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News Posted on October 9, 2015

Kate Kendell Delivers 2015 Bill Smith Memorial Lecture

Kate Kendell, Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), delivered the 14th Annual Bill Smith Memorial Lecture on October 6, speaking on "Winning Marriage and the Road ahead for the LGBT Community." The event drew a large audience including members of Bill Smith's family to King Hall's Wilkins Moot Courtroom and featured remarks by Dean Kevin R. Johnson, Associate Director of the Immigration Law Clinic Holly Cooper '98, LAMBDA Law Students Association President Abby Mulvihill '16, and 2015 Bill Smith Memorial LGBT Rights/Disability Rights Fellowship recipient Kaly Rule '17.

The Bill Smith Memorial Lecture honors the memory of Bill Smith '98, who died in 2001. While at King Hall, Smith was the president of the Lambda Law Students, won the Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Award, and worked on behalf of LGBT and disability rights.  Upon graduation, he practiced employment and family law. 

"This lecture, which is a student organized event, has become one of the most important events of the King Hall academic year," said Dean Johnson. "We should all thank the students and the entire LAMBDA Law Students Association for putting this together."

Dean Johnson's remarks, as well as Holly Cooper's, included fond reminiscences of Bill Smith as a person and activist. "I knew Bill Smith: he was a positive, sincere, and very, very kind person. He had a zest and enthusiasm for life and a dedication to justice for all," Dean Johnson recalled.

Dean Johnson introduced Kendell, who in addition to being Executive Director of NCLR, was counsel for the plaintiffs in the litigation successfully challenging California's same-sex marriage ban and for plaintiffs challenging similar bans in Alabama, Idaho, Florida, New Mexico, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Kendell's talk focused on the swift progress made in LGBT rights in recent years, including the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which required states to recognize same-sex marriage.  "We now have the freedom to marry nationwide, and that is a sentence I did not think I was going to be able to say any time soon," she said.

Kendell talked about how progress on gay rights was hastened by the "below the waterline" work of activists whose personal advocacy helped to convince even "unlikely allies" that discrimination against LGBT people was unacceptable. She suggested that the same kinds of tactics could be applied to problems like racism and economic inequality and quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. in stating that "Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love."

"That is the secret," said Kendell.  "Implementing justice through power, leavened by love, so that you make sure that the essence of humanity and taking care of people is the core of how you deploy your power."