Center for Gender & Sexuality Law Launches Major New Project on “Engaging Tradition”

Center for Gender & Sexuality Law Launches Major New Project on ?Engaging Tradition?

Public Affairs, 212-854-2650, [email protected]

New York,  June 1, 2011—Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law today announced the launch of the Engaging Tradition Project to study how the ideas of tradition are deployed both to undermine and support gender and sexuality-based social justice projects.
A critical goal of the Engaging Tradition Project is to better enable advocates working for sexual, gender, racial, and economic justice to resist tradition-based objections—whether derived from religion, custom, history, gender role stereotyping, forms of family, or identity and nationalism.
“Appeals to tradition have been used both as trumps to limit or undermine gender and sexual-based justice projects, and as keys to unlock those very projects,” said Katherine Franke, Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law. “This project brings together a wide range of academics, lawyers, students, and grassroots advocates to examine how the use, or rejection, of tradition impacts the advancement of policy toward equality.”
Funded by the Arcus Foundation, a leading global foundation advancing pressing social justice and conservation issues, the Project will expand the work of Columbia’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law significantly through a grant of $1.5 million over three years. 
The Engaging Tradition Project’s Director will be Urvashi Vaid, who will be based at the Center and who brings a distinguished record of service in legal, LGBT, and philanthropic organizations. Vaid is a former staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project and the former Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, whose think tank she also directed.
An experienced executive with the Ford Foundation and the Arcus Foundation, Vaid served as Deputy Director of Ford’s Governance and Civil Society Unit, and as Executive Director of Arcus. Vaid is the author Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation, a groundbreaking analysis of the political strategies and frames of the LGBT movement, and co-editor with John D’Emilio and William Turner of an anthology of histories of key LGBT policy wins titled, Creating Change: Public Policy, Sexuality and Civil Rights.
“Those who oppose the efforts to expand gender, sexual and racial justice quite often and quite effectively invoke tradition to articulate their objections,” Vaid said. “Whether these arguments are framed in the language of traditional values, traditional family, traditional cultures, or traditional ordering of economic and racial hierarchies, they have deep cultural and political resonance.”
The Engaging Tradition Project will conduct research, in consultation with legal practitioners, scholars and activists from social justice movements, and analyze the ways in which tradition is deployed to resist, if not undermine, progressive changes in law and policy for women and sexual minorities.
The project will also look at the use of tradition in arguments by advocates of gender and sexuality-based social justice projects to shape legal and legislative strategies, frame public education messages, and strengthen arguments that advance the rights of groups seeking social justice. It will critically examine the utility and cost of arguing that rights for women and sexual minorities will not upset tradition but will rather advance it. 
 “Columbia Law School’s commitment to link theory to law and policy in practice ensures that the Engaging Tradition Project’s insights will find real-world relevance in litigation, policy initiatives, and broad-based advocacy while also contributing to academic discourse about sexuality and gender law,” said Suzanne B. Goldberg, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law.
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