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    NCLR’s Work in 2015 and Beyond

    hBy Christopher Stoll, Esq.

    As we edge closer to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that could bring the freedom to marry to same-sex couples from coast to coast, we at the National Center for Lesbian Rights aren’t slowing down one bit. Even if we win big at the Court, we still have a long way to go in achieving our vision of a world free from oppression for LGBT people and for everyone.

    We have already seen efforts by right-wing state legislators and governors to lash back at our successes by passing controversial “right-to-discriminate” laws that would erode any protections against discrimination for LGBT people. These laws range from some that would allow county clerks to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, to others that would permit adoption agencies to decline placing children with LGBT couples, to still others that would allow any business or employer to discriminate against LGBT people for religious reasons.

    Along with our partners at other organizations, NCLR has been working hard to battle these bills, and our work will not be over until every single member of our community in every state has robust and reliable protections against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

    hhEven with a big victory for marriage equality at the Supreme Court, NCLR’s work of obtaining full recognition for the relationships of same-sex couples, both married and unmarried, will not be over.

    Right now, we are representing Stacey Schuett, the widow of longtime FedEx employee Lesly Taboada-Hall, who died in 2013. Even though the couple was legally married in California, FedEx refused to provide full spousal benefits to Stacey under Lesly’s retirement plan, claiming that the plan covers only opposite-sex spouses. In a separate case, we are also asking the Illinois Supreme Court to overturn an archaic rule that prevents unmarried couples (including many LGBT couples) from seeking the assistance of the courts to handle property division claims when the couple breaks up.

    Time and again, we have seen that even when same-sex couples have the freedom to marry, they continue to face obstacles to full recognition from employers, businesses, and government officials. We’re committed to continue working for same-sex couples until their relationships are truly equal.

    Achieving NCLR’s mission involves much more than equality for LGBT relationships.

    For example, if we win the freedom to marry, that will not mean that LGBT parents will be truly equal. For decades, NCLR’s Family Protection Project has been a national leader in working through the courts to advance the rights of LGBT parents in areas such as parentage determinations, adoption, assisted reproduction, and child custody matters. While we have made tremendous progress, this remains a long-term effort requiring great care and expertise that must be maintained in case after case, in state courts from Alabama to Wyoming.

    The vital work of NCLR’s Youth Project is also going strong, and will continue to protect some of the most vulnerable members of our community this year, and for the years to come. The Youth Project works to educate parents, judges, administrators, and caregivers about the needs of LGBT youth in schools, foster care, juvenile justice, and family courts, as well as to provide direct representation in important cases.

    The #BornPerfect campaign was founded by NCLR in 2014 with the goal of protecting LGBT youth by ending the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy—a practice that attempts to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a minor. With NCLR’s help, California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia have already passed laws preventing state-licensed therapists from practicing conversion therapy with a patient under 18 years old. This year, the campaign has grown by leaps and bounds, with President Obama and the Surgeon General of the United States joining our fight. We have also encouraged legislators in over a dozen other states to introduce similar bills to end conversion therapy. NCLR has been the national leader on this issue, and it has dramatically increased the pace and visibility of these efforts.

    That’s a lot, but it barely scratches the surface of the work that we at NCLR are doing day in, day out. Nearly every day, we hear from someone who has been fired or faces harassment on the job, is being denied custody of her own children because of her sexual orientation or gender identity, or even fears for her life because she lives in a country where LGBT people face persecution, imprisonment, or worse.

    Even if we achieve the freedom to marry for all same-sex couples in 2015, our work will be far from over. We won’t be finished until every LGBT person, in every community, can live safely, comfortably, and proudly as who they are without fear, harassment, or discrimination.

    Christopher Stoll, Esq., is a Senior Staff Attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.