Two NCLR Staff Attorneys Move to New Positions

November 28, 2011

(San Francisco, CA, November 28, 2011)—Two National Center for Lesbian Rights staff attorneys, Ilona Turner and Jody Marksamer, are moving to exciting new positions in January 2012.

Turner, who began working for NCLR in 2008, will join the Transgender Law Center as its new legal director, helping the San Francisco-based organization advance the rights and safety of the nation’s diverse transgender communities through litigation, public policy, and public education initiatives. Marksamer, NCLR’s Youth Project director, who is well known as a national expert on legal and policy issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, will be pursuing work in public criminal defense in Los Angeles.

Turner’s work at NCLR has focused on a broad range of issues from immigration to discrimination in employment and public accommodations to marriage and child custody. She came to NCLR from Cohen, Weiss and Simon LLP, a union-side labor law firm in New York City. Prior to attending law school, she worked as the lobbyist for Equality California, the statewide LGBT political organization. She received her J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

Said Turner: “I decided to apply to law school because I was so inspired by NCLR’s legal team, and I still can’t quite believe the good fortune that has allowed me to work alongside these dedicated and brilliant lawyers. As I take on new challenges at the Transgender Law Center, I will continue, as always, to look to NCLR for inspiration and partnership.”

Marksamer joined NCLR in 2003 as an Equal Justice Works Fellow and oversees NCLR’s policy and advocacy work challenging the overrepresentation and disparate treatment of LGBT youth in child welfare and juvenile justice settings. In addition, he has led NCLR’s successful litigation challenging denials of appropriate health care for transgender women in prisons. He also coordinates the Equity Project, a collaborative project between NCLR, Legal Services for Children, and the National Juvenile Defender Center, working to ensure fairness and respect for LGBT youth in delinquency courts. He earned his law degree from Northeastern University School of Law and bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University.

“It has been a privilege to be a part of NCLR’s team over the last eight years,” said Marksamer. “I am grateful to my co-workers, the board, and our many collaborators in the field for their tremendous support, dedication, and hard work. I feel lucky to have been a part of such a talented committed and visionary team and will forever value the relationships I have made and our many accomplishments.”

Learn more about the open staff attorney position.

Learn more about the open Youth Project Director/staff attorney position.

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |

NCLR Responds to Congressman Barney Frank’s Retirement After 30 Years of Service

November 28, 2011

(San Francisco, CA, November 28, 2011)—Today, Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass) announced he would not seek reelection in 2012, which signals an end to a 16-term congressional career that has spanned 30 years.

Frank was first elected in 1981, and in 1987, became the first sitting member of Congress to publicly come out as gay. Since that time, he has become a leading lawmaker advancing the rights of the LGBT community. He has been instrumental in the passage of a number of pro-equality pieces of legislation including the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the repeal of the U.S. military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, Esq.:

“Congressman Barney Frank has been a strong and unapologetic leader in Congress on gay issues for more than two decades, courageously serving as the first openly gay Congressperson when Bowers v. Hardwick was still law. Time after time, Congressman Frank has stood tall and put himself personally on the line to change the way that those on Capitol Hill and all branches of government treat LGBT people. Others have followed in his footsteps, but he led the way. We would not be where we are today as a movement or as a nation without Congressman Frank’s leadership. His particular brand of fierce and unyielding leadership on behalf of the LGBT community—and on so many issues of critical import to the nation—will be sorely missed when he retires.”

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |

Parties Settle Case Challenging Disqualification of Bisexual Players’ Team at 2008 Gay Softball World Series

November 28, 2011

(Seattle, WA, November 28, 2011)—The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), K&L Gates LLP, and the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA) have negotiated a settlement in a case brought against NAGAAA by three bisexual softball players whose team was disqualified from competition following a protest hearing at the 2008 Gay Softball World Series in Seattle.

The three plaintiffs had been playing together in the San Francisco Gay Softball League for years. Their team had gone to the Gay Softball World Series before, but had never finished better than fourth place. In 2008, the team made it all the way to the championship game, when they were shocked to learn that their eligibility to play was being challenged based on a NAGAAA rule limiting the number of non-gay players who could play on a World Series team.

The players were called into a conference room, where they were questioned in front of more than 25 people, most of them strangers, about their sexual orientations and private lives. The players were forced to answer whether they were “predominantly” interested in men or women, without being given the option of answering that they were bisexual. In response to a player’s statement that he was attracted to both men and women, a NAGAAA member who was in the room stated, “this is not a bisexual world series—this is a gay world series.” NAGAAA’s protest committee voted that the three plaintiffs were “believed to be heterosexual,” and their team was disqualified from its second place finish.

In the settlement, NAGAAA recognized that disqualifying the players from the 2008 tournament was not consistent with NAGAAA’s intention of being inclusive of bisexual players. NAGAAA now recognizes the players’ team—D2—as a second-place winner of the 2008 Gay Softball World Series, and will award the team a second-place trophy. In the settlement, NAGAAA also expressed regret at the impact the 2008 protest hearing process had on the players and their team. NAGAAA confirmed that its records will be amended to reflect the players’ participation in 2008, including the results of all games played by their team.

The players recognize positive advances made by NAGAAA, which in 2011 changed its rules to be fully inclusive of all bisexual and transgender players. The rule changes permit an unlimited number of bisexual or transgender players to participate on a Gay Softball World Series team.

“It means a lot to me that NAGAAA is going to recognize our second place finish in 2008,” said LaRon Charles, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “I am happy NAGAAA has also made rule changes to let players like me know they are welcome. I look forward to continuing to play ball with my friends, teammates and community in NAGAAA’s tournaments.”

“As a result of this case, NAGAAA has clarified that all bisexual and transgender people are welcome to play at its tournaments as full members of the LGBT community,” said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter. “Every LGBT organization should strive to be a safe and affirming space for everyone, including bisexual and transgender people, people of color, and those who are questioning their sexual orientation. NAGAAA’s decision to amend its rules is a welcome step in that direction.”

Added Seattle litigation counsel Suzanne Thomas of K&L Gates: “This case has helped shine a light on the continuing negative effects of pervasive, historic homophobia and discrimination in sports at all levels and the continued need to combat negative perceptions and stereotypes about LGBT athletes.”

Said Russell K. Robinson, Professor of Law at the University of California Berkeley: “Hopefully NAGAAA’s rule changes will help make the league more welcoming of LGBT people of color.  A number of studies have shown that men of color are more likely to identify as bisexual as opposed to gay.  By explicitly including all bisexual people in its revised definitions, NAGAAA’s rule changes reduce the likelihood that men of color will disproportionately face exclusion from its tournaments.”

In this case, five players on the plaintiffs’ team were questioned by the protest committee under NAGAAA’s former rule. The three plaintiffs, all men of color, were believed by the committee to be heterosexual and subject to NAGAAA’s two-player limit. The committee voted that the two challenged white players were believed to be gay and not subject to the limit.

NCLR, K&L Gates, and NAGAAA also agreed to participate in an ongoing dialogue about making sports at all levels more inclusive of the entire LGBT community. They will co-sponsor a panel discussion at the 2012 Gay Softball World Series in Minneapolis, MN about different ways to create and maintain LGBT inclusive sports organizations, including discussing participation rules based on sexual orientation, and ways to eradicate homophobia and discrimination.

The softball players were represented by NCLR and Thomas of K&L Gates.

Media Contacts:

Erik Olvera
NCLR Communications Director
Office: 415.392.6257 x324

This Thanksgiving: Remembering Krissy and Larry

November 23, 2011

By Liz Seaton, Esq.
NCLR State Policy Director

My in-laws have arrived and are downstairs helping my daughter cook a dish to take to the family dinner tomorrow, so writing on this terribly sad topic feels more than strange when juxtaposed with that happy fact.

But something important happened in two courts yesterday in cases involving bias-related violence that has, in this Thanksgiving week, received little attention. I had to write.

In Hennepin County, MN, a judge convicted Andrew Waukazo of second-degree murder for strangling and stabbing Krissy Bates, a young transgender woman, and received news that the sentence would be for 25 years in prison. The actual sentencing takes place in a few weeks.

In a Ventura County, CA courtroom, 17-year-old Brandon McInerney pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and the use of a firearm for shooting Lawrence “Larry” King, a 15-year-old gay classmate. Brandon will go to prison for 21 years.

I have been talking with Rebecca Waggoner, Anti-Violence Program Director of Outfront Minnesota who attended the Waukazo trial, and we both feel strongly about one particular thing.

We want Krissy and Larry—two precious, creative, and brave people whose lives ended tragically—to be remembered not just by their families and friends, but by others as well.  And in that spirit, thankful to be here with my family, I offer this:

About Krissy, from Outfront Minnesota’s press release:

“We knew that [Krissy] was a funny, warm, loving woman with a great spirit and a boundless capacity for love. And we knew that despite everything, she repeatedly said: “I was put on this earth for a reason.”

And about Larry, from a New York Times article in 2008:

“They teased him because he was different,” said Marissa Moreno, 13, also in the eighth grade. “But he wasn’t afraid to show himself. He had a character that was bubbly.  We would just laugh together. He would smile, then I would smile and then we couldn’t stop.”

Read more about the cases:



Transgender Day of Remembrance: Honoring Lives Lost to Violence

November 19, 2011

By Jaan Williams
NCLR Policy Assistant

This year has been one of the most violent in recent history for the transgender community. Washington, D.C., where I live, in particular has witnessed the murders of two transgender women and violent attacks against at least six more since July. The severity of these attacks, including two incidents where off-duty D.C. police officers assaulted transgender women, has finally prompted widespread media coverage of violence against the transgender community. This coverage, and hard work by local advocates, has brought the issue to a flash point, forcing law enforcement, policymakers, and elected officials to address the rising levels of violence.

On Sunday, Nov. 20, Transgender Day of Remembrance, while we honor those we have lost in this senseless violence, we must also look forward. Remembering those who died prematurely is a tribute in itself, but there is also an opportunity to use their stories and lives to change the climate of violence.

This weekend also marks the anniversary of Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address. One hundred and forty eight years ago, he stood at the battlefield where the greatest number of lives had been lost and asked people to give meaning to the deaths of those that had died there—giving what he termed the “last full measure of devotion”—by finishing the work that they died advancing.

The people Lincoln described were soldiers; the victims of violence we remember today were not. And war between armies is obviously very different from the everyday lives of people who are simply walking home, going to the grocery store, to work or to visit friends when they are struck down in egregious acts of brutality. As we honor and give meaning to these deaths, we fight for the most simple and fundamental struggle of those in a marginalized community—to live our lives openly and freely without fear.

History remembers Gettysburg as a turning point in the war, and we have seen the tragedies of this year in D.C. begin to usher in a familiar sense of urgency to address and ultimately end this violence. The media attention generated by this  violence has given more weight to the efforts of local groups, like the D.C. Trans Coalition (DCTC), as they urge D.C. law enforcement and elected officials to end this violence, and as they encourage law enforcement to increase its efforts to solve violent crimes against transgender victims and address police bias and brutality.

Just last week, the White House convened a meeting of transgender activists and high-level White House staff to talk specifically about violence against the transgender community and the Administration’s role in keeping the community safe. A wide range of staff attended, including people focusing specifically on issues of racial justice and violence against women and women’s health. This indicates a profound and important understanding that violence in the transgender community must be understood as a women’s issue, it must be understood as a racial justice issue, and it must be understood as a fundamental threat to public health and safety.

The lives we remember today were tragically short. As we honor those we’ve lost, we must work to ensure they did not die in vain, and that the world, while it may little note nor long remember what we said here, will never forget them.

Learn more about Transgender Day of Remembrance.

NCLR Responds to California Supreme Court Ruling in Proposition 8 Case

November 17, 2011

(San Francisco, CA, Nov. 17, 2011)—Today, the California Supreme Court issued a decision holding that California law empowers the sponsors of Proposition 8 to appeal the federal district court’s decision in Perry v. Brown finding Prop 8 unconstitutional, even though the state’s Attorney General and Governor both agree that the district court decision striking down Prop 8 should not be appealed.

Perry v. Brown is the federal challenge to Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that stripped the right to marry from same-sex couples in California. Federal District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled in August 2010 that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, and Prop 8’s sponsors attempted to appeal that ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Under existing U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the sponsors of a state ballot initiative generally do not have a legal right to appeal a federal district court decision finding that an initiative is unconstitutional unless state law specifically gives them the authority to represent the interests of the state in federal court. The Ninth Circuit asked the California Supreme Court to issue an advisory opinion on the power of initiative proponents under California law. The case will now go back to the Ninth Circuit to decide whether, in light of today’s ruling by the California Supreme Court, federal law allows the Prop 8 sponsors to pursue an appeal. If the Ninth Circuit rules that they can appeal, the court will decide whether to affirm Judge Walker’s ruling striking down Prop 8.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, Esq.:

“We disagree profoundly with the California Supreme Court’s holding that a handful of unelected initiative sponsors have the power to represent the interests of the entire public and to override the decisions of the state’s elected executive officers. Nonetheless, we are relieved that the case is once again moving forward and the Ninth Circuit will now address whether the initiative proponents can continue this appeal and, if so, whether Prop 8 is constitutional. We hope the Ninth Circuit will issue its decision soon and hasten the day when this damaging law is off the books. Every day that goes by, same-sex couples in California are being denied not only the basic right to marry, but the right to be treated with equal dignity and respect. Same-sex couples in California have lived under the shadow of this unfair law for far too long.”

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |

NCLR Responds to Senate Judiciary Committee Vote on Bill that Would Repeal DOMA

November 10, 2011

(Washington D.C., November 10, 2011)—Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 to move forward the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that would repeal the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA), the 1996 law barring the federal government from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples and excluding them from all marriage-based federal protections.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and one of the lead authors of the legislation, along with Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), presided over the debate.

The Respect for Marriage Act, which now moves to the full Senate for consideration, has 31 co-sponsors and is supported by a broad coalition of organizations including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality groups, faith organizations and leaders, and racial justice organizations. President Obama has also endorsed the bill.

Statement by NCLR Federal Policy Director Maya Rupert, Esq.:

“The long overdue Respect for Marriage Act will correct a shameful low-point in our history that was reached during a moment of bigotry. Congress must pass the Respect for Marriage Act, taking us one step closer to the day when all families can have the dignity, respect, and equality that has been denied to them under DOMA.”

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |