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    Imani Rupert-Gordon Shares Plans for NCLR Ahead of Organization’s New Era

    On March 16, Imani Rupert-Gordon will assume leadership of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), launching a new era for the 43-year-old LGBTQ legal organization. The announcement of her selection on December 17 of last year came after a lengthy search during interim leadership by Cindy Myers preceded by San Francisco Bay Times columnist Kate Kendell’s 22 impressive years at the organization’s helm.

    Expectations are high for the talented Rupert-Gordon, who currently serves as the Executive Director of Affinity Community Services, the nation’s oldest social justice organization serving the needs of Black LGBTQ people with a particular focus on Black women. She previously served as the Director of the Broadway Youth Center, a division of Howard Brown Health in Chicago, which has served more than 1,500 LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness and housing instability. She has been widely recognized for her visionary leadership in the LGBTQ community. Most recently, the Illinois Human Rights Commission presented her with its 2019 Activism Award.

    “NCLR could not ask for a stronger leader to take the helm at this critical moment in our movement’s history,” said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter. “I have known and admired Imani for many years. I am thrilled to have this chance to work directly with such a brilliant and compassionate advocate who understands the complexity of the issues facing LGBTQ people and the need for creative and sophisticated new strategies to address them.”

    NCLR Founder Donna Hitchens shares Minter’s view. When I founded NCLR in 1977, I never could have imagined the leadership it would have,” Hitchens said. “I cannot wait to see what Imani Rupert-Gordon does for the organization. She has my full support and I know she will likewise take NCLR to new heights with ever greater relevance, impact, and consequence.”

    From speaking at major events to bringing her leadership skills to staff meetings, Imani Rupert-Gordon brings wide-ranging experience to NCLR.

    Rupert-Gordon is no stranger to California and to the Bay Area, given that she earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from UC Santa Barbara, and later worked for 8 years as a lecturer and developed campus-wide programming at UC Santa Cruz. There she co-founded the Social Fiction Conference, a co-curricular program at the university’s Crown College that helped students to dismantle biases and to examine issues of social justice through science fiction, gaming, and fantasy. She also completed a fellowship at the Rockwood Leadership Institute in Oakland, and served as a board member and lead grant writer for the Billy DeFrank LGBT Center in San Jose.

    Although Rupert-Gordon is busy with work and preparations for her and her wife Derah’s move to the Bay Area, she generously took time for an interview.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Congratulations on being selected as the new Executive Director for the NCLR. What is your first memory of connecting with the organization?

    Imani Rupert-Gordon: Although I’ve been familiar with the organization for years, my most significant memory of NCLR was when my sister Maya started working there. Maya was the Policy Director at NCLR from 2010–2015. Through my sister, I began to have a more nuanced appreciation and respect for the work that NCLR does. I continued to be astounded by NCLR’s conviction and leadership—all while managing to work so effectively in coalition. They bring people in, and I just love that. And then I went to the gala affectionately known as Lesbian Prom. I was sold.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Who are some of your mentors and role models, and how did they help to inspire your life and work?

    Imani Rupert-Gordon: Oh, my goodness, I have too many role models to name. I feel very fortunate; so many people have invested in me, and taught me something. I believe in having mentors at all ages, and one of my mentors is 15 years younger than me. In the most beautiful ways, she’s inspiring me how to be more present. This is changing my perspective in everything that I do.

    Another mentor once taught me to treat everyone like you have something to learn from them. When you treat someone like they have something to teach you, they usually do.

    These things help me to create space in my life so that I have the capacity to lead with grace and I think that is important.

    San Francisco Bay Times: The prior NCLR leadership all came from legal backgrounds. You bring unique experience, coming more from social work, but also having plenty of legal savvy through that. How do you hope your life and work experience will help to evolve NCLR and its projects?

    Imani Rupert-Gordon: I think something that will be recognizable is how we set the organization up for success. I plan to support a strong infrastructure at NCLR so that we will be in the best position possible to support our community.

    In addition, I’m of course excited to bring a new perspective to the way that NCLR supports our community. NCLR is known for high impact litigation, but given my experience, I think I’ll be able to provide a value add by deepening the impact of our public education, strengthening our policy agenda, and helping to support strategic legislation to benefit our community. I want to see our movement do a better job at representing all of us, so I will be invested in creating a more intersectional approach to all of our work.

    San Francisco Bay Times: We understand the inherent importance of intersectionality. But with so many other organizations already devoted to various LGBT and social justice issues, how can NCLR continue to embrace intersectionality while still keeping the particular needs of lesbians as a focus?

    Imani Rupert-Gordon: This is a question I get a lot. In my current position as the Executive Director for Affinity Community Services, we serve the entire LGBTQ+ community with an emphasis on serving Black LGBTQ+ women. Organizations like Affinity, NCLR, and more are at the core our movement. Systematic discrimination is pervasive, so if organizations aren’t intentionally highlighting the experience of the most underrepresented individuals within an already underrepresented community, then our fights won’t include their most salient needs. Many of us have been left out of the LGBTQ+ movement and we are terrified of being erased. Organizations like NCLR are making sure that doesn’t happen.

    It is also incredibly important to recognize and acknowledge the shared ideologies and perspectives that we have with other people and organizations. Our work at NCLR is inextricably linked with everyone doing work to prevent discrimination. Reproductive justice is a lesbian issue. When someone is discriminated against on the basis of gender, that a lesbian issue. Access to safe, affordable, accessible, and affirming health care is a lesbian issue. People living in poverty, or the wage gap preventing people from receiving a fair wage, are all very much lesbian issues. And there are organizations doing all this work. But that doesn’t mean it’s not our work too. So often we’re asked how we are going support the LGBTQ+ community. I think this is how we are going to do it. Our work has always been intertwined and working in coalition to get to our collective liberation is how I think it will happen.

    Finally, I want to mention that the work of NCLR has always, and will always, support the needs of lesbians. Using an intersectional approach to the work doesn’t work to the detriment of lesbians. We’re all better when we’re all better, and NCLR will be part of achieving liberation for all of us.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Racism, sexism, ageism, and issues related to income inequality still exist within our LGBT community, much less in society as a whole. How do you hope that the LGBTQ community will evolve such that these problems are minimized and addressed?

    Imani Rupert-Gordon: We fall into a trap when we assume that discrimination based on identity doesn’t happen in the LGBTQ+ community. We have to address this structural oppression because it prevents LGBTQ+ people who also experience discrimination related to another part of their identity from achieving equity. It is my hope that while we recognize that every issue is an LGBTQ+ issue, that racial justice, gender justice, economic justice, and other forms of justice have to be part of LGBTQ+ liberation. Our movements are inherently linked and part of our work will be making sure we are finding ways to include more people in our victories.

    San Francisco Bay Times: 2020 promises to be a roller coaster year politically. How do you plan to direct NCLR, given all of the political unknowns ahead of us that can affect legal and other outcomes?

    Imani Rupert-Gordon: I think it will be important to remain nimble in our approaches and steadfast in our convictions. We may find ourselves in a situation where the most strategic ways to provide protections for our community are not through traditional avenues. One of the reasons that NCLR has been able to be effective for so long is that we rely on different strategies to meet the needs of our community. More than an ever, it will be important for us to utilize creative and innovative approaches to support our community.  

    San Francisco Bay Times: Will you be based out of San Francisco? We know that you already have strong ties to the Bay Area and California.

    Imani Rupert-Gordon: I will be moving back to the Bay Area in early March. My wife and I fell in love in San Francisco, so this move feels a bit like coming home. We’re excited to visit some of our old favorite spots! My wife and I met at Mango, the tea dance, so we’re thrilled to hear that it’s still happening. My mom lives in southern California, so it will be nice to be closer to her as well.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Outside of work, what are some of your favorite things to do here in the Bay Area?

    Imani Rupert-Gordon: So many things! My wife and I love stand-up comedy. It’s fun to follow the careers of local comedians and then see them on larger stages. We also love the food in the Bay Area. We have some great memories at Swan’s Oyster Depot, and this small place with the best duck noodle soup–I can’t think of the name, but I know exactly where it is! I’ve lived in Chicago for 9 years now, so I’m also excited about some warm weather!

    Published on February 13, 2020

    NCLR’s New Chapter and a Great Future

    By Kate Kendell, Esq.–

    In October 1994, I moved from Utah, a state I’d lived in for most of my life, to take the job as Legal Director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). From the jump, this town welcomed me, embraced me, supported me, challenged me, and gave me some of the most awe-inspiring moments of my life.

    From 1996–2018 I was Executive Director of NCLR; it was and always will be the job of a lifetime. But after 22 years and a million amazing moments, it was time to move on to other adventures.

    I left behind a brilliant and dedicated staff. In the year since I left, NCLR has continued to do incredible, groundbreaking legal and policy work. The Board launched a search for a new leader and two months ago announced that Imani Rupert-Gordon would be the new NCLR Executive Director.

    When I heard the news shortly before it was public, my heart swelled. Imani is a good friend and colleague, and will be an inspiring new leader for both NCLR and the entire LGBTQ+ movement.

    In this issue of the San Francisco Bay Times you will read more about Imani, her life, and journey, and how lucky we and our movement are to have had her make the move from Chicago to San Francisco to lead NCLR.

    Imani is no stranger to the Bay Area or to NCLR. She has roots in Northern California and a longtime association with NCLR. Imani’s sister Maya was NCLR’s Federal Policy Director in our Washington, D.C., office for many years before she joined the Obama administration in his second term.

    I’ve had a chance to both observe and work with Imani many times. From my own experience, I’ve long believed that the key attributes for successful leadership are humility, transparency, and courage. Imani possesses all of these in large amounts. The future success of our movement will require an unprecedented level of collaboration and confronting the challenges of race and racism.

    When I started at NCLR, our founder and iconic leader Donna Hitchens and her beloved successor Roberta Achtenberg embraced me with open arms. They both made clear to me that they believed in me and were my champions. Their support was the secret sauce to my belief in myself and my early success. I intend to pay that support forward both for the success of Imani and the ongoing growth and success of NCLR. Donna and Roberta would often tell me they never imagined NCLR would become the organization it did and how proud they were.

    Likewise, I cannot imagine the inspiring ways NCLR will, again, change and challenge our movement and the impact it will have. I know under Imani’s leadership NLCR will be a force to be reckoned with. I cannot wait to support and wildly cheer this new, needed, and fantastic leader.

    Kate Kendell, Esq., is the former Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and now works with Take Back the Court and the Southern Poverty Law Center.


    Welcome NCLR’s New Executive Director at the 2020 Anniversary Celebration

    NCLR’s Anniversary Celebration for 2020 will be on Saturday, May 30, at the Marriott Marquis in San Francisco. There guests will be able to welcome the organization’s newly named Executive Director, Imani Rupert-Gordon, at her first such celebration in this leadership role. The evening will begin with a 3-course seated dinner for 1500 guests, followed by a party at the Metreon City View (ages 21+). For sponsor and ticket information, go to: