May 042012
Jewelle Gomez & Karen Williams

What’s the ultimate challenge for a newspaper publisher? Getting TWO busy activists to write an article together on a deadline. Well, that’s the task that was requested for this special insert to celebrate NCLR’s 30+ birthday, and who better to meet the challenge than San Francisco’s favorite author, poet, and playwright Jewelle Gomez and famous celesbian comic Karen Williams, who began performing comedy in the Bay Area in the early eighties.

Well, even publisher’s dreams come true, even if the format is Q&A. Enjoy!
What does NCLR mean to you?

Jewelle: NCLR is a fabulous example of lesbian feminism at work. Thirty five years ago, some lesbians decided they would not stand for accepting the short end of the legal stick any more. Pooling their resources and their smarts, they created one of the most dynamic, successful and revered organizations in our community.

Lesbians know how to create institutions out of our activist impulses, and how to make the advances we produce for ourselves benefit the entire queer community.

Karen: I remember having a legal problem on a job years ago that reeked of sexual harassment and I wasn’t sure where to turn. I called NCLR to get some advice. Like many people, I was afraid of “legalese,” but I found the staff at NCLR to be patient and knowledgeable.

NCLR is a vital community organization whose reputation is far-reaching. No organization that I know of supports the legal rights of lesbians like NCLR.
When did you start your relationship with the organization?

Jewelle: My spouse, Diane Sabin, was co-chair of the NCLR board twenty years ago and she asked me (before we were partners) to be part of a benefit for the organization. At the time I still lived in New York, so I was just learning about NCLR. Her enthusiasm led me to learn more.

I came to understand that any human rights movement needs a legal strategy for some issues as a crucial part of the work.

Karen: I really don’t remember the first NCLR event I attended. I’ve been aware of the organization for many years and have had the opportunity to work with them as well. I’m always impressed with their legal victories and the lives they’ve touched.
What services does NCLR offer that make it a unique organization?

Jewelle: I won’t talk about the services since they’re on the website ( But what is really unique about NCLR is the passion and personal investment that the staff brings to their clients. It’s about being part of a human rights movement and that is inspiring for those who find themselves on the legal front lines. It’s not about a case; it’s about people’s lives, and NCLR meets them where their human needs are.

Karen: I agree with Jewelle. When I think of NCLR, I see warm, friendly, compassionate faces and hearts infused with a commitment to justice. That’s powerful!
We can’t talk about NCLR without mentioning Kate Kendell! Tell us a little about your relationship with Kate.

Jewelle: Kate has been a family friend since Diane and I got together twenty years ago. I interviewed her for an article for Ms. Magazine about marriage equality. Kate knew that as a feminist, I have political issues with the institution of marriage. When NCLR started to pull together the suit against the State of California, she knew Diane and I had not gotten married so she took the chance to ask us to be litigants.

Kate knew that we believe in full human rights, no matter what our more complex questions are about the specific institution. I love the irony of the situation, and that Kate knew the depth of our political beliefs.

Karen: I knew Kate’s partner, Sandy Holmes, before I met Kate. Sandy and I were good friends of another amazing activist, Margaret Sloan Hunter. I love Sandy and Kate as a couple and as a family because I feel that it adds another dimension to their activism. Kate Kendell is charming, intelligent, passionate, committed, filled with energy, and very outspoken. When I’ve met with Kate or lunched with her, I am always impressed by how knowledgeable she is and how much the “personal is political” for her. I believe that NCLR is what it is today because of Kate’s “pull no punches” leadership. We can all learn something from her example.

Also, she knows good comedy when she hears it.
Name three things that you want everyone to know about NCLR

Jewelle: NCLR is the product of the persistence and ingenuity of lesbian feminism. It has worked cases of all types with clients from all of of the initials. Kate is smart, good-looking and political. What else do we need to know?

Karen: Ditto!

Jewelle Gomez & Karen Williams