For over 100 years, the ACLU has fought to protect the constitutional rights and freedoms of all people. We do this through litigation, advocacy, and public education, which is what the ACLU Artist Ambassador Program is all about — working with artists of all disciplines who want to use their platforms for good to put a spotlight on pressing civil liberties and civil rights issues.
During the current defamation lawsuit between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, some have claimed that the ACLU made Ms. Heard an ambassador for gender justice and wrote an op-ed on her behalf in exchange for her pledge to donate money to the ACLU. This is wrong. We do not write op-eds or offer ambassadorships in exchange for donations. Period. Becoming an ACLU Artist Ambassador is entirely voluntary; it is a favor to the ACLU, not vice versa.
In 2016, Ms. Heard pledged to donate $3.5 million over 10 years to the ACLU. Two years later, in 2018, the ACLU invited Ms. Heard to become an ambassador and to work with us on an op-ed to bring attention to the issue of sexual assault and domestic violence issues; she agreed. Through her ambassadorship, Ms. Heard supported our advocacy for gender justice issues, a cause that has long been central to our mission at least since Ruth Bader Ginsburg headed the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.
Whether it’s fighting for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrants’ rights, racial justice, voting rights, or criminal legal reform, the ACLU’s Ambassador Project pairs artists, influencers, entertainers, and content creators with the ACLU issues they’re most passionate about. ACLU Artist Ambassadors volunteer their talents to elevate our work by advocating for civil rights and civil liberties in a variety of forums, including sharing information on social media; appearing in videos; and working with us on written pieces that highlight our issues in the media.
Over the years, the public education work through our Ambassador Project included an op-ed from Jesse Tyler Ferguson urging voters to vote like LGBTQ rights depend on it; visiting the border with Padma Lakshmi to draw attention to the state of the broken asylum system; elevating our Systemic Equality agenda with a video narrated by W. Kamau Bell; educating people about the importance of the Census with Ike Barinholtz; drawing attention to the issue of forced pregnancy and abortion bans through a video with Sasheer Zamata; responding to misinformation about transgender people with Peppermint; deploying Tom Morello to push for the passage of legislation to end solitary confinement; and drafting an op-ed with Amber Heard on gender-based violence to bring attention to the need to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
In 2018, the issues Ms. Heard’s op-ed addressed — sexual assault and domestic violence — were especially salient in light of the confirmation hearing of Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the accusations of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, as well as the fight to extend VAWA, which ultimately lapsed in February of the following year. The op-ed also pushed for legislative and regulatory reforms that the ACLU has long supported as part of our women’s rights and gender justice work. For 50 years, our Women’s Rights Project has been fighting for gender equity so that everyone has the freedom to live, work, and learn free from gender stereotypes and sexual harassment and assault. Sexual assault and domestic violence occur at alarming rates but are rarely reported. Though reasons for not reporting vary, fear of retaliation, including defamation suits, discourages many from coming forward. As the nation’s oldest free speech organization, we fight for the freedom to speak out about barriers to gender justice.
Our fight to realize the promise of the Constitution for all continues, as does our push to ensure our work gets in front of as many people as possible. We are proud to work with a wide cross section of individuals, including artists, lawmakers, and grassroots partners to protect and defend civil rights and civil liberties for all.