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National Center for Lesbian Rights Celebrates 35th Year

by Gideon Grudo
Sunday Apr 29, 2012

Kate Kendell will have a huge lump in her throat all night - she said chances are high she'll cry. Tears of joy, of course.

She's the keynote speaker at an event celebrating the National Center for Lesbian Rights' 35th anniversary. The San Francisco organization advocates on behalf of the LGBT community, in all areas, ranging from immigration to marriage to transgender law.

The May 5 event, emceed by none other than comedienne Kate Clinton, will award students for their courage and feature appearances from Broadway and national television stars. It'll be preceded by a dinner - which is already sold out.

While the organization's name may focus on lesbians the breadth of their work doesn't.

"Even though we're called the NCLR, we have, from the very beginning, worked on behalf of the entire community," said Kendell, executive director of the NCLR.

Kendell explained that a case won on behalf of a transgender person will have repercussions on gay men and women, too. "Our name at this point is more about lesbian leadership, and not really at all about the breadth of our work."

Kendell is a mother to three and said that today, this time, is a special time for the LGBT community - as special as they come, in fact.

"I feel very lucky to be in this place, and in some ways be a witness and participant to our liberation as it's happening," she said. "This isn't something that's happening to someone else. As a lesbian, as a partner, as a parent, as an activist, as an attorney, every part of me is invested in winning full acceptance, equality, and really a celebration for my community."

That's part of the reason why Kendell will be holding back tears during the California celebration. The other part owes itself to the progress that she said NCLR and the LGBT community as a whole has made in a decades-long struggle.

"I think [the progress] has been remarkable and breathtaking. When I grew up in Utah and came out as a lesbian in 1980-81, it would have never occurred to me that just thirty years forward we would be seeing a president that was talking about our issues, a secretary of state speaking to the UN General Assembly about the importance of creating safety for LGBT people worldwide, openly gay elected officials, superstars in Hollywood, kids coming out, marriage becoming a reality for thousands of people," she said, catching her breath. "How far we've come in such a short time is breathtaking - certainly, there's more to do, people still fall through the cracks. But we have a lot to celebrate."

Kendell has a 30-year-old daughter, a 16-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter. Part of her fight, part of NCLR's fight, she said, is for them.

"I want my kids, regardless of their sexual orientation or their gender identity, to grow up in a country where there is no stigma, there is no shame, there is no harassment or discrimination against LGBT people," she said. "If we were to have that kind of a country, it would be a more humane and safer place for everyone. That is the ultimate reason that I do this work."

More than 1,500 people are expected to attend the celebration, which follows a sold-out dinner. The event will be home to an interesting array of activities, from an open bar to a photo booth to a carnival to dance parties and fortune tellers.

"The party is actually extremely fun," an NCLR spokesperson who's involved in programming the night said. "Think of like all of your favorite things from every party and put them under one roof."

NCLR was founded in 1977 with a focus on fighting on behalf of the LGBT community in a courtroom setting. Today, the organization has spanned its wings over litigation, public policy advocacy and public education. It's seen its efforts result in new and changed policies.

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