The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) announced Monday that it will honor a retired Navy veteran and NCLR client who is fighting to bring LGBT equality to Idaho and the plaintiff couples and legal team in NCLR’s historic Tennessee marriage equality case at its 2015 Anniversary Celebration on May 2, 2015 in San Francisco.
Idaho Navy veteran Madelynn “Lee” Taylor, 74, will be honored with the Courage Award for her work standing up to the state’s discriminatory laws banning marriage equality and calling attention to the need for anti-discrimination laws by taking part in sit-ins at the State Capitol. The Tennessee plaintiff couples and their attorneys will be honored with the Justice Award just days after the U.S. Supreme Court hears the historic case that could decide marriage equality nationwide.
“All of our honorees exemplify the bravery and perseverance of the entire LGBT community and what it has taken us to get to this historic cusp,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “We hope the Anniversary Celebration will leave our supporters inspired and recommitted to our ongoing success, and that it will leave the NCLR board and staff energized for the challenges ahead to bring the full promise of equality to every member of our community.”
The Supreme Court will hear oral argument in NCLR’s Tennessee marriage case and cases from three other states on April 28, 2015 in Washington D.C. In these cases, the Court will have an opportunity to bring an end to the serious harms caused by discriminatory laws that bar same-sex couples from marriage. The Court is expected to issue its decision by the end of June 2015.
The plaintiffs in the Tennessee marriage case who will receive the Justice Award are Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty, Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura, and Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo. The attorney honorees are Abby Rubenfeld, Maureen Holland, and Regina Lambert, and the law firms of Sherrard & Roe PLC and Ropes & Gray LLP.
“We are humbled to be recognized by NCLR and the LGBT community,” said Tanco, who has a one-year-old daughter with Jesty. “We never would have imagined two years ago that we would be part of this moment and we are honored that we are helping advance marriage equality across the country. We are eternally grateful to our attorneys and the staff of NCLR for taking on our case and for all the work they do to bring full equality to every member of our community.”
Courage Award recipient Lee Taylor has always been committed to justice and fighting for others, but her commitment to LGBT equality was ignited after she was discharged from the Navy in 1964 when it was discovered that she was a lesbian. In 2014, with the help of NCLR, Taylor challenged Idaho’s marriage ban after the state-run veterans’ cemetery refused to allow her to be buried with her late wife. Late last year, after NCLR filed her lawsuit, the state reversed course, allowing her wife’s remains to be interred at the veterans’ cemetery, where the couple will be able to rest together.
While it’s getting increasingly difficult for Taylor to get around, she hasn’t slowed down. In March, she took part in a sit-in at the Idaho State Capital to protest lawmakers’ refusal to pass anti-discrimination protections. “Add the 4 Words” protesters blocked all entrances to the bill drafting office of the Idaho Legislature and only allowed entry to legislators who supported adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the state’s Human Rights Act. She was arrested twice as a result.
Founded in 1977, NCLR is devoted to advancing LGBT equality through litigation, legislation, policy, and public education. Since its start, NCLR – which helps more than 5,000 people each year – has embraced every aspect of the diverse LGBT community through its work, recognizing that LGBT people and their families come from many different backgrounds and face a wide range of issues.
The Anniversary Celebration is NCLR’s annual signature event, drawing a sell-out crowd of more than 2,000 people. This year’s event will be held at San Francisco’s Marriott Marquis and the City View at Metreon.
About the Couples
Dr. Valeria Tanco & Dr. Sophy Jesty: Valeria and Sophy met while at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and have been together for four years. As Sophy neared the end of her post-graduate fellowship, Val and Sophy began looking for teaching positions in veterinary medicine that were geographically close to another. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville offered them both positions in their respective specialties. Although the couple had married while living in New York, the State of Tennessee treats them as if they are two unmarried women. They have a one-year-old daughter.
Ijpe DeKoe & Thom Kostura: Ijpe and Thom have known each other since they were teenagers. Ijpe is a Sergeant in the Army Reserves. The couple got married on August 5, 2011, a week before Ijpe began a tour of duty in Afghanistan. In May 2012, Ijpe returned home safely and immediately moved with Thom to Memphis, Tennessee, where he had been stationed prior to his deployment.
Matthew Mansell & Johno Espejo: Matthew and Johno met in 1995 and were married in California in 2008. Matthew is a conflicts analyst at a law firm, and Johno is a stay-at-home dad and works part-time at the local YMCA. The couples moved to Franklin, Tennessee, in 2012 with their two children, who now are eight and six years old.