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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 10, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 23
SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Nat'l Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Darlene Nipper
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Nat'l Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Darlene Nipper

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

'We have a very short window of opportunity,' said National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Deputy Executive Director Darlene Nipper. 'We have to be focused and directed at getting things done - before the president and every agency head focus exclusively on the election.'

Nipper was in Seattle last week to meet with local Task Force board members and supporters.

'We try to develop 'pods' of leaders around the country,' she explained, 'and we talk to them pretty regularly to get an idea of what our community folks are thinking and to let them know what the Task Force is doing.'

While here, Nipper spoke with SGN about the work she believes NGLTF could accomplish before the 2012 election campaign goes into high gear.

'Policy,' she said. 'Of course we want federal legislation, but Congress - I don't need to say any more. & We've been able to achieve very important advances in policy - on family medical leave, on hospital visitation, counting our families in the census - and we can do more on that front.'

'Right now we're working piecemeal,' she continued. 'Community by community. Labor contract by labor contract. There's enormous discrimination, but people have an uneven experience of discrimination.'

'Corporations often lead government in adopting policies to deal with it,' she added.

By 'policy,' Nipper means the complex web of administrative procedures and guidelines that determine how LGBT people are treated by government agencies and private employers.

'The reality is, it's about day-to-day life and how we experience our day-to-day life,' she insisted. 'We're still in that place - we haven't really made it beyond - there's still bullying, there's still discrimination. But we're seeing improvements.'

'More in urban areas than in rural - or in the South,' interjected NGLTF staffer Cynde Horne, who was sitting in on the interview.

'That's why federal policy is so important,' Nipper replied. 'There's not a place in this country the federal government doesn't reach. The South - there's so much more work to do.'

'The tools can't just be based in policy,' she added. 'You also have to change hearts and minds, and you have to change the structures of society.'

But, Nipper said, changes in administrative policy can be 'a vehicle for changing people's hearts and minds' and overcoming anti-LGBT bias.

'Policy puts the emphasis in a different place,' Nipper told SGN. 'It's no longer about me personally. It's about the other person's job and role. That's something that's meaningful to them. If their role is to enforce my union contract, let's say, they want to do a good job of that no matter what they think of me.

'In a way, you can take people's beliefs out of it. People say, 'Policy is related to my job, and in my job, this is how I have to behave.'

Nipper added that as LGBT people come forward to demand that their needs be met by policy makers and administrators, those people will also become more familiar with the LGBT community.

'It's all about direct and personal communication with people. Without the law, without the policies, there's no common experience, because the law, the policies, are something to build common experience on.'

'None of us is just Lesbian, or just Gay, or just Trans,' Nipper continued. 'We're whole people. And when we meet other people at that level there's a real opportunity to connect.'

Nevertheless, 'It's a complex dynamic,' she warned.

'You want and need to have direct and personal communication. But once you express, you have to live with the consequences. For some people it's just not safe to be out.'

Referring to NGLTF's groundbreaking new study of pervasive discrimination against Transgender people, 'Injustice At Every Turn,' Nipper said that the report shows 'why we fight for federal policies.'

'It's such a rich report. It's astounding how much you could see - all the intersections of discrimination and oppression,' Nipper said.

As an African American, Nipper found the data on race 'particularly fascinating.'

'For African American [Trans people] in every area of discussion, they experience more discrimination. Intense discrimination,' Nipper pointed out. 'There's not one data point where that's not true.'

Nipper recalled that as a girl, she spent summers with her grandmother in Anacostia, a neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

'In those days, it was the most notorious neighborhood,' she remembered. 'There was high crime, there was violence. You'd think it would be horrible [for LGBT people]. But it wasn't that way at all.

'There was a sense of insularity. A sense of community of that place - and the place stretches to contain everything that comes out of it.'

'My sister - she still calls herself a Lesbian, but I've always seen her as gender nonconforming - my sister never played with dolls when she was little. My uncle used to call her 'Rock.' And no one ever told her, 'Play with dolls, don't be Rock.'

'I threw my dolls to the dog,' Nipper concluded with a laugh.

Asked to grade President Obama, Nipper shot back, 'No grade.'

'In many ways,' she said, 'this president is the most LGBT-supportive in history. And we say, 'Yeah, but can't we do more?'

'The president has been his own worst enemy because he came into office on a note of very high expectations. We all expected him to do so much. He talked about doing so much. And we started so far behind the starting line - after the previous administration - for us even to get even there would have had to be such an acceleration in social policy.'

'He said to me once - I don't remember the exact circumstances, but it was during the health care debate - he said, 'Everybody wants it now.' And that's his problem&.'

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