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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



Chicago LGBT-rights advocate now with Human Rights Watch
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond

This article shared 7103 times since Wed Mar 18, 2015
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The Human Rights Watch ( HRW ) has become the unequivocal defender of the oppressed, marginalized and exploited world-wide. Operating with complete impartiality, the organization has called attention to some of the most shameful acts against humanity in recent history from the genocide in Rwanda to the assaults, imprisonment and murder of LGBT populations in countries such as Russia, Jamaica, Nigeria and Uganda. In 1997 it shared the Nobel Peace Prize for its work as a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines ( ICBL ).

The organization's 2015 World Report detailed a myriad of international atrocities, including those that occurred hand in hand with the rise of ISIS and Boko Haram, Egyptian repression, Russian aggression in the Ukraine, the CIA torture of terrorism suspects and even abuses that occurred when cities such as Beijing and Sochi hosted Olympic events.

When the organization began its work 37 years ago monitoring and ensuring human rights in the countries of the Soviet Union in accordance with the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, Jackie Kaplan-Perkins was a child living in Rogers Park—the daughter of a man who had fled Cuba during the 1962 revolution and a mother whose family were survivors of the holocaust.

Her recent appointment as Director, Chicago and the Midwest for the HRW would seem a perfect match for Kaplan-Perkins, not only in terms of her family history but in accordance with her quarter century long career fashioned in idealism and the betterment of those served by the many non-profits with whom she has worked including the National Center on Poverty Law, AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps and the Chicago Foundation for Women ( CFW ).

It was as a student majoring in communications at the University of Wisconsin in Madison that Kaplan-Perkins began to nurture her desire to change the world around her. "Although I wasn't out, I was starting to get politically involved," she told Windy City Times. "I was also discovering women's and feminist issues."

After she graduated, Kaplan-Perkins began her journey in the non-profit sector as a volunteer for the now closed Peace Museum in Chicago—although she admits her motives at the time weren't entirely selfless. "I wasn't necessarily as interested in peace as I was around meeting Bono and Yoko Ono because they were rumored to hang out there a lot," she said. "But instead of meeting them, two profound things happened to me—I started to really understand issues of peace and human rights and I met Marianne Philbin who was about to become the first executive director of the Chicago Foundation for Women."

Philbin offered her a temporary job—at the most six weeks. Kaplan-Perkins ended up staying for six years. "I grew with the organization," she said "While I was there, I came out to myself, my community and family."

She also met some of the city's most impassioned philanthropists as well as community and civic leaders. At one event, she briefly met then-state Rep. Jan Schakowsky. "I got a call [from her] because my name had come up as someone who might be a good finance director," she said. "I jumped at it without really knowing what the job would entail or how much I would learn from the experience. When I think about how I became an advocate, during my time with Jan I learned more from her about the LGBT community and supporting it than I did from anyone else. She was so solid and grounded on our issues before many other people were. I remember one of my first calls was to someone who was in the process of transitioning from male to female. But that age-old argument that we had heard was that putting the T in the LGBT community would derail our work for equality."

Kaplan-Perkins expressed her concerns to Schakowsky during a car ride. "It was a long drive. I talked and she yelled about my incredibly faulty reasoning," she said. "That [early on] the women's- and civil-rights movements hadn't included LGBT leaders for the same reasons. It was a transformative moment for me. I understood that when you speak about equality it's more about one issue. I strongly believe that LGBT equality is more than about marriage equality especially when we look at human rights issues internationally. We have a responsibility as a community to make sure that there's equality for the entire community."

She had been working for Schakowsky for less than a year when small community groups began to approach her asking for help with their various projects. She spent the next 16 years strengthening such organizations in key areas such as fundraising, board development, relationship and network building.

"I have had the unbelievable fortune of just working with the most incredible, diverse wonderful groups of non-profits," she said. "In the [early work] of the LGBT community we tended to find more politically active men than women but I wanted full representation at the table."

It was as a board member of Horizons in 1998 that Kaplan-Perkins met a woman who was the co-chair of the organization's fundraising event. The immediate connection the two burgeoned into a relationship and then a marriage. "Annie and I were married in 2001 by our Rabbi and the following year we started the adoption process for our son," she recalled. "David was adopted in Russia. He was two when we brought him home. We were meant to be a family."

As a volunteer for the advisory board of Public Allies, Kaplan-Perkins met the organization's then-executive director, whose husband was running for state representative. She co-chaired the gay and lesbian committee when he eventually went on to run for Senator. Like Kaplan-Perkins, Michelle and Barack Obama have since taken their careers to a whole new level.

A job vacancy posting at the Human Rights watch said it was looking for someone to "oversee the 85-member Chicago Committee, help grow philanthropic support for the organization and promote HRW's domestic and international advocacy initiatives to local audiences."

Already a fan and advocate of the organization's work shortly after Kaplan-Perkins returned from the Dominican Republic ( see ), she met HRW Director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program Graeme Reid.

"Hearing Graeme talk about the depth and breadth of the work that Human Rights Watch did was incredibly moving to me," Kaplan-Perkins said. "I was at their dinner this year and realized that some of the people who I respect most in the world were in the room. Everybody from my rabbi to Jan to some of the women I met at the CFW to members of the LGBT community. I could not have imagined another organization where so many of my communities and so many of the people I respect would overlap."

"This is not an organization that is ever going to stop taking notice of human rights abuses," she added. "The stories that we heard about LGBT people in Russia may have fallen off the news cycle in the US but the HRW is never going to walk away from this. They and organizations like them are on the ground making sure that abuses are documented and that people are heard and that change happens. They are giving a voice to the disenfranchised. What I am excited about is that I am going to get to do that too—raise the profiles of so many human right abuses not only around the world but in my own LGBT community and engage them in those issues. We have an unbelievable committee of volunteers for the Human Rights Watch in Chicago raising awareness not only internationally but here in Illinois."

The strength and leadership of that group of volunteers has led the HRW to select Chicago as the location for its 2015 Human Rights Watch Council Summit which, from June 3-5, will bring together the organization's global leadership "to learn about Human Rights Watch's work and the most compelling human rights issues of the day."

For Kaplan-Perkins, the job is an unparalleled opportunity to engage in the continual learning process and personal growth that has been the focal point of her life and career. "I'm humbled, I'm honored and I look forward to the challenge," she said.

For more information about the work of the Human Rights Watch, visit

This article shared 7103 times since Wed Mar 18, 2015
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