Helping change begin at home

Posted on 16 Jun 2011 at 7:31pm
CREATING CHANGE | While in Dallas to meet with supporters, NGLTF Deputy Executive Director Darlene Nipper discussed the Task’s Force’s work. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

NGLTF staffer says national organization focuses on grassroots to help local activists make change at home and nationally

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Change happens one person at a time, and change begins at home. That’s why the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, even though it is a national organization, focuses on activism at the grassroots level.

NGLTF Deputy Executive Director Darlene Nipper, in Dallas recently to talk with local activists and offer NGLTF’s help, said, “Our approach is working to collaborate and strengthen the grass roots community. We strengthen home communities to advance LGBT rights.”

NGLTF held its annual Creating Change conference in Dallas last year, and over the course of the months spent preparing for the conference, the organization’s staff made friends here.

“We spend time in places where we’ve held conferences,” she said, working to continue developing those relationships.

Nipper congratulated Dallas activists on their recent successes with Dallas County, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board and Dallas Independent School District, and saying NGLTF was available to help as the community continues to move forward.

When NGLTF works with a community, Nipper said, the organization encourages local activists to ask, “What do you need?” and “What do we have?” — and then compare the answers.

The goal, Nipper said, is to build power, to get resources, to fight ballot measures and to pass inclusive legislation and ordinances.

“I’m proud of how we engage with people,” she said.

She called Creating Change the town square of the movement.

“Everyone else, all the groups come [to Creating Change] to strategize,” Nipper said.

She credited the organization’s ability to play that strategic role to NGLTF’s history as the oldest national LGBT organization.

“There’s something about being a little older,” she said — hinting that not only is NGLTF older, but also maybe a little wiser in its approach, although she stressed how well the various LGBT groups work together.

Each of the different advocacy organizations have a role to play, Nipper said, and the Task Force’s niche is grassroots organizing.

“We’re on the ground doing the training and preparing the local folks to do what they need to do to get the local ordinances passed,” Nipper said.

She said that much of the language for local ordinances, especially those that are gender-inclusive, comes from language NGLTF has written. The organization has studied effective anti-bullying legislation and suggests wording to local groups working on the issue.

On the federal level, Nipper said the LGBT community has been very successful recently, noting that, “Monumental change has been going on.”

She pointed to four big pieces of legislation have been, if not passed, at least seriously considered: Defense of Marriage Act repeal, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, repeal of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell policy” and hate crimes legislation, “which we got and never celebrated. I’m not sure what that’s about.”

Nipper said the community has also been very successful in making concrete policy change at the administration level, stuff that can get done without Congress,” on issues ranging from hospital visitation to the census count.

Having LGBT people counted as part of the census might not seem like a huge advance, Nipper said, but it can have a huge impact because being counted includes the LGBT community as part of the fabric of American culture.

“Every dollar in the federal budget begins with the census,” she noted.

Nipper also pointed out that many agencies have begun takings laws and regulations such as the Family Leave Act and applying them to the LGBT community. The State Department expanded regulations relating to diplomats’ families and extended those to cover same-sex partners.

“HUD has changed the definition of family because of the work that we do,” she added, giving credit for much of that change to NGLTF’s New Beginning Initiative.

She explained that the Task Force approached President Obama’s transition team members before he even took office, presenting team members with about 80 regulatory policies the activist thought could be changed by agency heads or the White House.

“The transition team used that as a strategy for changes they could make,” Nipper said “They took it on because it was so clear. It gave us a jump-start.”

Among the issues the Task Force embraced last year at the Creating Change conference in Dallas was benefits equality for the elderly.

“We have a public policy and government affairs office so we have a person working on aging related issues,” Nipper said, adding that inequality in social security benefits and taxes are at the top of the agenda.

Recently, the Task Force has been working with Transportation Security Administration, saying that new security procedures and equipment can create situations where transgenders might be treated with disrespect and even attacked.

Nipper said that the new technology gave NGLTF new opportunities to talk to federal officials to work out new policies that will respect the transgender community.

The list of issues, regulations and policies NGLTF is working on is long.

“We work on education bills,” Nipper said. “We’re working on ENDA.”

More generally, she said that when the new Congress came into office in January, NGLTF strategizes with other groups about how to get any bills passed over the next two years.

“We need to identify who’s on our side. Who’s willing to stand for equality?” she said.

Nipper said means identifying LGBT-friendly Republicans and working with them, as well as identifying Democrats who are not supportive.

“One of the most exciting things we’re working on to compliment the wide array of leadership development is that we’re doing an on line academy,” she said. “People can get training on line.”

The Task Force Academy for Leadership and Action includes tools, resources, a resource library and a component that is interactive and developmental and parts of the program are tailored to the individual.

Nipper said it’s a good way to feel connected between Creating Change conferences.

The next Creating Change conference will be held in Baltimore Jan. 25, which was moved earlier next year to not conflict with the Super Bowl.   •
For more information about the on line academy and NGLTF, visit TheTaskForce.org.

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