The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) was founded in New York City in 1973 as the National Gay Task Force (NGTF) and quickly became a central force in lesbian and gay movement politics. At a time with vibrant grassroots gay liberation and lesbian feminist activism, the Task Force sought to introduce a vehicle for organizing at the national level. Founding members included Howard Brown, Martin Duberman, Barbara Gittings, Ron Gold, Franklin Kameny, Nathalie Rockhill, and Bruce Voeller. In 1977, the Task Force arranged with President Jimmy Carter's assistant Midge Costanza for an historic first White House meeting with representatives of several gay organizations. From its beginnings, the Task Force defined as its primary goal the creation of a society in which lesbians and gay men could live openly and free from violence, bigotry, and discrimination. Over the last quarter century, NGLTF has lobbied, organized, educated, and demonstrated for full gay and
lesbian civil rights and equality, taking on anti-gay and anti-lesbian forces among medical specialists, employers, the military, and the media. The areas in which the NGLTF concentrated its wide-ranging efforts included the following:
In the early 1970s, the NGLTF staffed educational booths at American Psychiatric Association conventions and took an active role in lobbying the APA to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. In 1978, it urged the U.S. Public Health Service to stop certifying gay immigrants as "psychopathic personalities." Ron Gold played a key role.
Employment and Military Service
In an effort led by board member Frank Kameny to end employment discrimination against lesbians and gay men, the NGTF successfully pushed in 1975 for the U.S. Civil Service Commission to rule that gay people can serve as federal employees. In the late seventies, NGTF staff conducted a survey of corporate hiring policies (called Project Open Employment) to determine whether U.S. employers explicitly barred discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This survey was followed a few years later by another of municipal police departments. These efforts were complemented by a 1985 victory in the U.S. Supreme Court decision of NGTF v. Oklahoma, which overturned a law prohibiting gay teachers from discussing gay rights. In 1988, the NGLTF started the Military Freedom Project to end discrimination against lesbian and gay male members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and it protested the 1993 "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
In the 1970s, the NGTF also began to monitor local, state, and federal battles over gay and lesbian civil rights, developing large clippings files that focused on key issues and individuals. These files include clippings on such adversaries as Anita Bryant, who led the campaign against a pro-gay and lesbian rights bill in Dade County, Florida, as well as then-California governor Ronald Reagan, who had proposed an anti-gay amendment to California's state constitution. These records further recount, among other matters, the Task Force's introduction in 1975 of the first federal lesbian and gay civil rights bill, its 1981 campaign to defeat the anti-gay Family Protection Act, its efforts starting in 1986 with the formation of the Privacy Project to repeal anti-gay sodomy laws, and its support in 1992 of local opposition to anti-gay referenda in Oregon and Colorado.
NGTF women played a critical role in winning support from the mainstream women's movement for lesbian and gay rights. They campaigned successfully for a lesbian rights resolution at the 1975 national convention of the National Organization for Women. In 1977, co-Executive Director Jean O'Leary and women board members obtained endorsement of lesbian and gay rights from the U.S.-sponsored conference for International Women's Year in Houston, Texas. O'Leary was the only openly lesbian delegate on Carter's International Women's Year Commission. At the conference, 130 openly lesbian delegates attended. In 1993, NGLTF enlarged its work on lesbian concerns by coordinating the first congressional briefing on lesbian health issues.
Gays and Lesbians on Television and in the Arts
Recognizing the benign neglect, if not outright threat to gays and lesbians from how they were represented in the arts, the NGTF closely monitored the images of gay men and lesbians within the world of television, stage, and screen. This resulted in the creation of the Gay Media Task Force, which took on as one of its primary missions the lobbying of major television networks to improve their coverage of lesbian and gay issues. In the world of the arts, the Task Force actively opposed the anti-gay restrictions on grants from National Endowment for the Arts proposed in 1990.
Anti-Gay and Lesbian Violence
The Task Force has concentrated on preventing and bringing attention to anti-gay violence over the years. In 1982, it began its Anti-Violence Project, directed by Kevin Thomas Berrill from the project's beginnings until 1994. In its most focused data-gathering effort to date, the NGLTF set up a telephone crisis line designed to provide assistance to people who had been harassed or assaulted, as well as lay the groundwork for a comprehensive study of violence against lesbians and gay men. NGLTF's Anti-Violence Project produced reports that were regularly cited as authoritative on the subject of homophobic violence. In 1987, the Task Force helped secure passage by the U.S. House of Representatives of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, the first federal law to address sexual orientation, which was signed into law in 1990.
The onset of the AIDS epidemic led to an unforeseen array of political struggles in the early and mid-1980s. NGTF responded early in the developing crisis, pushing for a statement on national blood policy in 1983 and obtaining the first federal funding for community-based AIDS education in 1984. NGTF was instrumental in negotiating FDA approval of the first HTLV-III antibody test. It also ensured that the test was to be licensed only to professional physicians and that it was always to be accompanied by an explanation of the limits of its accuracy and usefulness. This push for quality medical care also brought the benefit of doctor-patient privilege, which proved an enormous boon in light of the sudden explosion in AIDS-related discrimination. NGLTF's files on AIDS-related discrimination -- home evictions, school expulsions, and job terminations -- grew with alarming speed in the early years of the epidemic. This wave of discrimination was met by an uncoordinated and
seemingly reluctant response to the epidemic at the federal level. In 1985, NGLTF executive director Virginia Apuzzo would testify before a U.S. Congressional hearing on the abysmal failure of the federal response to AIDS. In 1991, NGLTF staff briefed the Congressional Black Caucus on the issue of AIDS and people of color.
Although the politics of the epidemic absorbed uncounted days and hours of energy at NGTF, the organization continued to grow and change. In 1985, NGTF officially became the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a move that marked both the specificity of lesbian life and politics and the coalition between lesbians and gay men. Although the name change cost NGLTF some gay male members, it sought to rectify matters by publicly stating the hope that gay men and lesbians could work in tandem as independent but related activists. One year later, NGLTF officially moved its offices from New York to Washington, DC, setting itself up more squarely in the midst of a specifically national lesbian and gay politics.
The development of a genuinely national purview at NGLTF involved more than mere relocation. By the mid-1980s it had become normal for NGLTF staff members-especially its executive directors-to spend entire weeks traveling to local lesbian and gay events, lending moral support and the promise of political backing to struggles across the United States. The Task Force helped organize the 1987 and 1993 Marches on Washington to demand lesbian and gay men's rights and worked to increase the visibility and participation of lesbians and gay men in the presidential elections at both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. In 1988, NGLTF held the first Creating Change conference to bring together gay and lesbian activists from around the country. In 1989, NGLTF started publishing campus organizing newsletters and initiated a Lesbian and Gay Families Project to advocate for family diversity and acceptance. In the 1990s, NGLTF continued to offer new networking and
training opportunities to strengthen local lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered activism in each state.
In 1995, NGLTF evolved further and formed the NGLTF Policy Institute, a separate, non-profit organization to serve as a national information clearinghouse and resource center dedicated to educating and organizing around lesbian and gay men's issues. In 1997, NGLTF changed its mission statement to include bisexual and transgendered people and launched the Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Statewide Political Organizations.