NCLR honors LGBT
Dreamers at gala
by Elliot Owen
As the prospects for an inclusive comprehensive immigration reform bill in Congress dwindled, the National Center for Lesbian Rights honored a group of LGBT Dreamers at its 36th annual gala benefit last weekend.
The Dreamers, many of whom were brought to the U.S. as children by parents who entered the country without a visa, advocated for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act – a bill defeated in the Senate in 2010 that would have provided qualifying young people with more work and education opportunities. About 1.8 million Dreamers now qualify for a recently signed executive order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which offers temporary deferment from deportation and work permits to people who were brought to the U.S. under the age of 16.
Former NCLR board of directors co-chair Olga Talamante presented four LGBT Dreamers with the organization's Courage Award. The young people received the award on behalf of the entire LGBT Dreamer community. Carla Lopez, Luis Liang, Alejandra Estrada, and Jose Mendoza each gave acceptance speeches to standing ovations by the 1,500 people who attended the gala at the Westin St. Francis and later a party at the Metreon.
After completing an NCLR summer internship through United We Dream's Queer Dream Summer program and then receiving her work permit last year, Lopez, 23, is now working as an NCLR program assistant.
"NCLR has been one of the biggest support systems I've had in my life," Lopez told the Bay Area Reporter . "They show how open and progressive the LGBT community can be, that immigrant rights are queer rights, queer rights are immigrant rights, and together they're human rights."
NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell echoed the sentiment in an interview with the B.A.R. Underlining the importance of merging movements, she emphasized how necessary alliances are to moving forward.
"We're always looking for how we can make our movement stronger," Kendell said. "One way we do that is by building relationships and collaborating with communities that understand stigma and have been targets of discrimination. The immigration issue is an LGBT issue and we literally proved the truism that we're everywhere."
This year, the Justice Award was given to Jennifer Tobits, an NCLR client who, after enduring late wife Sarah "Ellyn" Farley's battle with cancer, fought to have her marriage recognized in Illinois after her in-laws challenged the union by laying claim to Farley's assets. The award was presented to Tobits by former NCLR client Sharon Enlowsmith, the surviving spouse of Diane Alexis Whipple, who was attacked and killed by two dogs in San Francisco in 2001.
"It's a bigger deal than I ever thought it would be," Tobits told the B.A.R. "I started out depleted after my wife passed away and then was faced with Ellyn's parents and their bigotry and hatred of our relationship. Finally, I'd had enough and woke up one day deciding to fight. Then NCLR got on board and I felt I had an army of support. If there's any part of this that would help someone else not be afraid during their partner's last moments, then it's worth it."
To the surprise of the audience, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom took the stage to present the Founder's Award to NCLR legal director Shannon Price Minter for 20 years of groundbreaking work with the organization. An out trans man, Minter argued before the state Supreme Court in the 2008 case that won same-sex couples the right to marry, was lead counsel in former NCLR client Enlowsmith's wrongful death suit, and has secured protections for numerous segments of the LGBT community. Currently, he is helping to defend a California law passed last year that bans licensed therapists from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender expression of young clients.
"I love working for NCLR so much," Minter told the B.A.R. "So many of the issues we're making progress on are the same issues I came here to work on. That's been incredibly gratifying. I've really grown up in this organization both personally and professionally. I didn't know they were going to do this until very recently and I'm really surprised and touched by it."
The only other individual to receive an NCLR Founder's Award was NCLR founder and retired San Francisco Superior Court Judge Donna Hitchens in 2011. Kendell stressed to the B.A.R. that Minter's importance to the organization, in addition to the broader LGBT movement and community, cannot be understated.
"Shannon means everything to NCLR," Kendell said. "We would not be the organization we are, have the vision we do, or have won the cases we have, without him. In the larger LGBT community, he has helped to shape and influence almost every key movement issue. If anyone made a list of the top 10 most influential and important LGBT lawyers in the country – Shannon would be on that list."
NCLR raised $84,000 at the gala dinner.
For more information about NCLR, visit http://nclrights.org.