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    What a Difference 20 Years Makes

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    BT 5.5. 1-32_Page_31_Image_0007This year marks my 20th anniversary as the Executive Director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Every year has been filled with joy, heartbreak, elation, passion, and resolve. Every year, I have spent almost every day grateful that this is my job. Every year, I have been surrounded by the most talented and committed staff, board, and donors. Every year, I have been reminded how important and critical NCLR is in the lives of so many. And as we wind down the first half of 2016, I’ve never been more convinced of how needed our work is than this year.

    As you all know, our community is under attack. So far, more than 100 bills have been introduced to roll back, degrade, stigmatize, harm and target lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender folks in dozens of states. The worst of those bills have become law in North Carolina and Mississippi.

    We are in the middle of a ferocious backlash. But what is also true is that our community and those who value equity, fairness, and justice have shown up in numbers I could have never imagined. We have allies and friends who are CEO’s, friends who are Hollywood stars, friends who are sports icons, and friends who are The Boss. And we are coming together for one simple message: We are never going back and we are not leaving anyone behind.

    Much of the current backlash is focused on the most vulnerable, and also most resilient, in our community. Transgender women of color and trans people generally are under savage attack and the subject of toxic lies and misinformation. LGBT folks living in rural areas or in parts of the nation with few or no legal protections or security are particularly vulnerable to the new wave of hate and intimidation. But what we’ve been witnessing over the past few weeks is remarkable. We are seeing an outpouring of support and virtually universal condemnation of these laws and other efforts to roll back or limit our progress.

    In their broad overreach to attack our community, the fear and hate mongers have ignited a conversation about trans lives and gender that we’ve desperately needed. And that conversation has accelerated the understanding of trans lives in a way nothing else could have. While much work remains, in some ways our fiercest opponents have done us a favor. It’s now up to us to capitalize and capture this momentum for all those who still fear for their lives and futures.

    It has been an honor for NCLR to work closely with so many others in our community (and it has really felt like a community) to help coordinate a response to the cynical and toxic effort to deny our humanity and our progress in winning greater security and belonging in this country. We know we are far from finished and that we will yet see more efforts to do damage to us. But we are nothing if not up for the challenge.

    For 39 years, NCLR has been here precisely for moments like these. When I took the job as Executive Director in 1996, there was very little national conversation of our lives. LGBT youth suffered mostly in silence, almost everywhere were lost jobs and family, few states allowed us custody or adoption of children, the idea of marriage seemed fanciful, and most popular culture depictions of us were as sick or a threat. And now look where we are.

    We are here for the long haul and we are here for everyone still terrified or targeted because of who they are or whom they love. I’ve seen a lot in 20 years, and I know how far we have come. But I also know how much more there is to do. Stay connected, stay involved. We only got here because of you and this work will not be finished without every LGBTQ person owning our movement.

    Kate Kendell, Esq., is the Executive Director of NCLR.

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