Paula Ettlebrick, former Lambda Legal legal director and International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission executive director passed away at the age of 56 today. Ettelbrick held the top spot at IGLHRC from 2003-2009 and helped build the organization into a visible force around the world.
In July Ettlebrick had been named Executive Director of the New York based Stonewall Community Foundation, which funds grants to LGBT community organizations. She stepped down a month later due to an ongoing battle with cancer.
In addition to her work at Lambda Legal, IGLHRC and Stonewall Community Foundation, Ettelbrick had also served as policy director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Legislative Counsel at Empire State Pride Agenda.
“While Legislative Counsel for the Empire State Pride Agenda she negotiated New York City’s landmark 1997 domestic partnership law with then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani,” said former Empire State Pride Agenda executive director, Matt Foreman. “At the time, it was the nation’s most comprehensive measure in this area, extending to domestic partners all the same rights and benefits offered to spouses under City law.”
Ettlebrick is remembered by many as an important force behind the scenes in many of the LGBT rights movement’s most visible institutions.
“Paula’s extraordinary service to the movement included senior-level posts at Lambda Legal, NCLR, the Task Force Policy Institute, the Empire State Pride Agenda, IGLHRC and Stonewall Community Foundation,” said Andrew Lane, Executive Director of the Johnson Family Foundation. “She also taught on sexuality and gender at the undergraduate, graduate and law school levels. Her contributions to law and policy affecting LGBT lives across the past three decades are simply immeasurable.”
Aside from her advocacy work, Ettelbrick lectured on Sexuality and the Law at New York University Law School as an adjunct professor, and served as lecturer in the Women’s Studies Department of Barnard College, according to the Stonewall Community Foundation.
Ettelbrick was also the mother of three, and served as Family Policy Director at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Policy Institute.
“Paula was possessed of singular intelligence, integrity, ferocity and wit,” said Kate Kendall, Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “She was also unfailingly generous and open-hearted. She will be missed as a tireless advocate of the most disenfranchised. But at this moment what I miss most is her passionate and inspiring friendship. We wish her family, especially Marianne, Suzanne, Adam, and Julia, much love and comfort at this very difficult time.”
Lambda Legal released the following about their former legal director:
Lambda Legal Mourns the Passing of Former Legal Director, Paula Ettelbrick(New York, October 7, 2011) – Paula Ettelbrick, former Legal Director at Lambda Legal and lifelong activist for LGBT equality and social justice, died today, after a long battle with cancer. Ettelbrick was the first staff attorney at Lambda Legal in 1986 and served as its Legal Director from 1988 to 1993.
Kevin Cathcart, Lambda Legal’s Executive Director, issued the following statement:
“We mourn the loss of one of the pioneers of our movement for equality under the law and a woman who never stopped fighting for social justice. When Paula Ettelbrick came to Lambda Legal twenty-five years ago to fight for the rights of gay men and lesbians, it took not only vision and a passion for justice – it also took courage to stand up in court and in the public eye during that earlier time in our history. Paula was fearless.
“She was among a generation of lawyers, feminists and activists that helped to shape our movement. At Lambda Legal, she fought for the rights of lesbian and gay parents and lesbian and gay students, and helped to shape the strategy that eventually overturned sodomy laws. She continued working for LGBT equality and social justice, serving in many leadership positions after she left Lambda Legal.
“Our thoughts and condolences are with her family and loved ones. We have lost a leader, colleague and friend. We will honor her memory by continuing to work for equality.”
Stonewall Community Foundation released the following statement:
Stonewall Community Foundation Remembers
Paula Louise Ettelbrick
Paula Ettelbrick, a pioneering LGBTQ rights crusader and immediate past Executive Director of the Stonewall Community Foundation, died this morning, Friday, October 7, 2011 surrounded by friends and family after a heroic battle with ovarian cancer.
As a lifelong advocate for LGBTQ people across the globe, Paula will always be remembered for her leadership roles at Lambda Legal, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the Stonewall Community Foundation.
Paula, Stonewall’s first female Executive Director, launched Out In Front New York, a comprehensive training initiative for LGBTQ non-profit leaders and board members, and laid the groundwork for the Foundation’s newest giving circle, Stonewall Professional Alliance, a program which combines monthly giving with community service. Paula championed expanding programming and reaffirming the role of the Stonewall Community Foundation as a thought leader for New York City’s LGBTQ community. In the words of Matthew Ryan, Stonewall Community Foundation President of the Board of Directors, “Paula Ettlebrick has been a champion for our community for decades. Stonewall benefitted tremendously over the past year from her historic perspective and her unique talent in bringing people together. Both the Stonewall membership and the New York City LGBTQ organizations that Stonewall supports offer our deepest condolences to her family and friends.”
Paula spent her life working to address the critical issues facing the LGBTQ community. From 1986 through 1993, Paula was an early staff attorney and Legal Director at Lambda Legal. Paula’s leadership in working to reform family policy law led to significant strides for LGBTQ families across the country and helped make Lambda Legal the nation’s leading LGBTQ legal advocacy group. After Lambda Legal, Paula held positions at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Empire State Pride Agenda and the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force. At the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Paula served as Executive Director from 2003 to 2009 and challenged human rights abuses and discrimination worldwide. Paula taught courses on the law and sexuality at Barnard, Columbia Law School, the University of Michigan Law School, New York University School of Law and Wayne State University. As a professor and widely cited author, Paula’s significant contribution to feminist and queer academia promises to continue inspiring students for generations to come.
In late August, Paula announced she’d be stepping down from her post as Executive Director at Stonewall due to her ongoing battle with cancer. In the words of Interim Executive Director, Richard Burns, “There are countless LGBTQ citizens around the world whose lives are better today because of Paula. Paula was a passionate and powerful advocate for all LGBTQ New Yorkers and a true friend. At Stonewall, we’re grateful for all she did for the foundation and we’ll miss her greatly.”
A memorial service will be announced at a later date.
Two anti-LGBTQ bills die in Va. Senate
Democrats maintain 21-19 majority in chamber
Two anti-LGBTQ bills died in the Virginia Senate on Thursday.
A Senate Education subcommittee voted against state Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell County)’s Senate Bill 20, which would have eliminated the requirement that school districts must implement the Virginia Department of Education’s transgender and non-binary student guidelines.
The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee in an 8-7 vote tabled state Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)’s Senate Bill 177, a religious freedom measure that critics contend would have allowed anti-LGBTQ discrimination in housing.
Virginia’s statewide nondiscrimination law includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Peake’s bill would have removed “the provision of the exemption for religious organizations under the Virginia Fair Housing Law that denies such exemption where the membership in such religion is restricted on account of race, color, national origin, sex, elderliness, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, military status, or disability.”
The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the House of Delegates. Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office three days later.
Democrats, who maintain a 21-19 majority in the state Senate, have vowed to block any anti-LGBTQ bill.
Department of Education investigating BYU LGBTQ+ discipline policy
“They’ve wronged marginalized communities at BYU and they need to be held accountable for it” ~ former gay student at BYU
PROVO, Ut. – The U.S. Department of Education has opened an investigation into policies at Brigham Young University (BYU) that discipline LGBTQ students, aiming to determine whether or not the private religious school, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), is violating their civil rights.
The Education Department is investigating a complaint that came after BYU removed rules banning “homosexual activity” from its honor code in 2020, only to clarify weeks later that same-sex partnerships were still prohibited.
The probe, which opened in October of last year, will focus on Title IX, a law prohibiting universities from discriminating against students and others based on gender.
Last year, President Joe Biden signed an executive order mandating every federal agency, including the Education Department, clarify that civil rights laws protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. However, religious schools have Title IX exemptions, making federal scrutiny rare.
“It’s really significant that investigators are stepping in now,” Michael Austin, a BYU alumnus and vice president at the University of Evansville, told the Salt Lake Tribune. “It means there’s some reason to think the university has gone beyond the religious exemptions it has and is discriminating even beyond those.”
The investigation, headed by the Office of Civil Rights within the department, seems to be about whether faith-based exemptions apply even if the behavior is not directly related to education or expressly written in the honor code. BYU also bans alcohol, beards and piercings, among other things.
BYU did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment. But a spokesperson told the Associated Press that the school does not anticipate any further action because “BYU is exempt from application of Title IX rules that conflict with the religious tenets” of the LDS.
Though the LDS has softened some of its rules around LGBTQ issues, the church remains opposed to same-sex marriage and sex outside of marriage.
In a November 2021 letter to the Education Department, Kevin Worthen, president of BYU, argued that religious exemptions do apply to the school. The letter adds that all BYU students, faculty, administrators and staff “‘voluntarily commit to conduct their lives in accordance with the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.’”
The Department of Education responded to the letter, affirming that the university has some religious exemptions, but the department had to investigate if the complaint falls under those exemptions.
An Education Department spokesperson confirmed the investigation to the Blade but declined further comment.
Queer students at BYU celebrated the school’s removal of the anti-LGBTQ language in the honor code. Yet, the university announced weeks later that there was “some miscommunication” as to what the changes meant, clarifying that “the principles of the Honor Code remain the same.”
Bradley Talbot, a former gay student at BYU, was on campus during the apparent reversal, saying it “instilled a lot of fear and a lot of students.”
“There are still a lot of feelings of betrayal and apprehension around it,” he told the Blade.
At BYU, students who hold hands or kiss someone of the same sex can face punishment, including expulsion. LGBTQ+ students face harsher discipline than heterosexual couples at the school.
Talbot said he knew of “quite a few people” who lost their degrees and were kicked out during his time at BYU because of the gay dating ban. “People were turned in by roommates. Some people were turned in by their own parents,” he added.
The university’s clarification frustrated LGBTQ students, according to Talbot. In response, he organized a demonstration in March of 2021, lighting the “Y” that sits above BYU’s campus – one of the school’s oldest traditions – in rainbow Pride colors on the one year anniversary of the university’s letter sent to students that clarified the LGBTQ dating policy.
“We did it to reclaim that traumatic day and spin in a positive light of support, love and unity to create more visibility and awareness,” said Talbot. “And also to take a stand that we weren’t going to put up with just being tossed around by BYU. We deserve to be a part of the BYU community and a part of the LGBTQ community.”
The school has since updated its policies, banning protests and other demonstrations on Y Mountain, where Talbot staged his demonstration, in December of last year.
“Demonstrations should be consistent with BYU’s faith-based mission, intellectual environment and requirements described in the policy,” a statement added.
Still, Talbot, who is now graduated, has hope that the Education Department’s investigation will “finally change” things at BYU. “This has been something that’s been going on for decades,” he said. “They’ve wronged marginalized communities at BYU and they need to be held accountable for it.”
LGBTQ advocates fight on for trans athletes, but they may be losing the battle
Transgender women competing in women’s sports remains unpopular in polls
In the wake of the NCAA changing its policies regarding transgender athletes and state legislatures advancing new legislation against trans inclusion in school sports, LGBTQ advocates continue the fight to ensure athletes can compete consistent with their gender identity, although they may be losing the battle.
As public polling has demonstrated, transgender athletes competing in sports — especially trans women in women’s sports — remains unpopular even among pro-transgender people. Key figures have emerged in recent days opposing transgender inclusion amid the focus on Lia Thomas, a recently transitioned swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania who has been smashing records in women’s aquatics.
Nonetheless, LGBTQ advocates charged with fighting for transgender rights are continuing the efforts. After a coalition of LGBTQ advocates sent a letter to the NCAA urging the organization to include a non-discrimination provision in its updated constitution, the Human Rights Campaign condemned the organization for refusing to keep the language, which appears to have the effect of allowing the sports division to decline to allow transgender athletes to compete consistent with their gender identity, and sent an action alert to supporters.
Joni Madison, interim president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement the NCAA “needs to show us their playbook for protecting LGBTQ+ and specifically transgender athletes from discrimination” as state legislatures advance legislation against transgender kids in sports.
“The NCAA has so far proven to be an unreliable ally to LGBTQ+ athletes across the country who depend upon the organization to protect them from discrimination and now they owe these athletes answers,” Madison said.
Instead of reaffirming non-discrimination protections, the NCAA announced a change in policy that goes in different directions but appears aimed at limiting participation of transgender women without taking full responsibility for it. On one hand, the NCAA delegates to the bodies governing individual sports the policies for transgender participation, but on the other hand requires transgender women to document having limited testosterone levels over a certain period of time.
The fight now continues in state legislatures as sports bills are among the latest crop of measures seeking to limit access for transgender people. After South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem made a push for legislation against transgender kids in sports at the start of the year, the state legislature responded by advancing such a measure. On Wednesday, a South Dakota House committee favorably reported out legislation already approved by wide margins in the Senate that would make biological sex the standard for sports in an attempt to limit transgender participation.
Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, said in a statement upon the committee vote the legislation “has nothing to do with fairness — and everything to do with South Dakota politicians using transgender youth as pawns on a political chessboard.
“Proponents of this blanket ban are hard-pressed to find examples of transgender students making South Dakota sports less fair or safe,” Ames said. “Research from The Trevor Project makes clear that many already opt out of sports due to fear of bullying and discrimination.”
Although the issue of transgender women in sports has emerged in recent years as conservative activists found a way to challenge LGBTQ rights in a way that was palatable to the public, the fervor peaked as Thomas made headlines for breaking records in the pool.
After having previously competed in men’s aquatics, Thomas — after she transitioned — began competing in women’s events and was beating her competitors by wide margins. In one event in December, Thomas came in first in the 1,650-yard freestyle and 38 seconds ahead of her closest competitor. The NCAA rules would appear to have the effect of barring Thomas from further competition.
Public polling, which has shown strong support for LGBTQ rights in general, continues to show the sentiment is against transgender women competing in sports, although the outcome of the poll can change considerably depending on the wording of the question. One Gallup poll last year found only 34 percent of those surveyed supported transgender athletes participating on teams consistent with their gender identity, while 62 percent said transgender people should have to compete with other athletes of their gender designated at birth.
One LGBTQ strategist, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said the time may have come for LGBTQ advocates to admit a fait accompli if they want to seek broader civil rights protections in employment, housing and public accommodations with the Equality Act or other federal legislation.
“Advocates should just admit this is a very different issue than a trans person applying for a job or finding an apartment,” the strategist said. “Equality principles differ by situation — that’s why we have separate men’s and women’s sports in the first place. The same public opinion overwhelmingly supportive of the Equality Act is also clearly skeptical of a one size fits all federalization of all sports everywhere.”
Adding fuel to the fire are recent comments from key figures in athletics.
Caitlyn Jenner, who before she transitioned was an Olympic champion in the 1970s, has been among the more prominent voices to speak out against transgender women in sports and said on a recent appearance on Fox News it represents “a woke world gone wild.”
Jenner, who came out against transgender participation in sports during her unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign last year in the California recall election, said the NCAA “just kicked the can down the road” on the transgender sports issue and had choice words for Thomas.
“When you do transition and you do go through this, you have to take responsibility and you have to have integrity,” Jenner said. “I don’t know why she’s doing this.”
Michael Phelps, the decorated Olympic swimmer, also declined to support transgender athletes fully when asked about the issue during an interview on CNN, bringing up doping in sports in comparison.
“I don’t know what it looks like in the future,” Phelps said. “It’s hard. It’s very complicated and this is my sport, this has been my sport my whole entire career, and honestly the one thing I would love is everybody being able to compete on an even playing field.”
To be sure, advocates for allowing transgender people to compete in sports consistent with their gender identity also have their supporters in the sports world, including tennis legend Billie Jean King. On Monday, Dorian Rhea Debussy, who’s non-binary and one of 54 facilitators in the NCAA Division III LGBTQ OneTeam program, resigned in protest over recent NCAA actions.
“I’m deeply troubled by what appears to be a devolving level of active, effective, committed, and equitable support for gender diverse student-athletes within the NCAA’s leadership,” Debussy said. “As a non-binary, trans-feminine person, I can no longer, in good conscience, maintain my affiliation with the NCAA.”
Arguably, schools complying with the new NCAA policy and states enacting anti-transgender laws would be violating Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County finding anti-transgender discrimination is a form of sex discrimination.
One federal court last year blocked a West Virginia state law against transgender participation in sports on that legal basis. No litigation, however, appears to be in the works at this time challenging colleges or the NCAA policy.
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