Kate Kendell has a message for you: “[You] are part of the history that we are making around LGBT rights. I mean we are in the midst of a civil rights struggle for LGBT people that is garnering headlines for all over the world. And Lick students are a part of how we got here. This is [your] struggle, whether [you] are LGBT or not. If you’ve been an ally, if you’ve spoken up, if you’ve told friends to not make a gay joke, if you’ve shown up at a rally, if you’ve even posted something on Facebook to support LGBT people, you are a part of how we have come so far so fast.”
Kate Kendell, mother of Julian Holmes ’15, was going to be the keynote speaker at this year’s LWHS Walk with a Purpose. However, she will be going to see the Supreme Court hear an argument on April 28 and therefore will not be able to come to LWHS.
Kendell serves as the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). She grew up in Utah and was part of the Mormon community. Kendell spoke highly of her mother, describing how she was always very loving and supportive, despite Mormon values that typically discriminated against LGBT individuals.
Kendell received a J.D. from the University of Utah College of Law in 1988 and went on to work for the ACLU of Utah, where she worked as a staff attorney.
In 1993, Kendell attended an ACLU conference in Atlanta where she met her future wife Sandy Holmes.
Kendell shares, “We fell in love at the conference. I was still in Utah and she was here in San Francisco working for the ACLU of Northern California. We had a long distance relationship for about a year and a half.”
In 1994, Sandy, who was on the board of the NCLR, faxed Kendell the job description for a position as legal director at the NCLR. Kendell got the position and moved to San Francisco to work for the NCLR. A year and a half later, she was named executive director — the same week her son Holmes was born.
For over 35 years, the NCLR has worked to advance the rights of LGBT individuals and their families. This non-profit organization was founded in 1977 as the Lesbian Rights Project and was renamed the NCLR in 1989. The NCLR works for LGBT rights through litigation, legislation, policy, and public education.
Kendell’s role as executive director entails a variety of tasks.
“I’m the boss,” she explained. “I’m in charge of all aspects of how the organization runs.”
Such aspects include managing personnel, helping with strategy in bigger cases, and getting involved with taking on new initiatives. Kendell also manages budgets and spending, making sure that NCLR, as a non-profit, is being fiscally responsible.
In addition, Kendell is the NCLR’s primary media spokesperson and often travels to represent the NCLR at fundraisers and conferences.
Regarding her many tasks, Kendell jokes, “I’m never bored, that’s for sure.”
At the NCLR, Kendell has found the support of those around her an essential part to facing and overcoming challenges.
“I’ve been lucky because I’ve had great mentoring and support from the beginning,” she shares. “I have colleagues who have done this work before and I [can] say: ‘Hey I’ve got this problem I don’t know how to deal with it.’ So while there are challenges, I feel like the way I’ve met those challenges is by never feeling like I’m on my own. I never feel like I have had to deal with it all by myself.”
One of Kendell’s most memorable successes came in 2008 with the Supreme Court’s ruling that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated the constitution.
She describes, “The day we won that case I was on the steps of the California Supreme Court building right in downtown San Francisco, right in the Civic Center… and that was certainly one of the high points of my career.”
However, Kendell emphasized that although much progress has been made on the issue, “there will still be a lot of work to be done to be sure that if [they] win the right to marry, that right is actually able to be exercised by people no matter where they live.”
Another goal that has been accomplished that particularly stands out to Kendell is ending discrimination in the law against LGBT parents who are fighting to keep custody of their children.
She explains, “it used to be that if you were gay or lesbian, and certainly if you were trans or bisexual, you would lose custody of your kids. Many LGBT people my age married somebody of the opposite sex, which was obviously a mistake for everybody. And then those marriages end in divorce, which they almost always do, and there would be a custody battle and the sexual orientation of the parent would be used against them.”
She continues, “It was the case in this country that you just flat out lost custody of your kid based only on your sexual orientation. And we’ve changed that. It is no longer the case that sexual orientation alone can be an appropriate basis for losing custody of your children.”
In addition, the NCLR has also recently been fighting to ban conversion therapy, which is a form of therapy intended to change sexual orientation of an individual.
Recently, a ban has been passed in California preventing licensed therapists from practicing conversion therapy under the law. A similar case was won in New Jersey as well.
The NCLR has also been working towards gaining rights for LGBT immigrants seeking asylum, individuals who face persecution in their home countries and come to the United States looking for safety, along with fighting for LGBT youth, particularly those in the juvenile or foster care system.
Despite all the progress that has been made, Kendell emphasizes, “But we’re not done yet. This country is still way too homophobic, way too racist, way too misogynist. The poor are still vulnerable by almost every measure.”
She tells the LWHS community, “That is your future fight. Your future work will be to really have justice be meaningful to people who continue to be vulnerable based on who they are. And that will be your generation’s legacy, is that you will make efforts in eliminating racism and misogyny to make sure that everyone feels valued for who they are.”
She continues, “anyone can be a part of a civil rights struggle. The key is to show up in any way you can. Whether it’s volunteering, internships, being active on social media, writing blogs, being a part of rallies or actions—it all matters.”