Advocacy Finalists

Logo for 2024 Minnesota Nonprofit Mission Awards for Advocacy Initiative with purple graphic surrounding text

This Mission Award for Advocacy recognizes advocacy as one of the most effective and unique roles of nonprofit organizations. Nominated organizations should:

  • Implement an effective advocacy strategy;
  • Demonstrate success in its advocacy efforts; and
  • Have a significant impact on the organization’s constituency.

2024 Advocacy Finalists:

Autism Society of Minnesota  |  Gender Justice | Standpoint

Jillian Nelson, policy advocate at Autism Society of Minnesota, speaking in Washington DC.

Founded in 1971, the Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM) enhances the lives of individuals and families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder. AuSM serves autistic Minnesotans throughout their lives. The organization’s mission is to create connections, empowering everyone in the autism community with the resources needed to live fully.

AuSM is a leader in disability advocacy due in large part the efforts of our head of advocacy, an autistic adult (Jillian Nelson, AuSM’s Community Resource and Policy Advocate) who has lived through the challenges and can articulate them clearly while providing strategic solutions. Usually the leadership of disability groups is from parents or professionals representing a disability – but we lead from within, from the front, and based on personal experience as advocacy professionals.

In 2023, AuSM played an active role in advocating for historic gains for the autism community during the legislative session, including the elimination of parental fees for TEFRA and waiver services, education funding to reduce the special education cross-subsidy, and provisions to decrease exclusionary discipline practices. Multiple bills will improve the livelihoods of Personal Care Assistants (PCAs) – and the lives of autistic people served by PCAs. The session also saw historic progress from lawmakers in the ongoing work to eliminate subminimum wage in Minnesota.

The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA) option for medical assistance allowed children with disabilities to qualify for medical assistance without considering income and assets of parents. With this bill, parental fees no longer apply to those families. Before this bill passed, an unknown but likely large number of people chose not to engage this program because of prohibitive TEFRA fees. This bill also helps parents of children accessing home and community-based waiver services.

The Task Force on Subminimum Wages – co-chaired by AuSM’s Jillian Nelson – made several funding recommendations for the Governor’s bill. Nearly all the Task Force’s recommendations passed – except for establishing an exact sunset date for subminimum wage in Minnesota. This bill establishes all major objectives recommended by the task force, including funding to track employment outcomes by reporting on people being paid subminimum wage.

Another AuSM-backed bill brings monumental wage and benefits increases for PCAs, and an increase in provider reimbursement rates. Experienced PCAs can also qualify for additional wage increases. Another bill created more independence for autistic adults who use PCAs, and gives PCAs paid time for transporting clients. Before this bill, PCAs would have to go off the clock to drive clients anywhere. Also, parents of minors and spouses who are federally approved for the CDCS and CFSS programs can now get paid to work additional hours as caregivers.

AuSM-backed legislative wins in 2024 include a bill introducing educators to ableism and disability rights training, a bill establishing a journey-mapping to study the accessibility of obtaining disability services, and further reform to medical assistance for employed people with disabilities.   

As demonstrated by the successes above, AuSM seeks to enhance the lives of all who are part of the Minnesota autism community, with a fundamental commitment to advocacy, education, support, collaboration, and community building.

Gender Justice Advocates at the March for Abortion Access at the Minnesota State Capitol

Advocates at the March for Abortion Access at the Minnesota State Capitol

Gender Justice envisions a world where everyone can thrive regardless of their gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation. We’re creating that world by dismantling legal, structural, and cultural barriers that contribute to gender inequity. We work to ensure that people of all genders have a meaningful right to bodily autonomy, safety, health, and opportunity.

Gender Justice envisions a world where everyone can thrive regardless of their gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation. We’re creating that world by dismantling legal, structural, and cultural barriers that contribute to gender inequity. We work to ensure that people of all genders have a meaningful right to bodily autonomy, safety, health, and opportunity.

Gender Justice’s mission is to advance gender equity through the law. We pursue this mission through five core strategies: legal analysis and thought leadership, impact and strategic litigation, legislative and administrative advocacy, public education and narrative change, and movement building.

By focusing on state-level litigation and advocacy, Gender Justice is creating a pathway to progress on gender equity despite tremendous federal barriers. We have made pivotal strides in dismantling legal and systemic barriers to abortion access, enhanced the legal framework for reproductive health, and fortified the foundations of gender equity amid unprecedented challenges.

In the past two years, Gender Justice played a key role in securing historic legislative wins, including the most ambitious agenda for women and LGBTQ+ people:

  • Helped pass the Protect Reproductive Options Act, which enshrines in state law every person’s right to make and act on the full spectrum of decisions available regarding their pregnancies and their reproductive health without government interference.
  • Helped pass the Reproductive Freedom Defense Act, which protects everyone who seeks, provides, or helps someone get abortion care in Minnesota from legal action and criminal prosecution by out-of-state anti-abortion activists and politicians.
  • Secured a 20% increase in Medical Assistance reimbursement rate for providers offering family planning and abortion care and repealed the ban on abortion coverage in MNCare.
  • Removed a long list of barriers to abortion access, including a requirement that doctors deliver state-mandated anti-abortion literature, a mandatory 24-hour waiting period, and a measure that outlawed abortions performed by advanced-practice registered nurses and other trained licensed providers.
  • Helped pass Paid Family & Medical Leave whichsupports mothers to remain in the workforce, reduces the pay gap, and also helps to break down outdated gender roles by equally supporting men as fathers and caregivers.
  • Modified the Women’s Economic Security Act to include workplace protections for pregnant and nursing employees.
  • Helped pass the Menstrual Equity Bill ensuring students have access to essential menstrual products in public schools.
  • Helped pass the Trans Refuge Bill protecting families seeking gender-affirming care and health care providers from out-of-state litigation.
  • Removed state funding for crisis pregnancy centers by ending the “Positive Alternatives to Abortion” program, which had previously received $3 million in taxpayer dollars.

Gender Justice believes in the power of the courts to create positive change. With the cases we take on, we seek to help individual clients, and also other people or communities experiencing similar difficulties. Our cases clarify what the law actually means in practice, set powerful legal precedents, change the interpretation of the law, and raise important issues, as yet, unaddressed by the courts. Our impressive track record of success in the courts has impacted thousands of people across the state.

Standpoint trivia night to raise funds and promote services

Standpoint, formerly known as the Battered Women’s Legal Advocacy Project (BWLAP), exists to promote justice for domestic and sexual violence victims and professionals through support, training, advocacy, and legal advice. As a premier legal resource, Standpoint serves all victim/survivors of domestic and sexual violence throughout Minnesota, striving to understand the world from the “standpoint” of marginalized groups to better serve survivors.

Standpoint exists to fill the justice gap for individuals and organizations by providing free, competent, on the spot legal advice to victims, their advocates, attorneys, and other professionals. The organization’s services are offered through the Action Line, where victim/survivors and professionals can call, text, or email with legal questions and receive holistic, trauma-informed support, and legal advice. Qualified advocates and attorneys provide free safety planning, legal advice, limited direct representation, advocacy, and consultation.

Standpoint also developed a unique Attorney/Advocate Model to provide victim/survivors with both experienced legal counsel and an effective and skilled advocate. Advocates and attorneys work as a team with victim/survivors on the Action Line, which significantly lessens re-traumatization by limiting how often they re-tell their story. The attorney and advocate share knowledge and learn from one another to provide comprehensive legal support and promote systemic change.

Standpoint’s Housing Team provides information on state and federal housing protections. Victim/survivors can assert these protections and avoid eviction and long-term homelessness. The Housing Team regularly trains landlords on the Fair Housing Act, protecting victim/survivors from facing discrimination in housing.

Standpoint’s Legal Assistance for Victims (LAV) team provides legal representation and advocacy to victim/survivors of non-intimate partner sexual violence. They help victim/survivors obtain accommodations for school and work, report abusers to licensing boards, attend criminal court, and provide holistic support. LAV assisted a victim/survivor with a complaint to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) and negotiated one of the largest MDHR settlements on behalf of the victim/survivor. These kinds of outcomes have a huge impact that can give victim/survivors a sense of safety and justice and prevent further harm.

Most victim/survivors experience financial abuse in addition to other forms of violence, which often prevents victim/survivors from leaving abusive situations. Standpoint helped create the legal definition of coerced debt, and identified legal action victim/survivors can take if they are in debt due to actions of their abuser. Codifying this previously unacknowledged form of abuse validates the experience of victim/survivors and provides options to rectify harm and reclaim financial freedom.

Standpoint understands that domestic and sexual violence victim/survivors need immediate assistance and systemic change. The organization works to serve victim/survivors in Minnesota in both capacities. On a day-to-day basis, individuals receive legal advocacy and advice. On a long-term basis, Standpoint is working to protect the rights, privacy, and resources of victim/survivors and their advocates. The organization remains engaged with community partners and representatives to make systemic change on serving as a voice for victim/survivors.