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National Center for Lesbian Rights  
 
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In 1980, Denise Kreps, despite scoring exceptionally high marks on qualifying exams, was denied a job as Deputy Sheriff in Contra Costa County, California because she was a lesbian. She sued and won, thus becoming one of the first openly gay law enforcement officers in the United States. In April 1986, Becky Smith and Annie Afflect became one of the first lesbian couples in the United States to be awarded joint custody of a child.

The organization that won these legal victories was the Lesbian Rights Project founded by Roberta Achtenberg and Donna Hitchens in 1977.

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Origins

Both founders were young, politically savvy attorneys acutely aware of the disadvantages glbtq people face on a variety of legal fronts, ranging from employment discrimination and adoption issues to inheritance and visitation rights.

With a $10,000 grant to Hitchens from the Berkeley Law Foundation to provide legal assistance to low-income lesbians when their sexual orientation presented a significant legal issue, the Lesbian Rights Project became the first public interest law firm to focus exclusively on the legal problems faced by lesbians.

In its first three years the organization concentrated on problems encountered by lesbian mothers in California. Since 1980, it has expanded its interests to include legal issues faced by glbtq people generally and across the country.

The two founders, who were also the first lawyers working with the Lesbian Rights Project, are no longer actively involved in the day-to-day activities of the NCLR, but their influence continues to be felt by the organization.

Achtenberg was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1989; and in 1993, when she was appointed Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development by President Clinton, became the first openly gay person to be confirmed by the United States Senate for a major political post.

Hitchens, who was elected to a San Francisco Superior Court judgeship in 1990, knew first-hand the difficulties faced by lesbians in family court when she and her partner faced frustration in their (ultimately successful) attempt to adopt jointly their two daughters. Since her election to the bench, Hitchens has served as Presiding Judge for the Superior Court of San Francisco County and as Supervising Judge of the Unified Family Court.

NCLR Today

Renamed the National Center for Lesbian Rights in 1989, the organization now defines itself as a non-profit public interest law firm "committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education."

NCLR provides free legal assistance to more than 5,000 glbtq people and their families in all 50 states each year. The organization addresses the full range of legal issues that affect the glbtq communities, especially in such areas as employment discrimination, elder law, immigration issues, relationship recognition, transgender law, and families and parenting.

NCLR's national office is located in San Francisco. The organization maintains regional offices in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and St. Petersburg, Florida. With a staff of 27, it had a budget in 2008 of more than $3,000,000.

In 1994, Kate Kendall joined NCLR as Legal Director; in 1998, she became Executive Director. Kendall came to NCLR from her position as a staff attorney for the ACLU of Utah, where she litigated a variety of high profile cases. At NCLR, Kendall has propelled the organization into a nationally recognized leader in protecting and expanding glbtq rights through legal action. Articulate and warm, she has emerged as an effective spokesperson for the glbtq political and legal movement. She lobbies tirelessly on behalf of equal rights and is frequently quoted in major media across the country.

Legal director of NCLR is Shannon Price Minter, who joined the organization in 1993 as a recent graduate of Cornell University Law School. As an intern, Minter helped spearhead a legal aid program for young people who had been forcibly hospitalized for psychological treatment to change their gender identity, an issue of particular interest for Minter, who attended Cornell as a woman but subsequently transitioned to become a man. Moreover, as Minter recalled in an interview with Washington, D. C.'s MetroWeekly, in high school when she identified as a lesbian she was terrified that her parents would put her in a psychiatric hospital.

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