NGLTF Policy Institute Launches Family Policy Program

The Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) July 26 announced creation of a Family Policy program to secure inclusive definitions of family in national, state and local policy contexts. The Family Policy Program will engage in research, policy analysis, coalition building, strategy development and collaborative work with a wide range of family-focused organizations to ensure that the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) families are considered and protected.

"We are in the midst of a revolution in family creation within GLBT communities, but ironically, and inaccurately, our movement is characterized as being anti-family," said NGLTF Executive Director Kerry Lobel. "This Program at NGLTF's Policy Institute takes aim at the myths that persist about our families and will formulate a genuinely pro-family public policy agenda from the vantage point of GLBT people's lives."

The Family Policy Program at the Policy Institute is funded by major gifts from several parents, including Seattle City Councilwoman and philanthropist Tina Podlodowski, and California-based donors Jennifer and Kathy Levinson through a gift from the Lesbian Equity Foundation of Silicon Valley.

Urvashi Vaid, director of the Policy Institute announced that nationally renowned lesbian attorney and family advocate, Paula Ettelbrick, has been hired to direct the Family Policy Program. Ettelbrick has worked on local, state and national family policy issues for the past 13 years. She is former legal director of Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, where she developed the group's emphasis on family advocacy and founded the Family Relationships Project. She served as public policy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Since 1994, Ettelbrick has been legislative counsel for the Empire State Pride Agenda, where she is credited with helping win passage of New York City's comprehensive domestic partnership policy and drafting innovative municipal and state pro-GLBT family laws.

Ettelbrick and her partner, Suzanne Goldberg, have a two-year old son and are expecting another child in September. She has taught law for 10 years and currently teaches a course on sexuality and the law at New York University Law School and the University of Michigan Law School. Earlier this year, Ettelbrick served as the National Coordinator of the highly successful "Equality Begins at Home" campaign, sponsored by NGLTF and the Federation of Statewide LGBT Political Organizations, which encompassed 350 rallies and other events in all 50 states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia last March.

Vaid observed that Ettelbrick's expertise will be invaluable to the national GLBT movement's efforts to organize around family issues. She pointed out that as of June of 1999, almost 50 anti-GLBT family bills had been filed in state legislatures throughout the country. "This nationwide mobilization against our families comes directly from the anti-gay religious right and its think tanks," Vaid said. "It is an effective strategy because the GLBT political movement at the state level remains understaffed and underfunded."

The NGLTF Family Policy program will pursue three major objectives: first, to provide the data and arguments that can enable activists to secure inclusive definitions of family in national, state and local policy frameworks and to effectively refute the anti-family policies of the right-wing; second, to actively build an effective and collaborative national pro-GLBT family network among GLBT and mainstream organizations working on family issues; and third, to educate the general public about the value and values of GLBT families.

Ettelbrick will assist NGLTF in articulating a voice in policy debates that have a great impact on GLBT families, including debates on adoption, co-parenting, foster care, alternative insemination and recognition of broader family support networks. In addition, NGLTF will raise GLBT perspectives in debates that have traditionally excluded consideration of GLBT perspectives. Examples include definitions of family in Social Security reform proposals, the Older Americans Act and immigration policy.

Noted Vaid, "A number of legal and advocacy groups do excellent work in the arena of family issues, but no group currently coordinates the efforts of our movement in this area so that collaboratively we can muster the resources we need to change family policy. In addition, there is no national research center for policy development and policy analysis on family issues. With GLBT families facing attack on so many fronts, the need for a coordinated national approach has never been greater."

Announcement of the Family Policy Program is part of a long-term commitment on the part of the NGLTF Policy Institute to GLBT Families. Beginning in the 1980s, NGLTF housed the first national Families Project. Throughout the 1990's, the Task Force worked actively on a number of family issues. Last year, NGLTF organized "Celebrating Our Families," a 15-city national tour to raise the visibility of GLBT family issues and to organize against attacks by right wing groups. In 1999, the Policy Institute published The Domestic Partnership Organizing Manual to help employees and citizens around the country mobilize to obtain important benefits for their families.

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