A Case Study
For more than 45 years, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) has pursued justice, fairness, and legal protections for LGBTQ people and their families. NCLR is a nonprofit, public-interest law firm that litigates precedent-setting cases, from its early days securing lesbians’ parental rights to advocating and protecting the entire LGBTQ community. From the beginning, NCLR has tackled tough policy issues, including through legislation, policy advocacy, and public education.
“For the last several years, we’ve seen record numbers of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislatures across the U.S. in a blatant attempt to harm and marginalize LGBTQ people,” said Imani Rupert-Gordon, NCLR’s Executive Director and the first non-lawyer to lead the organization. “The work of the National Center for Lesbian Rights makes the world safer for everyone.”
Attorney Donna Hitchens founded the organization in 1977, recognizing that the needs of lesbians were left out of what was then known as the gay rights movement and were largely missing from the women’s movement as well. “NCLR was created to be intersectional before the term ‘intersectionality’ was coined” said Rupert-Gordon. NCLR also pioneered the first legal programs for LGBTQ youth, elders, sports, and immigration and asylum seekers at a national LGBTQ legal organization.
With 25 staff members, NCLR has grown to be one of the larger LGBTQ legal organizations. Its 2022 revenue was more than $12 million, with slightly more than $6 million coming from donated pro-bono legal services. Philanthropic gifts from foundations and individual donors, many of whom have supported the organization for more than 20 years, comprise the other half of its budget (NCLR does not receive government support). Since Rupert-Gordon joined the organization in 2020, NCLR has gained some new foundation donors. In 2020, MacKenzie Scott made an unrestricted gift of $3 million to the organization—the largest single gift NCLR has ever received. Scott’s support has allowed the organization to strengthen its staffing and significantly expand its public education work.
Reflecting on the organization’s work and the current LGBTQ backlash in many states, Rupert-Gordon said, “LGBTQ people are under attack. The people doing this this work are fighting for their lives, for the lives of their family, and for people they care about. It is an issue of fairness. It’s an issue of equity. We want to live in a world, in a country, where everyone is taken care of, and everyone has a fair shot. And we’re reminded during times like this, this is not true for everyone. That’s why we do what we do.”