Kate Kendell

The Backbone of Our Work

Filed By Kate Kendell | June 05, 2010 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Kate Kendell, legal help, legal information helpline, Legal tip line, National Center for Lesbian Rights, NCLR

Most of you know I'm the Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Thirty-three years ago, we were founded by two attorneys seeking to help secure the parenting rights of lesbian mothers who were losing their children when coming out, and NCLR soon expanded to include advocacy for the rights of all LGBT people and our allies.

While a lot has changed in the thirty-three years since NCLR was founded, there's still much to be done. As a legal organization in this constantly changing legal landscape for our community, we often hear from clients and supporters who've had difficulty finding the legal resources needed to protect their rights and sometimes, knowing exactly what legal protections they have and the incredible network of attorneys and advocates willing to fight for their rights.

That's why I want to make sure that members of our community know that they don't have to navigate this landscape alone. I want them to know that there are tools to empower our community, like NCLR's Legal Information Helpline.

From custody matters to immigration issues, our Legal Information Helpline handles over 1500 calls a year from every segment of our diverse community, from every part of the country. In one week, we might hear from:

  • a mother who may be denied visitation with her child because her ex-husband disapproves of her same-sex relationship
  • a transgender woman who fled violent persecution in her country of origin because of her gender identity and who is afraid now of being deported from the U.S.
  • a retail store employee whose supervisor just told him to "act less gay" in a staff meeting in front of all his colleagues
  • a same-sex couple who are about to buy a house together and are not sure what they need to be considering because their marriage isn't recognized in their state
  • and a student who was told by their school that they can't put up posters advertising Gay/Straight Alliance events. The calls we receive represent the full range of legal issues concerning our community.

Take a second to learn more about our Legal Information Helpline and what we do at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. And know that if you have legal questions related to your sexual orientation or gender identity, you can always give us a call at 1.800.528.6257.


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I'm glad you and your organization are out there to help, Kate. It's so important that people know help is available.

I wish I'd know about NCLR years ago, when I was fired from my job for being trans and no lawyer would take my case. Some even made it clear that they wouldn't even consider my case because they felt representing a transsexual was beneath them or would hurt their reputation.

I contacted the ACLU, but they made it quite clear they just weren't interested in helping in any way, not even with just a referral to a lawyer who'd consider my case. Then I tried to go through the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, only to be told after considering my case for a full year that they didn't feel that protecting my right to work free of discrimination was in the state's interest.

It was only years later, when I learned of the existence of Lambda Legal, that I got any help at all. They did help and offered me referrals, but by then I'd been out of work so long that I'd spent all of my savings just to survive and couldn't afford to pursue the case.

I contacted NCLR concerning some help with gender care coverage through my insurance company, and they seemed unwilling to help in any way except to refer me to a local atty. I'm a 99er and if I had money to hire an atty, I would not be contacting NCLR for help.
I'm not sure how how eager they are to get involved in trans issues after my experience, although my plight may have been outside their purview. They never really explained.

I've found NCLR to be one of the most trans friendly orgs out there, Kimberly. They rank up there with NGLTF - if not even better.

Shannon Minter, the head attorney for the Prop 8 case and NCLR's star lawyer, is a trans man and I know several other trans staffers there.

While that may be true Bil, I can only relate my experience with NCLR. I will add that the response from other organinzations from the ACLU to LAMDA was essentially the same, and the only really positive and helpful reply I got was from WPATH. The others seemed content to act as referers to payed attorneys, which was not the response I anticipated. I could have done that on my own.

I will concede that they may have bigger "fish to fry" so to speak, and will likely pursue issues with broader appeal or wider impact. I just felt rather helpless, and continue to do so.

As an activist who has regularly hammered other groups for not having inclusive names I have to say that my personal respect for this organization has meant that I have never gone after them for any reason. It has always struck me as strange that I simply am not willing to attack then or hammer them. All that I can say is that I have and have always had the greatest of respect for this organization. To see how I feel about them, I work with kids, a lot of kids and more than a usual share of those kids are LGBT simply because word gets around and they find out that they can study here and be completely accepted. This organization is one that I tell these kids that they can always trust. Trust is really important to a kid who is in 7th or 8th grade and trying to figure out how to survive. They trust me and I trust this organization.
And yes I have had trouble trying to reconcile my attacks on other organizations with my respect for this one because I seem to hammer others for the same thing which I let side here. Ultimately it will have to be resolved. And as a philosophy major, it sucks.
Were I to win a lotto this is the first LGBT organization that I would donate to. As a parent, to know that I raised a daughter who may work pro bono for these people and issues which concern her father and brother I feel like my fathering job was done and I am proud of mu little girl, because I know that she will ultimately defend the right of a person to be as person.

Paige Listerud | June 6, 2010 12:40 AM

I would like to thank NCLR for standing up to NAGAAA for interrogating 5 bisexual men on San Francisco's inclusive gay softball team about their sexuality, disqualifying the 3 black bisexual men, and stripping D2 of its second-place win. While not as significant as other cases with which NCLR is currently engaged, it does prompt LGBT organizations who claim to include and serve bisexual, pansexual, or queer people to examine how people with fluid sexuality are treated within the organization.

Many thanks, NCLR, for standing up for fairness.