The National Center for Lesbian Rights Celebrates 35th Anniversary

January 20, 2012

(San Francisco, CA, January 20, 2012)—The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) is proud to announce that it will honor seven heroes in the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality at its 2012 Anniversary Celebration—which marks its 35th year—on May 5, 2012 at San Francisco’s City View at Metreon.

NCLR will honor out actress Jane Lynch, of “Glee” and “Julie & Julia,” for using her fame as a platform to further LGBT equality, and for being an outspoken advocate for creating safer, welcoming schools for LGBT children. Six students from Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District will also be honored for their courage in standing up against a district policy that prohibits staff from discussing LGBT issues, prevents staff from effectively addressing bullying, and has created a hostile environment for students who are or are perceived to be LGBT or gender non-conforming.

“This year is especially significant, as NCLR celebrates a major milestone—turning 35 years old, an opportunity for us to look back on our history-making cases, and champions who have stood up against injustice and changed the legal landscape for every member of our community,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “We’re thrilled to celebrate how far we’ve come by honoring those who are standing up for what’s right, becoming role models for millions of people across the country.”

The Awards

  • Vanguard Award: Actress Jane LynchThe Vanguard Award honors an individual whose life and spirit exemplifies NCLR’s vision and values of equality and justice for all. This year’s award goes to famed actress Jane Lynch, of “Glee” and “Julie & Julia,” who has lived an authentic life as an out lesbian while simultaneously achieving great success and visibility in television and film. Her authenticity and integrity are blazing a path not just for the artists who follow in her footsteps, but for young people everywhere who look up to her. She lives her life with openness to the unexpected, and by doing so met her soul-mate and became a parent long past the time she thought she ever would.
  • Courage Award: Damian, Dylon, Ebonie, Kyle, Lane, Jane DoeThe Courage Award honors individuals who have shown the courage and perseverance to fight for justice and who have sacrificed to make broad social change for the LGBT community. This year’s award goes to six students from Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District who challenged a district policy that prohibits staff from discussing LGBT issues in the classroom and prevents them from effectively addressing pervasive bullying and harassment in the district. The students have taken a stand not just for themselves, but for every student across this country who has been bullied. Their courage and perseverance are a tribute to the students who have come before them, and show each of us a glimpse of the brighter and bolder future that awaits us.

Special Guest

NCLR’s special guest at the 2012 Anniversary Celebration will be out gay actor Wilson Cruz, known for roles in television’s “My So-Called Life” and the Broadway production of RENT. Cruz, an advocate for LGBT equality and LGBT youth, will present the Courage Award to the Anoka-Hennepin students.

“I am NCLR … ” Campaign

See your photo displayed during the 35th Anniversary Celebration by taking part in our “I am NCLR … ” photo campaign, designed to reflect and showcase NCLR clients and supporters.

Through April 2012, NCLR would like your photos—your portraits, snapshots, and special moments—with a homemade poster or sign in which you fill in the sentence, “I am NCLR, and I am … ,” telling us how you reflect our groundbreaking work.

NCLR has already received a number of great photos. Send yours in soon!

Learn more about the campaign.

NCLR History & Anniversary Celebration

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.

NCLR’s 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 for millions of people through their unfailing commitment to justice.

Tickets are now available for the event, which begins at 8 p.m., with the well-known political humorist Kate Clinton returning for a command performance as emcee.

The Presenting Sponsor of the Anniversary Celebration is Wells Fargo. The Gold Sponsor is American Airlines.

Learn more about the 2012 Anniversary Celebration and buy tickets.

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |

Got Married in Canada? Don’t Panic, But Protect Your Relationship

January 13, 2012

By Chris Stoll, Esq.
National Center for Lesbian Rights Senior Attorney

(San Francisco, CA, January 13, 2012)—Yesterday, the thousands of American same-sex couples who have married in Canada since 2003 woke up to some shocking news:  The Canadian government had decided that all marriages of non-Canadian same-sex couples were invalid.

As details have emerged, it’s become clear that the reality is far less dramatic than early reports made it out to be.

First, let’s put to rest some misconceptions about what happened. Contrary to what some news reports have said, the Canadian government did not invalidate the marriages of the more than 5,000 non-resident couples who have married in that country.  It did not secretly divorce them or pass any law that affects them.  Couples who married in Canada are still married, and they have exactly the same rights and obligations today as the day they said “I do.”

Here is what actually happened. A non-Canadian couple recently filed for divorce in Toronto.  In that divorce case, a single lawyer for the Canadian government filed a legal brief on Wednesday arguing that the marriages of certain non-resident same-sex couples are not valid. Specifically, the lawyer argued that if the couple’s home country would not permit them to marry, they are not eligible to marry in Canada.

It is not clear whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper or Justice Minister Rob Nicholson approved, or even knew about, the filing of this brief. The government has quickly backtracked, with Justice Minister Nicholson promising to take steps to clarify the law to make sure that non-resident couples who married in Canada may also divorce there.

More importantly, the filing of a legal brief by a government lawyer does not by itself have any legal force. In Canada, just like the United States, the courts, not the government, decide what the law is. There is every reason to believe that Canada’s courts will reject the argument being made by the government lawyer and grant this couple their Toronto divorce. In fact, it appears that no one has ever before argued that non-resident marriages are invalid during the entire eight years that same-sex couples have had the freedom to marry in Canada.

So if you are a non-Canadian couple who got married in Canada, there’s no need to panic. You are still married. There’s absolutely no reason to think your marriage will end without your consent.  Not now, not ever.

At the same time, there are several steps that all U.S. same-sex couples can and should take to protect their relationships. These are steps that every couple should consider, no matter whether they are married or not, and no matter whether they married in the United States or another country.

The sad reality for U.S couples is that recognition of same-sex relationships varies widely from state to state.  Even if a couple has made the ultimate commitment and gotten married in Canada or a state that offers same-sex couples the freedom to marry, their home state may still treat them as legal strangers, refusing to recognize their marriage for any reason. If you are living in one of these states (or even just traveling there), your marriage certificate may be a legally meaningless piece of paper. This can lead to tragic consequences. Imagine being denied the right to see your spouse in the hospital because the state doesn’t recognize your marriage, or losing the home you shared together on the death of a partner who is not recognized as your legal spouse.

Because even a legal marriage is often no guarantee of protection, it is essential for every same-sex couple to have legal documents to make sure that their relationship is respected.  At a minimum, every couple needs wills, durable powers of attorney for healthcare (also called a “healthcare proxy”), and durable powers of attorney for financial decisions. For more information about these documents, see NCLR’s publication Lifelines: Documents to Protect You and Your Family.

Couples with children should have additional documents to make sure that their wishes concerning their children’s care and custody are respected in the event a parent dies or becomes disabled.  In addition, same-sex couples who are raising children together should obtain adoptions or legal parentage decrees to ensure that both spouses are legally recognized as parents.

Finally, it may be appropriate for some same-sex couples who have already married in Canada, the U.S., or any other country to marry or register as domestic partners in their state of residence.  Although many states that have comprehensive domestic partnership laws also have laws requiring out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples to be treated as domestic partnerships, in practice many people are unaware of these laws, and married same-sex couples often encounter resistance to legal recognition of their relationships.

If you run into any difficulties with recognition of your marriage or domestic partnership, or if you have more questions, please feel free to contact NCLR’s Help Line.

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |

LGBT Legal Groups: Canadian Marriages of Same-Sex Couples Are Not in Jeopardy

January 12, 2012

(San Francisco, CA, January 12, 2012)—The following is a joint statement from Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and Freedom to Marry:

We write to respond to a news report from Canada that a lawyer in the current government has taken a position in a trial-level divorce proceeding that a same-sex couple’s marriage is not valid because the members of the couple were not Canada residents at the time that they married, and the law of their home jurisdiction did not permit them to marry at the time.

No one’s marriage has been invalidated or is likely to be invalidated. The position taken by one government lawyer in a divorce is not itself precedential.  No court has accepted this view and there is no reason to believe that either Canada’s courts or its Parliament would agree with this position, which no one has asserted before during the eight years that same-sex couples have had the freedom to marry in Canada.

Canada permits non-residents to marry and thousands of non-resident same-sex couples have married there since Canada first began recognizing the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in 2003. Indeed, Canada’s Parliament codified the equal right to marry for same-sex couples in 2005.

The message for same-sex couples married in Canada remains the same as it is for same-sex couples validly married here in the United States: take every precaution you can to protect your relationship with legal documents such as powers of attorney and adoptions, as you may travel to jurisdictions that don’t respect your legal relationship. There is no reason to suggest that Canadian marriages of same-sex couples are in jeopardy, or to advocate that people try to marry again elsewhere, as that could cause these couples unnecessary complications, anxiety, and expense.

Media Contacts:

Erik Olvera
Communications Director
Office: 415.392.6257 x324
Mobile: 415.994.3242

Jonathan  Adams
Public Information Officer
Lambda Legal
Office: 212.809.8585 X267
Mobile: 646.752.3251

Carisa Cunningham
Director of Public Affairs and Education
Office: 617.426.1350
Mobile: 617.447.6500

Robyn Shepherd
Media Relations Associate
American Civil Liberties Union
Office: 212.519-7829

Angela Dallara
Communications Associate
Freedom to Marry
Office: 212.851.8418
Mobile: 646-430-3925

In Virginia, a Victory for Youth

January 11, 2012

By Liz Seaton
NCLR State Policy Director

Yesterday, the Virginia Board of Juvenile Justice voted 5-1 to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in the juvenile correctional facilities over which it has broad oversight.  Eight percent of boys and 23 percent of girls in juvenile detention identify their sexuality as other than heterosexual, so this is an important step forward to protect their rights.

This is the second time that the Board has voted this way over the advice of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who argues that no one other than the legislature has the power to designate protected classes, including for purposes of administrative agency non-discrimination policies.  Cuccinelli has made it his business to do everything he can to block steps towards equality under the law for LGBT people, and to roll back even minimal protective policies where they have existed, such as at state colleges and universities in the Commonwealth.

The Board’s action is significant not just because more than 800 youth are detained in these facilities, many of whom are vulnerable and in need of protection, but because the Board has stepped up to assert through its actions that the Attorney General is simply wrong in his opinion.  Nothing in Virginia law prevents state agencies from adopting regulations and policies of non-discrimination.

NCLR and others made this same argument in a different context just a few months ago when we advocated for the Virginia Board of Social Services to adopt policies of non-discrimination in regulations governing child placement agencies. Cuccinelli, telling the Social Service Board that it did not have the authority to tell state-licensed agencies that they may not discriminate against children in need of parents and prospective parents who are willing to give them forever homes.  Despite the clear needs of children waiting for homes—and in light of the news that there are people willing to foster and adopt them—the Social Service Board members appear to have been cowed by Cuccinelli. 

The next steps in Virginia?  Governor Bob McDonnell’s office says it is reviewing the Juvenile Justice Board’s actions.  On the child placement front, anti-LGBT groups hope to have state legislation introduced to enshrine the right of child placement agencies to discriminate in the state code.  If you, like me, are sighing in disgust, I will tell you that a bright ray of hope is available through the stalwart work of Equality Virginia.  Executive Director James Parrish is fighting back, explaining in a recent article exactly how Virginia law needs to change for the better.

At NCLR, we will do all we can to help Equality Virginia and other Virginians continue to seek equality under the law.  For the children who need safe care, for the kids who need forever homes, for our families to be able to love and protect each other, we need to help states and localities to fight bad measures and advance good ones. It’s time to make the Commonwealth of Virginia a safer and more just state for LGBT people.

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |

Outsports Names NCLR Sports Project Director Helen Carroll and GLSEN’s Pat Griffin “Persons of the Year” for 2011

January 5, 2012

(San Francisco, CA, January 5, 2012)—National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Sports Project Director Helen Carroll and Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s Changing the Game Project Director Pat Griffin have been named by Outsports readers as the 2011 “Persons of the Year.”

Outsports made the announcement today, noting that Carroll and Griffin’s joint efforts to advance equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender athletes is unparalleled and much of the progress that has been made in athletics can be traced to the work the pair have done over the years.

According to Outsports: “You’d be hard-pressed to name two people who have collectively had a stronger impact on the gay-sports movement than Pat Griffin and Helen Carroll. These two pioneers have been working toward equality for the better part of 30 years. They’ve visited high schools. They’ve talked to colleges. They’ve waged legal campaigns. They’ve educated educators. And with more incredible work in 2011, our readers have named these two women our ‘Persons of the Year.’”

Outsports readers were asked to vote on the finalists, who, in addition to Carroll and Griffin, were: high school bloggers, sports teams that participated in the “It Gets Better” project, Golden State Warriors President Rick Welts and the Golden State Warriors, New York Rangers player Sean Avery, and out professional soccer player Anton Hysen.

Carroll and Griffin won by 53 percent of the vote, “a testament to their work in what has been dubbed the ‘gayest year in sports.’ ” High School bloggers and “It Gets Better” teams tied for second with 11 percent each. Welts and the Golden State Warriors earned 10 percent. Avery received 9 percent of the vote, and Hysen got 7 percent.

Prior to joining NCLR in 2001, Carroll had earned respect in the sports world as an acclaimed national championship basketball coach for the University of North Carolina-Asheville and had been a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Athletic Director for 12 years. She now devotes all her efforts to fighting homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in sports by directing NCLR’s Sports Project, where she works closely with major national sports organizations including the San Francisco 49ers and the NCAA.

In 2011, Griffin launched GLSEN’s sports project, Changing the Game, which is providing resources and training to end homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in kindergarten-12th grade school-based sports programs. Prior to Changing the Game, Griffin  was the Director of It Takes A Team! Education Campaign for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Issues in Sport, an initiative of the Women’s Sports Foundation.

Together Carroll and Griffin published “On the Team: Equal Opportunity for Transgender Student Athletes” that has become the NCAA’s de facto policy on trans-athlete participation.

Read more about the honor.

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |

Olympic Athlete Johnny Weir Is Married!

January 3, 2012

By Helen Carroll
NCLR Sports Project Director

Though most followers of Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir knew he was gay, he did not officially come out until a year ago.  Why?  Perhaps because the international world of judges have been known to be harsh in their scoring of LGBT skaters.

That’s just one of many reasons why Johnny’s announcement of his marriage to Victor Voronov in a New Year’s Eve ceremony on Saturday is exciting on multiple levels. Johnny is quoted as saying “I’m very happy with my personal life and also my professional life, and I thank God I can be exactly where I’m at.”   His experience, unfortunately, is still a rarity in sports, especially professional sports. 

Johnny tweeted the news to his nearly 103,000 Twitter followers.  Thank you, Johnny, as your actions show that we do not have to keep our private lives separate from our sports careers any longer.

At NCLR, we know that Johnny is opening the door as a role model for many, many LGBT sports participants.  Congratulations on your marriage, Johnny and Victor.

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |