Guest Opinion: An anniversary unlike any other

  • by Imani Rupert-Gordon
  • Wednesday May 27, 2020
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Imani Rupert-Gordon. Photo: Courtesy NCLR
Imani Rupert-Gordon. Photo: Courtesy NCLR

This year's Anniversary Celebration for the National Center for Lesbian Rights will be nothing like I imagined when I accepted the position as executive director in late 2019.

During my first week at the helm of NCLR in mid-March, I was asked to make a decision about the fate of the Anniversary Celebration, the organization's yearly benefit. Even then, events were starting to be canceled and we decided that we would give our community something to celebrate. And like many of our celebrations right now, we've had to reimagine what our annual event would feel like. This was not what I thought my first NCLR Anniversary Celebration would be. But if it's possible, I'm even more proud that it is.

Obviously, this isn't the biggest adjustment we have had to make or the most significant loss we have had as a result of COVID-19. In fact, as devastating as this pandemic has been, I've been renewed by how people have risen to meet this moment. We've charted out new ways to be in solidarity, to be in community, to come together and to support each other. We've done the impossible, and have figured ways to be alone, together. And from experience we know — when we come together, we can do something amazing.

The LGBTQ community has shared formative experiences that have sparked a sad nostalgia in these times. This isn't the first time we have feared a government's abysmal response to a pandemic while we've lost loved ones. As this pandemic disproportionately impacts people in our community — especially people of color — the similarities of another pandemic are too obvious to ignore. While this crisis is not the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the cavalier response from our leaders is a close reminder of that devastating time.

This isn't the first time we have had to be imaginative about the way we create our communities. We've changed the ways we gathered — found new and creative ways to socialize, love together, and grieve together. The catalyst may be different, but we have been here before, and so we know the way to the other side. Because if the years of tragedy and struggle are our birthright as a community, then so too is the resilience that allowed us to survive and the defiance that allowed us to celebrate.

We're going to have to redefine a lot of our moments and milestones, and NCLR is ready to lead our communities in this social justice movement. Sometimes, when we're forced to rethink the things we know for sure, it is then that our imagination is expanded enough to discover what else we can do to be amazing together. And if we push ourselves, this time, we can include people that weren't included before.

In the meantime, we're going to do what we always do at the Anniversary Celebration: honor the legacy of NCLR. And this year, we have a lot to celebrate. NCLR continues to redefine the legal landscape of this country and to lead the way in fighting discrimination against our community in all of its forms, from Trump's insidious new anti-LGBTQ policies to bigoted state laws to the devastating harm caused by conversion therapy.

This year, NCLR and GLBTQ Advocates & Defenders continued to lead the challenge to Trump's transgender military ban, winning a victory on behalf of the first service member to file a new challenge to the ban since it went into effect last April. NCLR continued to win precedent-setting victories for transgender prisoners, such as our recent victory of behalf of Adree Edmo.

NCLR's groundbreaking immigration project continues to represent LGBTQ asylum seekers in the most difficult cases while still never losing a case. Our Transgender Youth Project continues to defend transgender students and transgender youth seeking medically needed care. We have continued our unbroken record of success in challenging so-called no promo homo laws that stigmatize LGBTQ students, with huge wins in Utah, Arizona, and most recently South Carolina.

In the midst of COVID-19, NCLR's Youth Project has successfully pushed the state of California to adopt new policies to reduce the number of LGBTQ and other youth held in detention facilities — and we've developed and sent a model protocol for doing so to the presiding superior court judge in every county in this state. Last but not least, NCLR's Born Perfect project continues to lead a national campaign to protect youth from conversion therapy, including landmark victories just this year in Utah and Virginia.

NCLR is at the brink of another year of game-changing work, and I could not be prouder to be on the team as we do. The challenges before us may have changed, but our resolve is the same. Our audacity is the same. Our perseverance is the same. We stand on the shoulders of giants and we are ready to rise to meet this moment with an invitation to all who will join us: Let's do something amazing together.

Imani Rupert-Gordon is the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

NCLR's Anniversary Celebration takes place virtually Saturday, May 30, at 6 p.m. A donation of any amount will grant access to the online event. Among those being honored will be Katie Sowers, an openly gay assistant offensive coach for the San Francisco 49ers, who will receive the Trailblazer Award. For more information, click here.

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