How HRCF’s work changes institutions, hearts and minds to make daily life more inclusive for the LGBTQ community.
Every year, Pride Month’s rainbow-colored flag displays celebrate the hard-fought freedoms of LGBTQ individuals and create space and awareness for the work that still needs to be done. For the passionate leaders at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, their commitment to advocating for LGBTQ rights is every day, every month of the year.
From electing pro-equality candidates to office and lobbying Congress to pass pro-equality legislation, the Human Rights Campaign is a grassroots political force that works locally, nationally and globally on issues that affect the LGBTQ community. The Foundation touches many of the institutions that can have systematic inequality or cultural barriers—schools, faith communities, corporations, higher education, health care and long-term care.
“The Foundation is about changing hearts and minds by raising up the diverse voices and stories of folks in our community, and engaging all types of organizations and institutions to adopt LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices,” shares Ellen Kahn, (she/her) the Senior Director of Programs and Partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
In the past few years, the Foundation has deepened their focus and commitment on transgender justice, in particular to end the epidemic of violence against trans women of color. We caught up with Ellen to hear more about how these two arms—political and institutional—work together to make daily life more welcoming and inclusive of LGBTQ youth and families.
Ellen Kahn, (she/her) the Senior Director of Programs and Partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
Why is the work that you do for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation personally important to you?
Ellen Kahn: I came out as a lesbian when I was 14 and struggled to find community, to stay healthy, to feel included. While that was a very different time over four decades ago, LGBTQ young people face some of the same challenges today—rejection by family members or peers, fear of not belonging, bullying, internalized shame.
While we have made tremendous progress as a community and acceptance of LGBTQ people is at an all-time high—within the family system, at school, and terms of their own sense of who they are—the struggle remains real for many queer and trans youth. The work I do every day with an incredibly talented and dedicated group of colleagues is moving the needle for all LGBTQ people, including young people, Black and Brown LGBTQ people, and others who have the harder paths toward self-actualization, safety, and acceptance.
You’ve been nationally recognized as an expert on LGBTQ youth and family life. In your experience, how have you seen youth support and family life as critical to a more equitable future?
EK: Children need to feel safe and loved by their parents and other caregivers. A sense of security and belonging is the foundation for how well a child will fare as they make their way through the world. If a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity is a source of stress in the family—if parents are rejecting, if a child lives in fear of coming out or being outed, if they get negative messages about LGBTQ people—that sets them up for a myriad of challenges, including struggles with mental health.
Decades of research makes clear that when LGBTQ youth are affirmed by their families, they do better in all aspects of their lives such as school, peer relationships, physical and mental health, self-esteem. We certainly need to change laws to protect LGBTQ people and create a level landscape and a world of opportunities for LGBTQ youth. At the same time, we need to continue to chip away at stigma. We need to engage parents in being the first and best allies for their LGBTQ kids, and we need to make sure every young person knows that no matter who they love, how they identify or express their gender, they are lovable and they deserve to thrive.
What are the biggest challenges of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s work? What are some of your most recent wins?
EK: Our biggest challenge is that stigma, stereotypes and biases about LGBTQ people still exist. We are in a constant battle to own the narrative about who we are, and to push back against the harmful false narrative being perpetuated by those out to harm us, those who are fearful of change. In addition, we are challenged by the simple fact that there is always more work to do and a greater need for our work than we have capacity to meet.
We are incredibly innovative and effective in how we do our work and we have tremendous expertise across our teams. On a nearly daily basis we can point to progress. For example, just last week the Boys and Girls Clubs of America officially signed on to our Project THRIVE campaign, which aims to promote well-being for LGBTQ youth. Just this week we announced that over 400 of the largest U.S. companies have endorsed the Equality Act—companies from all sectors and industries.
We hear that you love spinning, swimming, and running! Tell us about your favorite places to explore outside and how it makes you feel.
EK: Yes, I am active and I love the great outdoors. When I swim laps outdoors, which I do all year around unless the temperature dips below freezing, I feel as though I am on vacation for the hour or so that I am in the pool. It is an escape from the everyday stressors of life.
My other true love is hiking in our local Rock Creek Park here in the D.C. and Maryland area. I purchased walking sticks at the start of the pandemic, so in addition to the occasional 5K runs, I have added a power hike up and down hills through the more dense part of the park. I love to observe the changes with each season—the falling leaves and bareness of winter, the blooms and bright greens of spring. I feel free, I feel strong, and I feel healthy when I am on those trails.
Supporting hard-fought freedoms, Teva has made a $35,000 donation to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation to help empower the LGBTQ+ community and provide a platform for self-expression. How does our donation further the work of HRCF?
EK: We are so grateful to Teva for the generous support of our work. Your donation will help us advance our work to support LGBTQ youth, to train educators, medical providers, and other professionals on the importance of LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices, and to bring the stories of transgender and non-binary people to new audiences.