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NCLR to Honor Black Lives Matter Co-Founders, Ryland Whittington, and Tiara Yates

Guests at NCLR Event

Partygoers at 2013 NCLR event (Photo courtesy of NCLR)

The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) announced it will honor the co-founders of Black Lives Matter for their commitment to justice, a mother who would not sit idly by when her rights as a parent were challenged, and a transgender young boy whose courage has shaped the national conversation around transgender youth at its 2016 Anniversary Celebration on May 7 in San Francisco.

The event recognizes those who have stood up for themselves and our community, becoming role models to millions of people across the country in the process.

Justice Award— Black Lives Matter co-founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Kahn-Cullors, and Opal Tometi
Garza, Kahn-Cullors, and Tometi co-created #BlackLivesMatter and the Black Lives Matter National Network as a call to action following the acquittal of George Zimmerman who brutally murdered 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The Network, which was catalyzed by organizers and activists in Ferguson, MO, spurred a broader movement and promulgated an international conversation about anti-Black racism, American democracy, and the experiences of Black people across the globe.

Black Lives Matter “is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression,” Garza says.

Liberty Award—Tiara Yates and Family
Tiara and Sheena Yates were high school sweethearts. They became civil union partners in New Jersey in 2011 and married three years later. They conceived their youngest child, who is now nearly 3, using a known sperm donor through at-home insemination. Since they were civil union partners when their son was born, they are both listed on his birth certificate.

But they had to fight to both be recognized as legal parents. When their son was about 1, the sperm donor sued them for custody and visitation. The trial court wrongly held that he rather than Tiara was the child’s second legal parent even though he had barely had any contact with the child.

New Jersey generally recognizes a man as a sperm donor only if the sperm is first provided to a doctor. But for many low-income families, like the Yateses, going to a doctor or clinic for inseminations can be too expensive. In March 2016, with the help of NCLR and Lowenstein Sandler, LLP, Tiara and Sheena succeeded in having the sperm donor’s lawsuit dismissed and his paternity order vacated.

Courage Award—Ryland Whittington and Family
NCLR worked closely with Ryland, an 8-year-old transgender boy who won the hearts of millions when his supportive parents, Jeff and Hillary, shared his inspirational journey through a YouTube video that went viral.

When Ryland was about a year old, Jeff and Hillary learned that Ryland had profound hearing loss, and made the decision to obtain cochlear implants for him. As their child grew, they provided him with unconditional love and support, ensuring that Ryland knew he was just like any other child and his hearing did not make him any different. When Ryland began to talk, some of his first words were “I am a boy,” prompting Jeff and Hillary to research the issue. But, like many parents, they realized unconditional love is what their child needed most, providing him with the support he needed to become a happy, healthy, and well-adjusted boy.

The family—who NCLR helped through Ryland’s transition—has since shared their courageous story with millions, including in a new book, in hopes that their story will help other transgender children and their families.

“Our Black Lives Matter honorees have taken risks that have made them pioneers and role models,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “These are visionaries who refuse to accept that systems of oppression cannot be undone. Ryland Whittington and his family have demonstrated an uncommon commitment to living in truth and honoring identity. They have modeled what it means to love unconditionally. Our client, Tiara Yates stood up for her family in a moment of threat. Her courage has created greater security for all our families. We applaud the commitment of our honorees to fulfilling the promise of equality and justice for all members of our community. Their leadership gives us great hope for our future.”

NCLR has been a leader in the movement furthering the civil and human rights of the LGBTQ community since its start in 1977. It was the first organization in the country to launch projects advancing parent, youth, immigrant, and transgender rights, and many others, and fully embraces the diverse needs and intersections that our community faces. It continues to shape the legal landscape for all LGBT people and families across the country through its precedent-setting litigation, legislation, policy, and public education.

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