NGLTF unveils new approach to LGBT activism

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force recently unveiled a bold new initiative that will strengthen the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movement at local, state and federal levels.

The Legislative Lawyer Project blends the skills of lobbying with the expertise of legal advocacy. This innovation is the latest in a series of steps taken by NGLTF to strengthen the GLBT movement on both the state and federal levels in the wake of Equality Begins at Home, last spring's 50-state campaign.

"The Task Force historically has worked to strengthen state and local GLBT organizing efforts," said NGLTF Political Director Rebecca Isaacs. "The Equality Begins at Home campaign was aimed at elevating state groups to prime-time visibility. The next step in the national campaign for justice is to connect the dots between the state and local levels and the federal level. This requires more effective lobbying and better legal expertise-from Congress to state legislatures to city councils."

Isaacs said successful advocacy for GLBT people requires five strong dimensions: planning and strategic development, comprehensive field organizing and training, message development and dissemination, skilled lobbying, and technical expertise such as drafting legislation that can withstand legal challenge.

The idea of "legislative lawyering," which combines a sophisticated understanding of legislative politics with a rigorous understanding of the law, is the brainchild of Chai Feldblum, professor of law and director of the Federal Legislation Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center. "The world lacks neither lawyers nor lobbyists," explained Feldblum, who serves as consultant to the NGLTF project. "But the world does lack lawyers who understand lobbying, and lobbyists who understand the law. Combine the two and you gain a perspective that will result in better public policy and more effective strategy both in state capitols and in Congress."

NGLTF launched the Legislative Lawyer Project with the help of donor Henry van Ameringen. The H. van Ameringen Foundation is a New York-city based private foundation that has a special concern for the development of effective service models for groups that seem particularly vulnerable and for whom the appropriate intervention can produce critical results.

"The campaign for full GLBT equality must be waged at the local, state and federal levels and it must be waged more effectively," Isaacs said. "The fact is, we often are fighting the very same battles-same-sex marriage, adoption and hate crimes legislation, for instance-at both the state and the federal levels. As we fight these battles, we must make sure that lobbying and legal advocacy fit together like a hand in a glove. With this project, we match the strategic perspective of a lobbyist with the technical expertise of a lawyer with the intention of building a more effective presence in both Washington, D.C. and in the states."

To staff the new initiative, NGLTF has hired a State Legislative Lawyer and a Federal Legislative Lawyer.

Hector Vargas has been hired as State Legislative Lawyer and will provide policy and legal expertise to state and local activists on a wide range of issues including civil rights, family, health and hate crimes laws. Vargas will provide assistance in drafting and analyzing state and local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender-related legislation and ordinances. Vargas previously worked at the American Bar Association's Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities, its civil rights branch, and at the National Association for Public Interest Law, a coalition of public interest-oriented law students. He also worked at the U.S. Department of Commerce, where he helped found the department's Asian Pacific American employee association. Vargas was graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law.

Blake Cornish has been hired as Federal Legislative Lawyer and will advocate NGLTF's positions on issues important to the progressive community and to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people in both Congress and the executive branch. Cornish co-authored a widely cited article for the Columbia Law Review, "A More Perfect Union: A Legal and Social Analysis of Domestic Partnership Ordinances." He has worked to implement domestic partner benefits in two international law firms, and has volunteered with a variety of GLBT and HIV organizations. A litigator for six years, Cornish has represented political refugees, people with AIDS, the homeless, and many others. Blake was graduated from Columbia University Law School.

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