|Former NBA player John Amaechi gives tennis legend Martina Navratilova a Voice and Visibility Award at NCLRĂÂ˘Ă˘âÂŹĂ˘âÂ˘s gala. Amaechi received a Community Vision Award at the annual event. Photo by Rink.
For the past 30 years, the National Center for Lesbian Rights has been at the forefront of nearly every legal gain won for LGBT people and their families. Founded in 1977, NCLR is a national organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of LGBT people through litigation, public policy, advocacy, and public education. On May 12, NCLR celebrated three decades of service with their annual Gala entitled, âThe Audacity to Fight for Justice; The Perseverance to Win,â at the Fort Mason Pavilion. Recognized as the largest lesbian fundraising event in the nation, NCLRâs Gala is generating added buzz this year with the California Supreme Courtâs unanimous decision to grant review in the California marriage cases seeking to remove the current ban on marriage for same-sex couples. This is a major, annual fund-raising event that draws a sell-out crowd of more than 3,500 LGBT people and their supporters.
âPeople come to us in crisis, but not as victims,â said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. âWe are thanked for defending them, but it is the people in crisis who deserve thanks for fighting for their rights.â She added, âThe staff and supporters of NCLR are making things happen,â calling them ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
The Gala is generating added buzz this year with the recent launch of a first-of-its-kind Think Tank on Homophobia in Sport, where national sports leaders gathered at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) headquarters.
Kendell gave a down-to-earth speech from the heart--not read from notes. She touched on everybody affected by NCLR, from mothers who wanted to keep their children, to immigrants, to transgenders, to queers in general, to infinity. In other words: every human being.
Judge Donna Hitchens was introduced as the visionary founder of NCLR. Hitchens said that back in 1977, Del Martin brought her a pile of files of women who wanted to keep their children. Martin spurred her on, saying, âYouâre in law school. When you are out, do something for these women.â Hitchens said, âIn the beginning there were no lesbians being able to keep their children. We had to work at changing the laws.â
Navratilova received NCLRâs Voice and Visibility Award, which is intended to honor individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary commitment to strengthening and empowering the GLBT community. Navratilovaâs legendary tennis career was crowned with one record-breaking success after another.
âWe could think of no one better to honor at our milestone Gala,â said Kendell. âMartina was one of the first professional sports figures to come out. Her honesty cost her millions of dollars in endorsements, but her tremendous courage and commitment to live a full and open life transformed the world of sports. Martina is both a pioneer for human rights and a role model for future generations.â
âI thought that when I left Czechoslovakia I would have a continuing sports career here,â Navratilova said. âWhen I came out, that stopped.â She ranted that President George Bush speaks about gays by omission. He says that marriage is for a man and a woman, she said. He will not say the word âgayâ or âhomosexual.â She said he should know about gays, since there are so many closeted ones in his own administration. She said, âItâs about human rights, not just gay rights,â and thanked NCLR for the honor of this award. She also thanked GLAAD for their award last month in Los Angeles. âWe will make a difference,â she said. âRush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter warn about the gay agenda. What is this gay agenda? If there was a gay agenda it would be equal rights.â She stressed the importance of being more visible, so as to target discrimination. âWe will have federally mandated rights, and it will not take another 30 years,â she concluded.
Former NBA player John Amaechi was also honored, receivingÂ NCLRâs Community Vision Award, which is intended to honor an individual who has demonstrated commitment to strengthening and empowering the LGBT community. As a respected NBA player honored by the basketball Hall of Fame, and the first NBA player to ever publicly come out as a gay man, Amaechi has brought tremendous visibility to the challenges faced by LGBT athletes. âJohn made history when he came out and chose to live a full and authentic life as an openly gay man,â said Kendell. âThe synergy of NCLR settling our landmark lawsuit on behalf of Jennifer Harris against Penn State University and the timing of Johnâs book publication shaped the current dialogue of homophobia in sports. We are thrilled to honor him at our milestone 30th Anniversary Gala.â
âI am honored to be recognized by the National Center for Lesbian Rights,â Amaechi said. âI do believe it is not the singular action of one being, but the collective voices and actions from each of us which continues to strengthen the GLBT community. I recognize the courage in each individual who has stepped forward, both in the spotlight and privately, to bring equality and empowerment for all people regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.â
One thing that is very clear about the supposed âhomosexual agenda,â is that we love to dance. So naturally the event concluded with dancing the night away âtill midnight.