National Center for Lesbian Rights
Headquarters Location: San Francisco, CA
Mission: The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education
Through direct litigation and advocacy, NCLR works to change discriminatory laws and to create new laws and policies benefiting the… See full bio.
The six students—Dylon, Brittany Geldert, Damian McGee-Backes, Ebonie Richardson, Kyle Rooker, and Kyrstin Schuette—were honored with NCLR’s Courage Award for standing up to the district, which resolved the lawsuit in March 2012 by agreeing to sweeping changes to protect those who either are or are perceived to be LGBT. One-by-one, the students told the audience about their experiences, but more importantly how their lives—and the lives of countless classmates—have changed for the better since they decided to speak out against the policy.
“It was through the lawsuit that I really found myself—someone who is young, someone who is proud to be out, and someone who is unafraid to speak up,” Dylon told the crowd. “I learned that one voice is enough to create change, and six voices can make a lasting impact that will benefit thousands of other students now and in the future.”
Brittany couldn’t contain her emotions as she stepped up to the podium—choking back tears as partygoers shouted, “we love you” and “you go girl”—and said she got involved with the lawsuit to try to stop bullying in the district, which was labeled a “contagion area” after nine students who had attended district schools took their own lives between 2009-2011.
“I lost my closest friend, Samantha, who took her own life because she couldn’t take any more of the constant name-calling, bullying, and harass- ment,” Brittany said. “When I decided to stand up against the district with the lawsuit, I wasn’t only doing it for myself, but for all other students who have experienced similar mistreatment and pain. And I did it especially in Sam’s memory.”
NCLR also presented acclaimed actor Jane Lynch —of “Glee,” Julie & Julia, and countless other films—with its Vanguard Award for using her sky- rocketing fame as a platform to raise awareness about bullying and creating safe environments for students to go to school. “I am honored and proud to be recognized by NCLR, which has given LGBT people and their families hope through its tireless work to gain dignity, respect, and, above all else, equality for all,” Jane said. “I love the selflessness and generosity of the organization … I feel like I should be honoring them.”
Expert Reviews of National Center for Lesbian Rights
Evidence of Impact Summary:National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) uses a legal strategy to advocate for LGBT equality. Their works not only include lesbians, but the entire LGBT community. Through smart media relations, strategy, and excellent legal work, they have used case law to bring about great victories in the LGBT community. Examples of their impact include their recent victory in California marriage equality cases as well as their ongoing work around discrimination in sports.
See expert comments.
Organization Strengths Summary:National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) has a dedicated and knowledgeable team whose talent is present in all parts of the organization. The organization is also fortunate to be led by a strong Executive Director, who has legal knowledge as well as organizational strategy. The organization maintains integrity and a strong focus on their mission. This couples well with their strong issue knowledge and strategic thinking. NCLR also has excellent marketing.
See expert comments.
Areas for Improvement Summary:National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) can improve by being sure to remain focused. Experts note that the organization can sometimes drift away from their core offerings as demand grows. Staying focused can ensure that their work is not diluted. They should also work to share meaningful and non-exploitive partnerships with smaller organizations. They may consider improving on fundraising by lowering costs, diversifying funding, and emphasizing their work with youth. One expert suggests that NCLR revisit their litigation strategy to include more rural area cases. NCLR may wish to consider improving staff development and planning for the eventual departure of their current Executive Director.
See expert comments.
Expert Comments: Evidence of Impact
|NCLR has led efforts for LGBTQ-related legislation that have important implications for the LGBTQ community.|
|Their impact can be seen in the marriage victory in California. Their impact is also evident in the mix of high-impact cases and individual service cases won in the past few years.|
|The NCLR has an impressive track record of successful litigation, legislative advocacy, and policy education that has directly affected lives. For example, recent groundbreaking legislation in California that prohibits attempts to "cure" individuals who identify as lesbian or gay, and its representation of the plaintiff in Greene v. County of Sonoma et al., a case in which an older gay couple were forcibly separated, dispossessed, and forced into unwanted healthcare choices by county officials who ignored existing, properly prepared legal directives, including powers of attorney.|
|NCLR's recent successes have built on a series of successes including legal cases won, support for the Dream Act, and legislative and community-based support across the US.|
|The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) is on the forward edge of advocating for the legal rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. The cases they argue push the law and take into consideration the ways in which LGBT people have multiple identities, including being people of color, members of the disabled community, those living with HIV/AIDS, etc.|
|NCLR, like Lambda Legal, is succeeding with a large number of cases that are protecting and advancing the rights of LGBT people. They are particularly putting a lot of emphasis on recognition of same-sex couples (including their legal right to divorce, protecting the survivor after the death of a same-sex spouse, and more), the safety of LGBT youth in schools, and protection of transgender people from discrimination.|
|Their impact can be seen in their influence on case law that affects LGBT people.|
|NCLR is effective through their impact litigation and political savvy. They pick cases well, have a strong record of success, and know how to work the media side of things for maximum impact.|
|They have a strong influence in advocacy work on a national level.|
|They deliver high-impact litigation.|
|They have had a high-profile impact around numerous civil rights issues for LGBT people, such as youth, elders, sports, and marriage.|
|They have had successful legal victories on national and state-by-state levels.|
|They have won numerous precedent-setting legal cases from non-discrimination cases to immigration to equal opportunities for trans athletes.|
|NCLR serves not only the lesbian community, but the full LGBTQ community, spanning employment, immigration, marriage, family rights, and more. They provide free legal assistance and advocate for basic human rights that should be afforded all people. NCLR is at the heart of our continuing community mission to gain equality at every level.|
|NCLR has its primary impact with its state and federal litigation. It also has a strong impact on a number of fronts in the very important state of California. NCLR also has some specialized projects, e.g. around LGBT youth and elders, which have an impact working in collaboration with non-LGBT groups in those areas working to make advancements for the LGBT community. NCLR has also had nationwide impact with its work in the area of LGBT families under the law.|
|NCLR has for many years been at the forefront of legal battles involving key LGBT civil rights issues. They work strategically, sometimes on lower-profile but important cases, and do important education and advocacy work as well.|
|They win cases (e.g. the recent case against a school district in MN related to anti-LGBT bias) and are very strategic about how they advance LGBT rights in the courts.|
|Their impact is in their successful, strategic litigation. NCLR works collaboratively, understands intersectional issues (i.e. LGBT + immigration), and they have excellent communication skills.|
|Their impact is evident in their lawsuits initiated around the country and cases won. They have overturned discriminatory behavior in a number of school districts.|
|The National Center for Lesbian Rights has been at the forefront or a part of every major legal advancement we've made in the areas of family law and protection for LGBT people and their families, along with cutting-edge work in queer youth law, transgender law, LGBT sports law, etc.|
|NCLR has some groundbreaking projects (such as their Homophobia in Sports program) that are high impact, but they also work with the movement as a whole. They deliver high-quality work consistently, played a leading role in litigation around Prop 8 in California, and are team players.|
|Their impact is evident in their winning of the marriage case in California. They are engaged in advocacy and winning cases for individuals throughout the country at the state level. They also had a strong hand in the successful overturning of Florida's anti-gay adoption law.|
|NCLR has been leading the fight (along with GLAD and other groups) for LGBT rights in the legal arena. They have been part of most of the major state and national legal cases in the last generation.|
|This is a great organization that has greatly expanded its mission in the last few years and is doing important work in areas such as immigration, transgender issues, LGBT youth, and kinship recognition.|
Expert Comments: Organization Strengths
|They are great at connecting community members in need with direct legal services. They have a strategic approach to high-impact cases.|
|NCLR is a nimble and aggressive organization that has deep community engagement and an astonishing breadth of active litigation. Their litigation work ranges from bullied high school students to individuals attempting to obtain political asylum from deadly persecution as a result of their sexual orientation. Sustaining the level of activity that NCLR has maintained for years is really an impressive performance.|
|They have fantastic leadership and staff. The organization is also very stable, which makes investing in it a wise move.|
|The staff members at NCLR are extremely intelligent and thoughtful people who are generous with their time and expertise. NCLR is also a strong coalition partner and ensures that LGBT issues are integrated into other social justice causes.|
|They have the best lawyers on their staff (Kate Kendall, Shannon Price Minter, etc.). They are well trained and fearless in their advocacy.|
|NCLR does an outstanding job at marketing, including social media. They are also well-managed by their long-time CEO, a charismatic leader, Kate Kendell.|
Integrity of Mission
|They have a high level of integrity and a focused mission.|
|Diverse leadership, clear articulation of principles, they walk the talk about who they are. They keep issues that affect lesbians visible like no other organization.|
|They have deep knowledge of the topic area, and they are a leader in the field.|
|They are great at identifying emerging issues.|
Strategic Service Delivery
|They have strong leadership and an impactful communications strategy. They also do great work in leveraging private sector legal resources to enhance civil rights.|
|Impacts the daily lives of countless LGBT people, while remaining particularly focused on lesbians.|
|They cover a wide range of cases and programs. They also have strong management and a clear mission.|
|The Executive Director is a phenomenal leader with a great ability to collaborate. They are also a small organization in terms of staff size, but they have a large, tangible impact.|
|The organization is driven by strong leaders (both at the staff and Board levels) and a solid financial foundation.|
|NCLR has very strong leadership, particularly with its Executive Director and Legal Director. To my understanding, NCLR’s finances have been and are quite strong and well managed.|
|They have strong leadership as well as great marketing and visibility.|
|They have strong leadership and a great track record. They also have strong, steady values.|
|Kate Kendell is a fantastic, articulate, and compassionate leader. They have a strong team.|
|They have a particularly strong national director who is very accessible. They work with a number of law school student groups to help them evolve into stronger LGBT lawyers.|
|Steady, stable, smart, and strategic leadership.|
|They have great leadership on all levels, and a commitment to racial and transgender justice that is exemplary.|
|Excellent leadership in Kate Kendell. She is a strong and consistent and wise voice on issues impacting the LGBT community.|
Expert Comments: Areas for Improvement
|Public advocacy, as opposed to legal advocacy, is not their strength. Similarly, public education is also not as effective as their legal work.|
|They need to maintain focus on their core mission, which is legal litigation, not general advocacy.|
|There are growing demands on NCLR's talent and resources, and they will need to stay focused.|
|Based on their recent 990, their event fundraising costs seem somewhat high.|
|NCLR does work that benefits the entire country. But they have only a small fundraising presence in places outside of San Francisco. They could do much better with a push in some of the cities known for significant LGBT generosity, such as Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C.|
|They could enhance their appeal to donors by emphasizing legal services for LGBTQ youth|
Name is Limiting
|NCLR does more than support lesbian rights, so the name is a bit deceiving.|
|I think they could be a stronger force in the movement. I worry that the name can be limiting.|
Strengthen Position Nationally
|I think NCLR could stand to elevate their brand on the national level, so they can be seen as GLAD's equal, which I think they are.|
|They need more attorneys in more locations to truly serve a national constituency.|
Connect with Smaller Organizations
|They would improve with better outreach to and accessibility to local smaller community groups. I think they can be too dominant or portray themselves as the lead on issues when in reality they are one of many.|
|They could use visibility in the media.|
|Continue to aggressively market and let the public know that they are focused on all LGBT rights and continue to work at the local community level (through volunteers, ambassadors, etc.) to engage more women and men in their mission.|
|They may possibly want to work on the development of long-term staff.|
Expand Public Education
|I have seen the Executive Director do public talks in more than one location in the US and feel it would be great if she could expand her range of topics she talks about, especially when presenting it as a talk on history or politics or current legal issues (sometimes it just ends up being a pitch for NCLR and why people should donate).|
Revisit Litigation Strategy
|Devoting more resources to regions of the country where LGBT people face more discrimination. It's harder to win impact litigation in these areas, but the need is greatest.|
Expand into More Communities
|They could do more work in more communities, but I'm sure if they had more resources they would.|
|They likely recognize their need to do some succession planning for when their Executive Director leaves, because she is a key part of their success.|
Through direct litigation and advocacy, NCLR works to change discriminatory laws and to create new laws and policies benefiting the LGBT community.
Growing up Mormon in Utah, Kate learned about the complexities of religion and politics from an early age. After receiving her J.D. from the University of Utah College of Law in 1988 and a few years practicing corporate law, she pursued her real love—civil rights advocacy—and became the first staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. There she directly litigated many high-profile cases focusing on all aspects of civil liberties, including reproductive rights, prisoners’ rights, free speech, the rights of LGBT people, and the intersection of church and state. In 1994 she joined NCLR as legal director, and was named executive director two years later.
Under her leadership, NCLR’s programs, budget, and impact have grown exponentially, and the issues facing the LGBT community—from homophobia in sports to immigration policy—have taken center stage in our nation’s discussion of civil rights and justice. Kate is a nationally recognized spokesperson for LGBT rights and has an active voice in major media, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Advocate, NPR, CNN, and many others. Despite the national success of NCLR under her tenure, her most rewarding responsibilities still include fostering alliances on the community and organizational levels, and advocating from a grass-roots perspective on issues concerning social justice.
Kate and her spouse, Sandy Holmes, live in San Francisco with their son, Julian and daughter Ariana. Their family includes Kate’s daughter Emily.