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SAN FRANCISCO — More than 1,500 people honored seven heroes in the movement for LGBT equality on Saturday night at the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ 35th anniversary celebration.
The sell-out event — held at the City View at Metreon — is often called the party of the year, celebrating the strides made in the LGBT movement and recognizing the trailblazers who have stood up for equality, becoming role models for millions of people in the process.
"This year is especially significant, as NCLR celebrates turning 35 years old — an opportunity for us to look back on our history-making cases, while recognizing those who continue to speak out against injustice and are helping change the legal landscape for every member of our community," NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell said. "The seven people we recognized this year truly embody what it is to be a hero, and we are honored to stand beside them in the march toward equality."
NCLR honored "Glee" star Jane Lynch with the Vanguard Award for using her fame as a platform to further LGBT equality, and for being an outspoken advocate for creating safer, welcoming schools for LGBT children. Lynch has lived an authentic life as an out lesbian while simultaneously achieving great success and visibility in television and film. Her authenticity and integrity are blazing a path not just for the artists who follow in her footsteps, but for young people everywhere who look up to her.
"I am honored and proud to be recognized by NCLR, which has given LGBT people and their families hope through its tireless work to gain dignity, respect, and, above all else, equality for all," Lynch said. "I love the selflessness and generosity of the organization, which stepped up and successfully represented my wife in her custody battle. I feel like I should be honoring them."
NCLR also presented the Courage Award to its six young clients — Brittany Geldert, Damian McGee-Backes, Dylon Frei, Ebonie Richardson, Kyle Rooker and Kyrstin Schuette — who last year filed a federal sexual-orientation and gender discrimination lawsuit against Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District, challenging a policy that prevented staff from protecting them from anti-LGBT bullying. After months of discussions, on March 5, 2012, Anoka-Hennepin leaders agreed to major new protections to prevent harassment of students who are or are perceived to be LGBT and gender non-conforming, as well as those who have friends or parents who are LGBT.
"This is a very special day for us," Dylon Frei said. "It wasn’t too long ago that I was extremely unhappy, and decided to be home-schooled rather than face constant taunts from classmates. But it was through the lawsuit that I really found myself — someone who is young, someone who is proud to be out, and someone who is unafraid to speak up. I learned that one voice is enough to create change, and six voices can make a lasting impact that will benefit thousands of other students now and in the future."
Out gay actor Wilson Cruz, known for roles in television’s "My So-Called Life" and his fierce advocacy for LGBT youth, presented the Courage Award to the Anoka-Hennepin student plaintiffs.
Founded in 1977, NCLR is a national legal organization devoted to advancing LGBT justice and equality through litigation, public policy, and public education. Since its start, NCLR — which helps more than 5,000 people each year — has embraced every aspect of the diverse LGBT community through its work, recognizing that LGBT people and our families and communities come from many different backgrounds and face a wide range of issues.