blade in a brief interview at a Hollywood coffee shop. “I have worked in government for 12 years, but I thought, at this moment in time, it was more important for me to serve in this capacity as the head of the Human Rights Campaign to push for change on the national level, to educate people about the challenges that marginalized communities face, and affect change.”
David started Aug. 9 and is now on a 10-city/state swing to introduce himself to HRC activists and equality allies. But he quickly acts when action is required. Moments after the interview concluded, David was on Twitter producing a thread that excoriated Trump for his inane statement that he has the support of the LGBTQ community, citing the recent reelection endorsement by Log Cabin Republicans.
“Every credible LGBTQ organization is mobilizing to defeat Trump, Pence & their anti-LGBTQ extremist allies in 2020,” David tweeted. “Those who claim this administration is pro-LGBTQ are out of touch with facts and reality.”
David promises new plan rollouts soon but spoke to a few top priorities.
“First, we have to elect pro-equality candidates on every single level. We’re not only focused on the presidency, we’re focused on Congress. We’re focused on state elections, both Senate and House,” he says, and local elections if HRC should weigh in.
“We want to make sure that we are creating environments for people to be realized in the way that they should be realized, that their identities are being respected by government and by the law,” David says. “The electoral work is very, very important.”
Second, HRC is focused on making sure that “legislative priorities are being advanced at every single level,” with special attention on the Equality Act “that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, ranging from employment to credit.” Third is programmatic work that deserves more awareness and possible expansion such as the All Children, All Families program helping LGBTQ kids in the foster care system.
Another program deserving elevation focuses on historically Black colleges. “When we say ‘LGBTQ,’ I want to make sure that people are not looking at a white male face—that they see the spectrum of our community reflected and they understand that the Human Rights Campaign is representing all interests, not just some,” David says.
David is keenly aware that LA is mindful about intersectionality but understands that there are different LGBTQ communities living in silos. “Gay,” for instance, equates with rich, white, straight men in West Hollywood. A similar impression of HRC has followed suit.
“That’s part of the challenge,” says David, to change the old perception of HRC as catering only to one segment of the community. “I think we can make that change. With my appointment as the [first Black] president of Human Rights Campaign, I hope that people will see that the organization is really focused on all members of the community.”
Alphonso David pauses before having a James Baldwin moment. “I’m not going to put my reputation at risk to run an organization that will not put its money where its mouth is,” he says, believably. “So I’m going to make sure that people understand that when we are pushing the electoral work or the legislative work or litigation—you pick the category—we are representing the interests of the community, and our interests are very different, as a matter of fact. The lesbian community may have very different concerns than the transgender community and we need to make sure that all of those concerns are being represented equally.”
David is a data man, very familiar with Brad Sears and the Williams Institute. He intends to use some of their work to inform his own. He is also plugged into the “progressive web of organizations” his predecessor Chad Griffin cultivated, whose leaders he knows well.
“How we talk about issues is so important,” David says. “When we say there’s a problem in our community and we use a statistic to highlight that problem and we fail to identify certain communities or classify our language in a way that elevates that issue for a specific community, we’re not presenting a comprehensive picture.”
He wants to make sure that “we’re able to elevate the plight of the LGBTQ community in the various sectors, utilizing our various relationships, making sure that we are communicating in a very smart, strategic way because it’s not enough to say LGBT kids are homeless. We need to really talk about what actually is informing the homelessness. Why are they homeless? What are the resources that are being provided?”
Trump talking about ending AIDS is only a talking point, he notes as an example. The money he’s identified is insufficient and hasn’t been secured. Meanwhile, Trump wants to end the Affordable Care Act that protects pre-existing conditions like HIV/AIDS, among other disastrous rollbacks. “To now suggest that he’s interested in ending AIDS is laughable, and the Log Cabin Republicans are really divorced from reality, so I don’t want to even give them any additional time or attention.”
David intends to navigate the waters of political purity “with due diligence,” he says. “We should be focused on winning in 2020, making sure we have a sound, viable candidate who can beat Donald Trump,” as well as winning candidates down ballot. HRC will not automatically endorse an incumbent.
David also intends on strategizing HRC’s relationship with big corporations. Griffin effectively marshaled Hollywood corporations to threaten boycotts in Georgia and North Carolina when governors threatened to sign anti-trans bathroom bills. But an anti-big corporation sentiment resulted in a second Stonewall 50th anniversary march and presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are successfully bashing corporations as corrupt.
David thinks differently. “HRC’s Corporate Equality Index is a really important tool to change work environments,” policies and practices, he says. “They’re a lot more inclusive than they were before. So we’re going to be trying to get more corporations, more companies enlisted in the CEI because that benefits the bottom line for people that are working in companies across this country. I want to use it as a tool to make sure we improve workspaces.”
Additionally, “I want to enlist corporations directly in our fight for equality. I was privileged enough to write the marriage equality law in New York and I can tell you that we were able to successfully enlist corporate leaders [in their coalition] to change the perspectives of Republican senators in New York,” David says. “We need to do the same thing here. Private companies actually could have a very meaningful and positive role in helping us advance equality.”
But the new HRC leader needs a larger army to demonstrate LGBTQ power. “The Human Rights Campaign exists as an infrastructure to actually affect change and I want people to join us because we need every single person,” David says. “We need boots on the ground to make sure that we can affect change on the local level, at the state level and at the federal level. I need everyone to get involved.”
Perhaps Alphonso David might cite James Baldwin as he recruits new volunteers to the LGBTQ cause. “The point,” Baldwin once said, “is to get your work done, and your work is to change the world.”
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has surprisingly charmed so many in America with his smart, calm liberal morality that some polls of Democratic presidential contenders show him third behind Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders—a once impossible feat for an openly gay politician.
Buttigieg is no cookie-cutter candidate. Shortly after his breakthrough CNN Town Hall and his West Hollywood appearance last March, Buttigieg appeared on Fox News for an interview with Chris Wallace.
“I think coming from the industrial Midwest, the place where, unfortunately, my party really lost touch with a lot of voters, especially in 2016—it’s a combination of attributes, not to mention the military service—that I bring to the table, that is simply different from the others and I’m looking forward to competing,” he told Wallace.
Buttigieg said his core message is: “Generational change, and then liberty, democracy and security.”
By mid-March, Buttigieg had hit the 65,000 individual donor goal the Democratic National Committee requires to qualify to be on the DNC debate stage—the first of which will be in June hosted by NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo.
Hollywood A-Gays want to hear more directly, especially about Buttigieg reclaiming “values,” using his marriage to Chasten as an example.
The Hollywood Reporter reports that mega-producer Ryan Murphy and husband David Miller are hosting a fundraiser for Buttigieg at their Los Angeles home on June 19. The event is also co-hosted by a bevy of married gays, including PR guru Simon Halls and his husband actor Matt Bomer; TV hit-maker Greg Berlanti and his husband, producer/ former soccer star Robbie Rogers; CAA partner Bryan Lourd and his husband Bruce Bozzi; and former People editor Jess Cagle and TV writer-producer husband Matt Whitney.
But with Buttigieg’s surge in popularity comes the hard-knocks of political gamesmanship. His political rivals have been “caught off guard” and are “scrambling to find vulnerabilities and lines of attack that can be used against him, five officials with opposing Democratic primary campaigns and Republican political groups tell NBC News.”
“He’s getting a very significant free pass on a lot of stuff that other candidates aren’t getting a free pass on,” said one official from a rival Democratic presidential campaign, who called Buttigieg a “kid mayor,” citing the 37-year-old candidate’s willingness to take money from lobbyists as an example. “There’s a novelty there. People don’t know anything about him, so he can kind of be whatever people want him to be. But if he sustains this, that will come down to earth.”
“Our competitors can run their campaigns how they want,” Lis Smith, Buttigieg’s top communications adviser, told NBC News. “We’re less interested in politics as usual and more focused on getting Mayor Pete’s hopeful message of generational change out there.”
But Buttigieg’s Democratic competitors might note that many of these A-Gays also raise and contribute money for other candidates—Murphy and Miller hosted a mega-fundraiser for California Sen. Kamala Harris on April 12, for instance—and they may not appreciate being used as “oppo-research” against a viable gay candidate.
The lobbyist Buttigieg’s rivals are using against him right now is longtime gay fundraiser Steve Elmendorf, former Board Chair for the Victory Fund. He and longtime Human Rights Campaign backer Barry Karas are co-hosting a fundraiser for Buttigieg in Washington, D.C. on May 21.
“Elmendorf is a lobbyist and former John Kerry campaign official who bundled more than $100,000 in the last election for Clinton. He announced his support for Buttigieg on Sunday, just as the Democrat officially launched his campaign,” NBC News reported on April 18. “Karas raised at least half a million dollars for Obama in 2012 and was later appointed by Obama to the Kennedy Center’s advisory board.”
“The more I watched him, the more I thought he was performing at a level above all the other candidates. He has an optimistic message and I liked him,” Elmendorf told CNBC for an April 17 story. “I just think everything about him is the opposite of Trump in a good way and when he answers every question he’s trying to find solutions. He’s not attacking anyone.”
Elmendorf is impressed. “I think he’s put himself out there in every possible venue. He’s done every possible interview and has done well. He comes across as authentic,” Elmendorf added. “There’s something to be said about someone from out of Washington and a new, young person in this race.”
Buttigieg is also different in not eschewing capitalism for democratic socialism. He has pledged not to take PAC money from corporations or the fossil fuel industry but contributions from top finance executives helped him raise $7 million, which catapulted him to the top tier over better-known contenders.
“Pete has never made a decision based on a contribution that he’s received, and where he receives his contributions from has no bearing on the policy positions and governmental actions he takes,” Smith told NBC News.
In fact, Buttigieg has re-framed capitalism. He says the Green New Deal, for instance, is more of a “goal” than a concrete plan. But it recognizes climate change as a reality and a necessity set by science. And, Buttigieg told Fox’s Chris Wallace, “Retro-fitting buildings means a huge amount of jobs for the building trades in this country. I view that as a good thing.”
The other reality, Buttigieg told CNBC, is that “[t]he economy is not some creature that just lumbers along on its own. It’s an interaction between private sector and public sector. And public sector policies, for basically as long as I’ve been alive, have been skewed in a direction that’s increasing inequality.”
Photo of Attorney General Xavier Becerra from his Facebook page
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has been an LGBT ally since he first ran for the California Assembly in 1990 representing the 59th District in downtown Los Angeles. Now he is wielding the sword of constitutional righteousness defending all of California from the erratic, irrational and harmful machinations of former New York developer and reality TV producer/star Donald Trump, who is apparently trying to apply his questionable business tactics to running the U.S. government. Trump, Becerra says, is a serious danger to American democracy.
Becerra, who has been prolific in his lawsuits and amicus briefs against the Trump administration since becoming attorney general in March 2017, is no stranger to standing up for the rule of law. Having graduated with his law degree from Stanford University, he went to Congress in 1993 and was one of only 65 Democrats to vote no against the Clinton-backed Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. Twelve years later, on March 27, 2013, Becerra brought his daughter Natalia, with a rainbow ribbon in her hair, to the steps of the Supreme Court as the court heard arguments against DOMA. Originally intending to only be a witness to history, he was spotted in the crowd outside, which was hotly debating gay marriage versus the Bible.
“When you enter into the public forum, when you start to have our civil life dictated by our religious values, our Constitution says no,” said the then-lawmaker, a proud Catholic. “Our Constitution says everyone is created equally. If that conflicts with someone’s religious values, we still say, in this country, that the civil value wins out.”
Five years later and the whole notion of simple civility is in shambles, thanks to the divineness of the Trump campaign and 18 months of his shocking presidency. Now, as both Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s possible conspiracy with Russia to influence the 2016 election and a New York state investigation of Trump associates and the Trump organization for possible violations of campaign finance laws, tax evasion and fraud closes in around the president, Becerra is concerned about the lack of congressional oversight and how Trump may react to feeling cornered.
“I think it’s chilling to watch Congress abandon its role to put a check on Donald Trump’s excesses,” Becerra told the Los Angeles Blade by phone Thursday. “I have no hope for Donald Trump. And I think he’s proven himself repeatedly who he is and what he’ll do. When you have someone who’s that much of a rogue and that dangerous a player, you expect the other branches of government to stand up. And here’s where I think I blame those in power in Congress more for being AWOL right now because I think it’s become clear that no one should expect Donald Trump to change and all of a sudden begin to act like a president.”
“In every respect he’s endangering the health, the security, the economic well-being of the people of the country,” Becerra continued. “It’s been a long time since we thought we were this close to having someone press the button that could end up starting some nuclear conflict. But given how erratic Donald Trump is—you just never know what he’s going to come up with next. I think that’s probably as bad as it gets when you get to the point of a nuclear conflict. But the fact that we would even talk about that or believe that could be possible for irrational reasons—it makes you just wonder where are the checks and balances that would make sure that one irrational person could not topple the longest living democracy in history.”
Last November, a year and change after Donald Trump’s surprise election, respected New York Times reporter Linda Greenhouse wrote a column about the “conservative plan to weaponize the federal courts.”
While progressives generally expected Trump to payback his conservative supporters with at least one Supreme Court justice, a 37-page plan written by Northwestern University law professor Steven G. Calabresi, founder and board chair of the conservative Federalist Society, declared their intention: “undoing the judicial legacy of President Barack Obama.”
“There is something bracing about the naked activism of a leader of a movement that has spent the past generation railing against judicial activism,” Greenhouse wrote of Calabresi’s plan to pack the courts. “There has never been anything like the weaponizing of the federal judiciary that is currently taking place. Seventeen of President Trump’s 18 nominees to the federal appeals courts are connected to the Federalist Society. Donald McGahn, the White House counsel, joked at the Federalist Society’s annual convention in Washington last week that it was ‘completely false’ that the Trump administration was outsourcing to the group the task of finding judicial nominees. ‘I’ve been a member of the Federalist Society since law school,’ Mr. McGahn said. ‘Still am, so frankly it seems like it’s been in-sourced.’”
That was in Nov. 2017. Last Tuesday, as eight states faced key primary votes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he was keeping the Senate in session through much of August to deal with legislation—and a backlog of judicial nominations. In other words, while America is distracted with whatever Trump tweets next and politicos worry about the midterms, McConnell is going to implement Calabresi’s plan, undo Obama’s legal legacy—and put lower court judges in place who comport to the right wing conservative ideology.
And while few are paying attention—California Sen. Kamala Harris is. On Thursday, June 7, at a Senate Judiciary Committee business executive meeting, Harris spoke up about how Trump’s judicial nominees have records of bias toward the LGBT community.
“This is LGBTQ Pride Month—the month where we recognize and lift up many contributions of LGBTQ Americans,” Harris said. “It also serves as a reminder that we must continue to fight for the rights of LGBTQ individuals, who have been marginalized and have faced discrimination for far too long simply because of who they are and who they love. But despite the tremendous progress this country has made in recognizing equal rights for all Americans—including LGBTQ Americans—this Committee has approved many nominees who have fought against that progress at every step.
“For instance, we have had a nominee who argued that a judge’s impartiality should be questioned because the judge is in a committed, same-sex relationship,” Harris continued. “We have had another nominee who has repeatedly asserted that full marriage equality ‘imperils civic peace’…These are just a few of the nominees who have openly expressed hostility to the LGBTQ community and who have fought against full equality for LGBTQ Americans. And these are the same nominees who will likely preside over cases involving the rights of those Americans.”
Harris previously spoke out against Howard Nielson, Jr.’s nomination to be District Judge for the District of Utah, for his role in representing proponents of Prop 8, a ballot measure that stripped away marriage equality in California—a fight with which Harris was intimately familiar as State Attorney General.
Harris’ comments should serve as a wakeup call to LGBT organizations and activists who believe the courts will be defenders of LGBT civil rights as the Trump administration continues to roll back LGBT progress.
Full transcript of Harris’ statement:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and I’d like to associate myself with my colleague’s remarks. It is truly deeply troubling that we’re moving forward with a nominee who has neither his home state senators’ blue slips and neither of them, and who has misled the commission that was vetting him.
In addition, I think it’s important to recognize that this is LGBTQ Pride Month—the month where we recognize and lift up many contributions of LGBTQ Americans.
It also serves, this month, as a reminder that we must continue to fight for the rights of LGBTQ individuals who have been marginalized and have faced discrimination for far too long simply because of who they are and who they love.
But despite the tremendous progress this country has made in recognizing equal rights for all Americans – including LGBTQ Americans – this Committee has approved many nominees who have fought against that progress at every step.
Everyone who comes before this Committee says that they will set aside their personal views and provide a fair hearing to those who stand before them.
But some of these nominees have extreme views and it is difficult to see how any LGBTQ American could reasonably believe that these nominees would give them a fair hearing.
For instance, we have had a nominee who argued that a judge’s impartiality should be questioned because the judge is in a committed, same-sex relationship.
We have had another nominee who has repeatedly asserted that full marriage equality “imperils civic peace.” That nominee is now a confirmed judge with a lifetime appointment.
We have had yet another nominee who expressed support for the county clerk in Kentucky who defied a federal court order by refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples after the Obergefell decision.
These are just a few of the nominees who have openly expressed hostility to the LGBTQ community and who have fought against full equality for LGBTQ Americans. And these are the same nominees who will likely preside over cases involving the rights of those Americans.
And it is a sad truth that showing hostility toward the LGBTQ community is not something that has disqualified individuals from becoming a nominee of this administration.
As this Committee knows, these lifetime appointees will make important decisions about the lives and opportunities of all Americans, including LGBTQ Americans for generations to come.
As evidenced by the Masterpiece Cakeshop case that was decided just this week.
And as this Committee knows in that case the Court ruled against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission because the Commission did not act as a neutral decision-maker for the plaintiff. At the same time, the decision reaffirmed that LGBTQ Americans are equal and should not be subject “to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”
What is clear from that decision is that the LGBTQ community will have to continue to fight for equality. And that is a fight that we—as Americans who care about civil rights and equal dignity—must all join.
And that includes ensuring that our federal judiciary is not stacked with individuals who have shown hostility to any group of Americans, especially those who have dedicated their careers to undermining the equality of LGBTQ Americans.
This flood of extreme nominees is being rushed through and does not reflect the best principles of our system of justice. And this has to stop. I believe we can do better. Thank you.
NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell (courtesy NCLR)
LGBT politicos nationwide were struck by the March 15 announcement that National Center for Lesbian Rights executive director Kate Kendell was stepping down after more than 22 years of service advancing social and economic justice through the lens of LGBT civil rights.
“Kate literally changed the world. Her leadership in advancing the rights of LGBT people from being criminals to being able to marry has transformed the lives of millions of people. She always pushed the envelope and was a constant voice for our movement to embrace our communities’ diversity, partner with others and embrace a progressive agenda,” says Geoff Kors, Palm Springs City Councilmember, former Equality California Executive Director, and Kendell’s “brother from another mother.” “She has an ability to connect with people on our shared humanity and move them to do the right thing even when it is politically challenging.”
“We are so grateful for Kate’s decades of leadership in the fight for full LGBTQ equality and social justice,” says Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur, noting that NCLR is currently co-representing Equality California in Stockman v. Trump, a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s transgender military ban. “They broke the mold when they made Kate Kendell. And while her leadership at NCLR will be missed, her legacy will live on in the work of generations of LGBTQ civil rights advocates who will stand on her shoulders.”
It is that passionate commitment to justice and human dignity that helped Kendell grow the small San Francisco-based national non-profit into a powerhouse legal advocacy legal organization.
“Kate Kendell’s charisma, passion and vision have resulted in NCLR becoming one of the most creative and effective advocacy organizations in this country. Every LGBTQ person has benefitted because of her incredible leadership,” said Donna Hitchens, the retired San Francisco Superior Court judge who founded NCLR in 1977.
Kate Kendell, wife Sandy before Rainbow Flag (Courtesy NCLR)
“Kate Kendall is one of the most fearless and tireless advocates the LGBTQ equality movement has ever known,” says Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. “Kate’s profound work is woven into the fabric of our movement and millions of Americans have felt the impact of her unwavering leadership. I am proud to call Kate a friend, colleague, and a true champion for equality.”
Even journalists pay Kendell respect. “Authentic, empathetic, fully present, flawless mix of PC and un-PC, openminded, Mormon good-girl ethics, rebellious lesbian side, a hard worker not a brander, and a fully spin-free zone. It don’t get much better,” tweeted San Diego-based semi-retired reporter Rex Wockner.
Kendell started thinking about her career trajectory a few years ago. “I’ve engaged in a fair amount of self-interrogation and reflection about when might be the right time” to leave, Kendell says in an extensive March 15 phone interview.
“It just really felt like this was the right time for me—I hit 58 next month—to pursue whatever my next chapter is,” Kendell adds. “And it’s the right time for NCLR to have a new, obviously younger leader.”
The NCLR board and management team is working on a succession plan. The search for the new executive director will officially launch on April 1.
Kate Kendell debating Rev. Jerry Falwell on CNN’s “Crossfire” (Courtesy NCLR)
“I had no idea when I took the job as legal director in 1994 or even as executive director in 1996 that I would be in the role this long, that I would be a part of some of the most powerful resonant and culture-changing moments in the LGBTQ movement, or that I would be able to look back on a 22-year run with such a profound sense of gratitude and humility,” she says.
“I was lucky enough to meet Kate back in 1994, when she started as NCLR’s Legal Director after working at the Utah ACLU and we clicked right away,” Mary L. Bonauto, longtime attorney with GLAD (GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders), tells the LA Blade. “For one, there were few women working in the legal organizations at that time, and we were both eager to use our legal skills to stick up for our community—for liberty, freedom and equality, even as others tried to stuff us back into the closet. And we were able to collaborate across the miles on cases and policy issues sometimes, too, including parenting cases.” NCLR’s “docket of protecting all families and children…is foundational to many of our other successes.”
Parenting issues were NCLR’s first priority as lesbian parents in heterosexual marriages came out and lost custody of their children. For generations, invisibility “protected us from the worst of this nation’s bigotry and assaultive approach to LGBTQ people. But it also rendered us unable to be our own advocates because we couldn’t be open and fight for what we wanted,” Kendell says.
”And then AIDS—which galvanized our community like nothing else could have,” Kendell continues. “And while it was never worth the death count, it still put in stark relief that being hidden, being silent, being invisible was a matter of life and death. Our visibility, our coming out, our being adamant about our own humanity and demanding that this nation recognize and honor that humanity is how we got to where we are now—in very short order by civil rights-time measurement.”
But while “the rapidity with which we’ve seen landmark change is breath-taking,” Kendell says, family issues such as adoption and child custody issues are “still a huge problem in many states.”
Some of the most heart-wrenching cases in the 1990s involved lesbian couples separating with the biological parent treating the non-biological parent as a “legal stranger” with no right to even see the child.
Collage of Kate Kendell and family— wife Sandy, son Julian, 20 and daughter Ariana 14. (Courtesy NCLR)
“To this day, I find it abhorrent in the extreme that there are lesbians who would use heterosexist homophobic legal arguments against not just their former partner but our entire community. It still haunts me the cases that we lost with children four, five, six-year olds being denied any ongoing relationship with their parent! Forget how traumatic and hard this is for the lesbian co-parent—as a parent myself, my kids were about the same age when we were in the thick of these cases—imagine the trauma to this child!” Kendell says. “The venality and the self-loathing and the selfishness embedded in such an action still makes my blood boil.”
Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the LA LGBT Center, says she is sad Kendell is stepping down. “Personally, she has been a valued colleague and friend and I’m going to sorely miss her indomitable presence, her support, her insight and her sense of humor,” says Jean, who also took a stand against the “legal stranger” arguments. “She has done her work with a rare and admirable combination of selflessness, courage and integrity. LGBTQ people everywhere have better lives thanks to her leadership.”
NCLR made history arguing for Sharon Smith’s right to file a wrongful death civil lawsuit after the 2001 murder of her beloved domestic partner of seven years, Diane Alexis Whipple.
Whipple, a lacrosse coach, was coming home with groceries when she was viciously attacked by two large dogs and mauled to death in her apartment hallway. Neighbors Marjorie Knoller and her husband, Robert Noel were eventually convicted of second-degree murder and manslaughter, respectively.
Smith, a vice president at a brokerage firm, filed a wrongful death suit—but California only allowed surviving spouses, children and parents to file such claims. NCLR argued to San Francisco Superior Court Judge James Robertson II that the committed couple was essentially married. Robertson agreed that limiting the right to sue to straight spouses violated the Equal Protection Clause of the state constitution.
“Up until Sharon’s case, it was virtually unheard of for a same-sex partner to be permitted to sue for wrongful death. In every prior case, the surviving partner was deemed a ‘legal stranger,’ regardless of the length or depth of the relationship,” Kendell wrote on her NCLR blog in 2011. “But that measure of vindication, while enormously important, could never bridge Sharon’s terrible loss.”
Kendell and Smith remain very close friends. “Sharon’s case really made history and changed the way people viewed our relationships,” Kendell says.
In 2004, Kendell witnessed history again. The week before Valentine’s Day when Kendell got a call from Mayor Gavin Newsom’s chief of staff saying Newsom was going to begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples on Monday, Feb. 9.
“At the time, I thought it was not a good idea,” Kendell says, since the marriage victory in Massachusetts prompted calls for a federal constitution ban on same sex marriage, endorsed by President George W. Bush. “It’s like a little bit of a powder keg right now,” she told him before he made it clear the action would happen “no matter what.”
Kendell talked to NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter and Bonato, who won the Massachusetts marriage equality case. By Sunday, Kendell concluded: “You know what—game on. Let’s just do it.”
However, Monday morning it became clear that more time was needed, including for Newsom to do some homework on the movement. “He was humble enough to understand that he needed a few more days,” Kendell says.
They prepared the new proper forms then Joyce Newstadt, Newsom’s policy director, and Kendell decided the first couple to marry had to be lesbian icons Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon.
“I called Del and Phyllis’ home and Phyllis answered and I said, ‘Phyllis, I know you and Del have already done so much for the movement, but I have one more request. Would you be willing to be the first couple that would be issued a marriage license by the City and County of San Francisco because Mayor Newsom wants to begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. And she said, ‘Well, just a minute. Let me ask Del.’ I heard her put the phone down and then I heard her say, her voice a little bit muffled, ‘Kate wants to know if we want to get married.’ I didn’t hear what Del said but Phyllis came back and said, ‘Del said we’ll do it,’”Kendell recalls.
The clandestine team included Kors, Newsom’s office, the City Attorney’s office—and on Thursday morning, Feb. 12, history happened.
Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin marry in 2004 (Photo by Liz Mangelsdorf, courtesy NCLR)
Kendell drove the couple to City Hall in her 1972 Mercedes sedan, escorting them through the basement to avoid being seen. They waited outside Treasurer Mable Tang’s office until—“one of the greatest privileges of my life—I was there when Mable Tang did the wedding vows for Del and Phyllis and witnessed Del and Phyllis’ wedding—Feb. 12, 2004, the 51th anniversary of the day they first met.”
Kate Kendell and Gavin Newsom (Photo courtesy NCLR)
“In 2004—at a time when many in the Democratic Party were not ready to support marriage equality—Kate was a force whose advocacy and leadership gave us the courage to marry over 4,000 same-sex couples,” California Lt. Gov Newsom tells the LA Blade. “That’s just one in a long list of fights Kate and NCLR have taken on, and won, to benefit LGBTQ folks across the country. I am grateful for her counsel and friendship, and for her decades of bold leadership at the forefront of the movement for equality.”
“I always knew when Kate was at the table that we would be on solid ground to do the right thing,” says Newstat, now CEO of Rocket Science Associates.
Roberta Achtenberg and Kate Kendell (Photo courtesy NCLR)
“Kate is a force of nature, and her leadership of NCLR has been nothing short of brilliant! I will remember always the day we stood shoulder to shoulder with tears in our eyes and love in our hearts as Phyllis and Del said their vows and ignited the marriage revolutions! That, and so much more, our Kate has helped make possible,” says Roberta Achtenberg, former San Francisco Supervisor and historic high-ranking official in the Clinton administration.
Kendell is proud of NCLR’s role in winning the consolidated 2004 case that resulted from that event. Minter argued, In Re Marriages before the California Supreme Court, which treated the transgender NCLR attorney with dignity and respect during oral arguments. The Court ruled marriage equality was a fundamental constitutional right in May 2008.
“Shannon was an employee of NCLR before I even got to NCLR. In fact, he and I had met a couple of years prior when I was at the ACLU and he came to Utah because we were trying to get a young lesbian girl released from a psychiatric facility where she had been institutionalized by her parents when she came out,” Kendell recalls.
“Shannon and I had been through so much together and to see him standing before the California Supreme Court as our Legal Director and my partner in so much of what had been great about NCLR and my job and to be someone I had so much respect and love and affection for was just a spectacular moment. I was proud, I was moved, I was emotional. I was inspired. It was fantastic. And he was brilliant,” Kendell gushes warmly.
NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter and Kate Kendell (Photo by Trish Tunney, courtesy NCLR)
Minter became the first individual to transition at an LGBT organization and the first full time transgender employee at a national LGBT organization.
Minter remembers Kendell’s reaction when he announced he was going to transitioning at work.
“I first talked to her about it in 1995, a time when transgender issues were not yet much on the radar of any national LGB group,” Minter tells the LA Blade. “Like most other LGB people at the time, Kate knew very little about transgender issues, but her response was always completely spot-on. She didn’t pretend to know more than she did, but she was enthusiastically supportive on both a personal and professional level from day one.
“When I actually transitioned in 1996, she sheltered me from any negative responses and offered unflagging acceptance and support,” Minter continues. “She set such a positive example for the whole movement in that regard. At the same time, she was always real, including telling me when I complained about having a hard time finding men’s shirts that fit that my arms, which were too short! I have loved teasing her about that over the years.”
He adds, “Kate has never flinched from a fight. She has empowered our staff to launch innovative new projects and then trusted them to take risks. As a result, she has nurtured some of the most impressive leaders in our community.”
One of the hardest issues was Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage ballot initiative that passed in November 2008.
Kate and Sandy get married (Photo courtesy NCLR)
“What happened in Prop 8 was the lowest point of my career and it just followed on the heels of one of the highest points of my career,” Kendell says. “When we won marriage in California, I was ecstatic….I knew that the resonance of ending discrimination in marriage was going to be a huge lift to every other facet of the lives of queer people. And I believe that has been borne out to be true,” she says.
“I knew Prop 8 was an existential threat and I knew it had a very good chance of passage. But it was impossible to get people to focus on it because everybody was still elated that we’d won marriage and they couldn’t believe that California voters would vote to take away marriage!” Kendell says, her voice rising as if reliving the fall of 2008. “So when Prop 8 passed—I remember the entire night. I remember the growing feeling of dread and nausea. And I remember a sleepless night absolutely devastated and then having to face the next morning. It was a brutal, brutal experience” that left her seriously depressed for six months.
But there was an upside. “I believe that had it not been for Prop 8, we wouldn’t have won marriage as quickly as we did in this country. It shocked the shit out of people that we could see marriage taken away at the ballot box and it galvanized and energized a huge new generation of LGBTQ folks to engage in the fight. And that moment really changed everything, in terms of our momentum,” Kendell says.
Federal Prop 8 plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier at the Supreme Court (Photo by Washington Blade photographer Michael Key)
“We have admired her courageous leadership and ability to build support for NCLR for many years but we will be forever grateful to Kate for her unequivocal support during our challenge to Proposition 8 and subsequent friendship,” successful federal Prop 8 plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier tell The LA Blade.
Kendell and NCLR have also worked hard on intersectional issues that “deeply impact LGBTQ people,” such as immigration, policing, criminal justice, asylum and poverty issues. “If those issues are not an essential part of every LGBTQ organization, we are doing a disservice and we are leaving people behind,” she says. “There can be no more important work for us to do than actually saving lives.”
“Kate has a clear vision of the intersections in our communities. Whether as an advocate for LGBT immigrants, same sex parents, or transgender youth, she has the best interests of all of us impacted by the range of prejudice and bigotry when she bravely steps forward time after time,” says longtime Democratic Latina politico, Gloria Nieto. “She is the definition of fierce and our communities are more fierce thanks to Kate Kendell.”
Kate Kendell at the Women’s March 2017 (Photo courtesy NCLR)
“Having worked side-by-side with Kate Kendell—including as co-counsel in a number of path-breaking cases—for three decades,” says Jon Davidson, former Legal Director of Lambda Legal, “I often have had the pleasure of seeing Kate’s inspired leadership, passion, smarts, and tenacity up close. She fought tirelessly for the full breadth of our communities, ensured that the LGBTQ rights movement incorporated essential feminist perspectives, and successfully built alliances that have been key to our success. We collectively owe her a huge debt of gratitude, as we certainly would not have made the progress we have but for her many years of hard work.”
Kendell feels that the fight for social justice and intersectionality is “baked into DNA” at NCLR. And while the Right “is still going to fight us at every turn,” her 22 years have taught her that “people are generally good and want to be good but are stopped by being scared.” So, she says, “it’s important to meet people where they are, even when that’s difficult.”
The stakes now are high. “We are in a fight about who we are as a nation,” Kate Kendell says. “But I do have hope. Like Harvey Milk said, we have to give them hope. Because if we lose hope, we concede ground to our enemy. And I do not concede!”