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NCLR celebrates 36 years of legal victories

SAN FRANCISCO — More than 1,500 people gathered Saturday for the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ 36th Anniversary Celebration and to recognize LGBT movement heroes who are changing the legal landscape for every member of our diverse community.

"The Anniversary Celebration always leaves me inspired by the courage of people who are willing to stand up and challenge discrimination and injustice on behalf of millions of others across the country," said Kate Kendell, NCLR executive director. "They are not only changing history, they have become role models for each and every one of us through their fearlessness and determination."

The sell-out event, held at the Westin St. Francis and City View at the Metreon, honored LGBT DREAMers, who have adopted the LGBT movement’s principle of being out about their immigration status as they work to support a more fair and just immigration system that provides a humane pathway to citizenship for undocumented people. LGBT DREAMERs were awarded with NCLR’s Courage Award for demonstrating outstanding resilience and bravery and leading the way in one of the most important civil rights movements of our time.

Carla Lopez, who was among four LGBT DREAMers accepting the award on behalf of all LGBT DREAMers.

"It is because of the brave advocacy of DREAMers that the DREAM Act is back on the table, that deportations of many people have been halted, and that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program exists. They have shown their fearlessness through hundreds of campaigns, sit-ins, phone banks, and other actions held throughout the United States. While these acts are courageous, it is important to also acknowledge the many LGBT DREAMers who must continue to live in the shadows and in the closet and who, on a daily basis, navigate through injustices based on their citizenship status, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity. It is just as courageous of an act for these individuals to simply wake up, live, and exist," she said.

In a moving tribute, former NCLR client Sharon Smith, the surviving spouse of Diane Alexis Whipple, who was killed after she was attacked by two dogs in San Francisco in 2001, presented NCLR client Jennifer Tobits with the Justice Award. Tobits fought to have her marriage to her late wife Sarah "Ellyn" Farley recognized in their home state of Illinois after her in-laws challenged her marriage to their daughter after her death.

"No one should endure the pain I experienced when I lost my wife Ellyn and the legal challenges by my in-laws that followed," Tobits said. "It has been difficult, but NCLR and the other attorneys working on my behalf have had my back along this journey. I hope no one else experiences what I’ve been through, but if they do, I’m glad NCLR will stand beside them, and fight for what’s right."

The evening closed with California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom presenting the 2013 Founder’s Award to NCLR legal director Shannon Price Minter, who, for 20 years at NCLR, has represented LGBT clients in dozens of history-making cases and helped to pass hundreds of pro-LGBT laws and policies across the country. In addition to arguing before the California Supreme Court in the 2008 case that won the right to marry in California, Minter has won important legal protections for same-sex parents, transgender spouses and children, LGBT immigrants and asylum seekers, LGBT prisoners and LGBT elders. He is currently helping to defend Senate Bill 1172, the groundbreaking California law that prevents therapists from trying to change a young person’s sexual orientation or gender expression.

"It is the dream of a lifetime to work with such fiercely dedicated colleagues and for an organization that is always willing to push the envelope and do whatever it takes to secure justice for all, no matter how long the odds or how hard the fight," Minter said.

Founded in 1977, NCLR is a national legal organization devoted to advancing LGBT justice and equality through litigation, public policy and public education. Since its start, NCLR — which helps more than 5,000 people each year — has embraced every aspect of the diverse LGBT community through its work, recognizing that LGBT people and our families and communities come from many different backgrounds and face a wide range of issues.

The Anniversary Celebration — NCLR’s annual signature event — attracts a sell-out crowd of 1,500 people from across the country to celebrate victories in the movement for full LGBT equality, and to honor those who have become role models through their commitment to justice. The Premiere Sponsor of the Anniversary Celebration was Wells Fargo. The Gold Sponsor was American Airlines.