Our Partners: Imani Rupert-Gordon Leads NCLR into New Era of LGBTQ+ Justice

Stories@Gilead - June 26, 2020

Imani Rupert-Gordon began her new role as the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) just as COVID-19 began to emerge and spread. She quickly recognized that she had urgent challenges to face – prior to stepping foot in the nonprofit’s office.

“The pandemic is hitting the most underrepresented in our community, and so that’s what we’re thinking about,” Rupert-Gordon says. “That’s what we’re always thinking about. We know that when something like this happens, the people who are hurt are the people who are the most vulnerable. We take that seriously.”

NCLR has long been an agent of change for the LGBTQ+ community. Founded in 1977, the organization addresses issues of discrimination and equal rights through litigation, public policy and education. The nonprofit takes the stance that no issue is too large and has fought for reproductive rights, religious inclusion, anti-poverty solutions and support for youth in the justice system.

Many of the issues NCLR has been working on for years have recently stepped to the forefront in the United States and around the world, as racial injustice has taken the main stage following the killing of George Floyd.

“We’re seeing right now what it takes to get to structural change,” she says. “People start in the streets, these issues end up in the courts and then there’s a change to public policy. This is how our history has worked.”

The organization has centered racial justice in its work for decades, addressing issues ranging from economic disparities to police violence. With the recent Black Lives Matter protests carrying forward into Pride Month, NCLR sees a natural unity of the two movements.

“These things are interconnected,” Rupert-Gordon says. “We can’t separate LGBTQ+ equality from racism. When we walk into a room, we take all of our identities with us. When someone starts talking to me as a Black woman, I don’t stop being queer. We cannot get to equality if people are experiencing oppression from all of these other levels.”

The organization’s commitment to intersectional issues means that right now – as the nation faces both a pandemic and a powerful surge of support for civil rights – NCLR is uniquely positioned to help. NCLR is championing the importance of gathering and disseminating data on how communities of color are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and how LGBTQ+ people are faring.

“Data informs policy and policy informs funding,” Rupert-Gordon explains. “If we don’t have data it makes it so that we’re not able to protect our community in all the ways that we would be able to. We’re working with our elected officials to make sure this happens.”

The challenges NCLR takes on aren’t easy; nonprofits across the country are coping with budget concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic. NCLR is one of 270 organizations worldwide that Gilead has funded through its CARES Grantee Fund to help community partners manage through the pandemic and continue critical work. 

Rupert-Gordon says the support has helped enable NCLR to continue working on systemic issues of inequality that affect the most underrepresented LGBTQ+ individuals and their families.

“It’s not only things with ‘LGBTQ+’ in the title that matter to us,” she says, “It’s employment, healthcare and economic justice – it’s the same things impacting everyone else. People who have faced discrimination still want to make this country better and safer. There isn’t anything more beautiful.”