$15M Gift To ACLU By Jon L. Stryker And Slobodan Randjelović Is Largest-Ever Focused On LGBTQ Rights

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JUNE 4, 2019: Slobodan Randjelović, left, and Jon Stryker attend MoMA’s Party … [+]

The American Civil Liberties Union is honoring two of the world’s most iconic gay figures by naming its project working on LGBTQ and HIV issues after philanthropist Jon L. Stryker, president and founder of the Arcus Foundation, and his partner, Slobodan Randjelović, the celebrated architect, designer, and photographer.

According to the ACLU, the launch of the Jon L. Stryker and Slobodan Randjelović LGBTQ & HIV Project is being funded by the couple’s landmark gift of $15 million to the ACLU Foundation. Calling this donation the largest LGBTQ rights-focused gift in its 101-year history, the organization thanked Stryker and Randjelović for their decades of personal support to the ACLU and other LGBTQ rights organizations.

“Jon and Slo have been pioneering supporters for our LGBTQ rights work for years,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero, in a statement. “Alongside scores of funders and organizations as well as millions of activists and everyday LGBTQ people, Jon and Slo helped build the infrastructure that made marriage equality the law of the land, but they also understood that the fight for LGBTQ equality did not end there.”

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Transgender activist Aimee Stephens, sits in her wheelchair outside the US Supreme Court in … [+]

Romero cited the couple’s personal investment in the most significant case for transgender Americans ever argued before the highest court in the land.

“Jon and Slo were in the U.S. Supreme Court when our client Aimee Stephens — who lived in Jon’s home state of Michigan — challenged her firing because she was a trans woman,” he added. That was the project’s most recent case before the justices, serving as counsel for the late plaintiffs Stephens and gay skydiver Don Zarda. Thanks to the ACLU, they posthumously won a historic victory, along with gay plaintiff Gerald Bostock.

“Even after we won, and Donald Trump lost his presidential bid, Jon and Slo understood that there were great challenges ahead,” said Romero.

“LGBTQ rights are literally life-and-death human rights issues,” Stryker said, in the statement from the ACLU. “I’ve learned that in the United States and around the world, many people are still unaware of the discrimination and violence faced by LGBTQ people. We’re talking about ordinary people who are trying to live openly but lack the freedom to do so without facing severe consequences. Some may think the days of people being thrown in jail for being LGBTQ are over in the United States, but particularly for Black and Brown transgender women, that is far from true,” he said.

Both personally and through his foundation, Stryker has funded Montgomery, Ala.’s powerful national memorial to the victims of lynchings and a queer studies program at Atlanta’s Spelman College. In his lifetime, Stryker has already given away $585 million — not including this donation to the ACLU — and according to Forbes, he has a net worth of $4.4 billion.

Stryker’s Arcus Foundation is a private grant-making organization that supports the advancement of LGBTQ human rights around the world, as well as the conservation of great apes. Stryker’s passion for funding LGBTQ causes, he said, is not based solely on his experience as a gay man but also rooted in his belief that everyone should enjoy the right to love who we wish and determine our own path in life.

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 17, 2016: Slobodan Randjelović and John Stryker attend Girls Write Now Awards in … [+]

He and Randjelović married in 2016.

“We believe that viewing the fight for LGBTQ rights as part of broader fights for civil and human rights is the best protection for the LGBTQ community,” said Randjelović in the ACLU statement. “We are thrilled to make this contribution to an organization that has viewed LGBTQ rights through this broader lens for over 100 years.”

The project named for Randjelović and Stryker has been working to protect LGBTQ rights and the rights of Americans with HIV and AIDS since it was formally created in 1986. Its deputy director is attorney Chase Strangio, honored last year by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of 2020. Strangio just happens to be a transgender man.

The ACLU’s advocacy on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, as well as other orientations and expressions of queer identity, actually stretches all the way back to the 1930s.

According to the ACLU, the organization’s very first LGBTQ case involved the First Amendment and the play The Children’s Hour, which was censored because of “lesbian content.” They lost, but the case sparked a public outcry against censorship. In the 90 years since, no other legal organization has appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court to argue cases of LGBTQ rights more than the ACLU.

LONG ISLAND CITY, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 21, 2019: Gavin Grimm attends Out Magazine’s Out100 Event … [+]

These dedicated civil rights attorneys are now gearing up for another battle in a war begun in 2014: A Virginia high school’s seven-year fight to stop a transgender boy — now a 21-year-old man — from using the boys’ bathroom, long after he’s graduated. In 2019, Gavin Grimm won a summary judgment against Gloucester County’s school board in U.S. District Court. Those school leaders now hope the conservative-majority Supreme Court will endorse its bathroom policy, which barred Grimm from the bathroom matching his gender identity, forcing him to use unisex, single-toilet bathrooms rather than go back to the girls’ lavatory.

“Jon and Slo know that the battles for trans justice are more critical than ever,” the ACLU’s Romero added. “The project will ensure that our fight for LGBTQ justice and equality will continue in the years ahead with energy and determination, as well as the resources needed to ensure success. Their vision and understanding are what make them such incredible friends to the ACLU, the LGBTQ movement, and to every cause they support.”

The ACLU maintains a web portal for complaints of LGBTQ and HIV discrimination. Click here for more information.

Watch a YouTube video of Slobodan Randjelović’s Lives in Transition: LGBTQ Serbia, part of a groundbreaking series of photobooks produced with the support of the Arcus Foundation, looking at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities around the world.

I am an award-winning journalist and host of the “RiseUP With Dawn Ennis” talk show and co-host of the “The Trans Sporter Room” podcast. I was America’s first transgender

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