The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a radical activist group in the United States working for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered rights, with an emphasis on grassroots community organizing and progressive politics.

According to glbtq.com, an encyclopedia of queer culture, the NGLTF is the "oldest continuously operating national gay and lesbian interest group in the United States." Oldest, in this case, means that it has recently passed its 30th birthday.

What Makes Them Special?

The NGLTF was started in 1973, as the "National Gay Task Force." The current name is hardly more inclusive of queer issues than that, and is typical of such groups; bisexuals and transgendered people are often left out of queer organizations.

This, however, is what sets the NGLTF apart from other national gay groups in the United States. Where many of them include bi and trans people in their names or mission statements and then exclude them in reality, the NGLTF excludes them in their name and includes them in just about every action they perform.

The NGLTF is, by and large, a haven of inclusivity in what can be a very exclusionary movement. Their typical binary opposite is the HRC: a supposedly GLBT organization which began as a campaign fund, still focuses on the issues of the very rich, has never addressed any bisexual issues and only recently hired a transgendered lawyer (Shannon Mintner) to soothe the trans community, and which is so known for being racist that some of the few people of color working for them have quit in disgust.

The unfortunate truth about the queer movement, in fact about many activist movements, in the United States is that too often the people who have the power are the same people who have the power in the outside world. That is, if normally the groups who have the most power (as groups, not necessarily as individuals) are moneyed, straight, white, able-bodied, male, English-speaking, and so on, then the people with the most power in a movement will usually be the ones who fit into the most of those categories. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of self-education to change the basic power structure. Without that effort and that kind of consciousness-raising, even a movement battling racism or homophobia or ableism or classism will duplicate the same power structure that made those things a problem in the first place.

The NGLTF is not perfect, but it is known in the queer community for working hard to change that trend. Instead of limiting themselves to one cause and one audience - "We can't get this bill for gay rights passed with you trans people on it, so you're going to have to wait your turn" - they try to build coalitions with other communities. Along with standard issues like fighting sodomy laws and gaybashing, they have worked with other civil rights groups on issues like abortion rights and the death penalty.

What Exactly Do They Do?

They lobby various branches and levels of government to do better on LGBTQ and other issues. They foster a nonprofit Policy Institute which publishes information on civil rights issues and on different aspects of elections and legislation. They keep track of relevant news stories around the country. They sponsor an annual conference, "Creating Change," which is the largest annual LGBT conference in the world, about which they say that "The primary educational goal of Creating Change is to build an anti-racist LGBT movement that includes and reflects the perspectives, needs and priorities of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender activists of all ages, races, ethnic and language origins, spiritualities and incomes." Currently, they are undertaking a study of sex laws throughout the U.S., "to educate Americans about the prevalence and abuse of antiquated and unjust sex laws in the nation, and to give grassroots activists policy and organizing tools to work to change these laws."

What Else Have They Done?

Here's a rough timeline of some of their accomplishments.

    1975: Convinced the government to allow homosexuals to hold civil service positions, and worked with Bella Abzug to introduce the first gay rights bill.

    1978: Produced the first study of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation in private companies.

    1980s: Produced series of reports on homophobic hate crimes and studied hate crime in general. Also led the national hate crimes coalition.

    1990: With that coalition, got the Hate Crimes Statistics Act passed, which created a legal definition of hate crime and the means to fight it. (See how powerful coalitions are?)

    1991: Began the national campaign against the Cracker Barrel restaurant, bringing its history of discriminatory acts to the country's attention. Produced the incredibly informative "Fight the Right Action Kit," which educated activists on different aspects of the newly powerful right-wing movement and on ways to fight them including "Divisions That Kill," "Organizing Organized Labor," "Working With Communities of Color," "People of Faith Against Bigotry," "Activists' Legal Pointers," and "Media Advocacy Tips." (The Kit is available online; see the References list below for details.)

    1995: Founded the above-mentioned Policy Institute. Hosted the first Progressive People of Color Grassroots Organizers Summit.

    1997: Helped found the Federation of Statewide Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Political Organizations, which subsequently (in 1999) sponsored Equality Begins at Home, a campaign across all state capitals organizing 350 rallies and other events for queer rights.

    2000: Founded the Racial and Economic Justice Program. Coordinated a "Federal Partnerships Day" with the White House to discuss federal funding of GLBT community centers. Meanwhile, the Policy Institute publishes a report on "Issues Affecting Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders" and co-publishes "Transgender Equality: A Handbook for Activists and Policy Makers" with the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

    2001: The NGLTF founds the Legislative Law and Transgender Civil Rights Project. The Policy Institute comes up with "Leaving Our Children Behind: Welfare Reform and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Community;" "Redistricting and the GLBT Community Strategy Memo;" and "Social Discrimination and Health: The Case of Latino Gay Men and HIV Risk" (in both English and Spanish).

    2002: The Policy Institute puts out three more major documents: "2000 Census and Same-Sex Households: A User's Guide," the "Family Policy Manual," and "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud: Black Pride Survey 2000" which they say was "written by five African American researchers and co-published with nine Black Pride organizations, it is the largest-ever survey of Black GLBT people and reveals fascinating data on the demographics, policy priorities, and experiences of discrimination, racism and homophobia."

    2003: The NGLTF goes on a "Legislative Equality Tour," meaning that their Transgender Civil Rights Legislative Lawyer Lisa Mottet meets with 150 activists from seven states in a month. Partly as a result of this, Hawaii gets "gender expression" added to their hate crimes law and the governor of New Mexico signs a hate crimes bill and an anti-discrimination bill into law.

And then some.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is a breath of fresh air: an organization with the skill to make connections between different communities and build coalitions which change everyone's world.

References:

  • The Fight the Right Action Kit:
    http://www.qrd.org/qrd/www/FTR/tblcntnt.html
  • The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force website:
    http://www.ngltf.org
  • GLBTQ.com's article on the NGLTF:
    http://www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/nat_gay_lesbian_tf.html
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