Day 29: Mary Bonauto

Mary Bonauto (b. 1961) is a lawyer and civil rights advocate who has been instrumental in eradicating discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and been called “our Thurgood Marshall” by retired congressman Barney Frank.  She was born into a Roman Catholic family in Newburgh, NY. After graduating law school, in 1987, she entered private practice in Maine where she was one of three openly gay private practice lawyers in the state.  She has taken on cases in such areas as public accommodations discrimination, relationship protections (including second parent rights), vindicating First Amendment protections, and challenging anti-gay harassment and violence. Her work has informed public policy in all six New England states.

Bonauto’s first marriage case was in Vermont in 1997 that led Vermont to become the Mary.Bonautofirst state to enact civil unions and extending benefits to same-sex couples in a “separate but equal” system. Then she was the lead attorney in the Goodridge v Department of Public Health case in Massachusetts that ruled in her favor, leading MA to be the first state to allow civil marriage for same-sex couples. After similar successes in Connecticut and Maine, she took the lead in the Obergefell v. Hodges case in front of the US Supreme Court that led to the ruling that state bans on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional.  She also won cases that led to overturning Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Mary Bonauto continues to live in Portland, ME with her spouse, Jennifer Wriggins whom she married in MA. They have twin daughters. Bonauto has also received many accolades for the impact she made, including Yale University’s 2010-11 Brudner Prize. She has been on Boston Magazine’s “Most Powerful Women in Boston” list, and was included in the list of 31 LGB history icons in 2012.

In honor of and with great appreciation for her work, take a moment to reflect on her own words that remind us demonizing the ‘other’ is not the way to go:  “When you’re in a fight for your common humanity, you cannot discount the common humanity of others.”


Day 27: Emma Goldman

It is hard, sometimes, to think of a person who plotted in assassination attempts in the list of peacemakers, but in a world where armed military are called “peacekeepers” and where people like Boenhoefer plotted the assassination of Hitler, people like these are reminders that this work of peace is complex and rife with ethical dilemmas. Emma Goldman elicits such conflict. She was born to a loveless, abusive Orthodox Jewish family (where she was routinely beaten by her father, with her mother’s only pleas being to tone down the abuses) in present-day Lithuania (at the time, part of the Russian Empire). Family poverty forced her to work, but her fierce independence and determination to educate herself freed her from her father’s domineering insistence on a life of domestic work. She resisted his attempts at an arranged marriage at age 15, declaring she would only marry for love. She was also raped at a young age, an event that forever soured her interactions with men. She was further informed by the political turmoil around her.

At age 16, she made her way to Rochester, New York to live with an older sister. She worked as a seamstress, and was soon joined by her parents fleeing antisemitism in St. Petersburg. After a failed marriage full of jealousy, suspicion and impotence, she left the family amid accusations of being a “loose woman”, took her sewing machine and went to NYC. She became more involved in the political turmoil in the US. She started connecting with radicals calling for worker rights, and found her voice as she recalled her own failed marriage, experiences of humiliation and oppression, work conditions in sewing factories, and the Haymarket affair and crime in Chicago. Some of the radicals with whom she connected maintained that violence was an effective use of change.

The Homestead Strike of 1892 involving Carnegie Steel Company, union-buster Henry Clay Frick, and Pinkerton guards that resulted in violent deaths in a gunfight caught her attention and energy. Goldman was involved in a failed plot to assassinate Frick and mobilize workers. She subsequently Emma_Goldman_seatedincited people to riot and take action during the 1893 economic crash. She was sentenced to a year in prison. During this time, influential reporter Nellie Bly referred to her as a “modern Joan of Arc.” She also took an interest in medicine while in prison, and went to Europe upon release to study midwifery and massage. Back in the US, she alternated between these professions and organizing, conducting the first cross-country tour by an anarchist speaker. She withdrew from public life after unproven accusations of implication in the McKinley assassination until 1906, when she started publication of “Mother Earth”, a place for idealists to express themselves in arts and letters. For the next decades, she continued to speak to packed audiences, agitating for anarchist causes. She joined forces with Margaret Sanger to advocate for contraception (for which she spent two weeks in a prison workhouse for violation the Comstock Law. She was also imprisoned for 2 years for opposing conscription during WWI. After release, in the heat of the Red Scare, she was deported (under guise of her husband’s citizenship being revoked). She spent the bulk of her remaining years in Europe and Canada, being a constant voice for labor rights, feminism, sexuality (she was an outspoken critic of prejudice against homosexuals), voting rights, free speech, prisoner rights and against militarism.

For today, reflect on these words from the woman some called “the most dangerous woman in America”: “The demand for equal rights in every vocation of life is just and fair; but, after all, the most vital right is the right to love and be loved.”

Day 4: Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King (1927-2006) was born in her parents home in Marion, AL, with her paternal great-grandmother Delia Scott, a former slave, presiding as midwife. Her mother, Bernice, had a 4th grade education, worked as a school bus driver, church pianist and for her husband. She was also a member of the local Literacy Federated Club. Obie, Coretta’s father, was the first black person in their neighborhood to own a truck. He also ran a barber shop, a general store, and a lumber mill. The latter was burned down by white neighbors after he refused to sell his mill to a white male logger. Among Coretta’s ancestors were people of Irish and Native American ancestry, including a maternal grandfather, Martin Van Buren McMurry, born to a Black Native American mother and her white master. Martin’s father never acknowledged Martin as his some and, despite being able to pass for white, Martin detested the notion of “passing”. Martin is noted for having inspired Coretta’s passion for education.

Coretta King

Coretta first attended Antioch college as part of its Interracial Education. Her older sister, Edythe, was the first African American to attend Antioch in this program. Coretta said “Pioneering is never easy” as she credited her sister for making her own time at Antioch (where she studied music) easier. It was also here that she became politically active, due largely to her experience of racial discrimination with the local school board.

She transferred from Antioch to the New England Conservatory of Music on a scholarship. It was here that she met and married Martin Luther King, and their participation in the struggle for African-American equality escalated until they became central to the movement. After Martin’s assassination in 1968, she approached singer Josephine Baker to take over the leadership of the movement. Baker, citing concern that, with her 13 adopted children, said she could not risk her life at that time, so Coretta assumed the leadership. She quickly expanded that work to include involvement in the Women’s Movement, the LGBT rights movement, and anti-war movements that continued until her death. She was  instrumental in getting Martin Luther King Day recognized as a Federal Holiday, founded the King Center, and was the 2004 recipient of the Gandhi Peace Prize.

Despite having experienced the brunt of racism’s worst – burning of her father’s business, home assaults, assassination of her husband – she remained a steadfast inspiration for peace and love.  In her own words: “Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than the hated.

Day 32: Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) was an early leader of the civil rights movement who often preferred to work from the shadows. Much of this was because he was also a gay man during a time when social stigma and the law had harsh consequences for gay people, and he did not want that to distract from the bigger cause of the movement.  Rustin, a Quaker, was greatly influenced by the Quaker tenant of pacifism. He traveled to India to learn from Gandhi’s nonviolent civil resistance.


Throughout his civil rights career, his sexual orientation was a closely-monitored and at times untenable reality for others. While he was one of the authors of the American Friends Service Committee’s “Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence,” published in 1955, his name was left off the publication because of this, and he was dismissed from work with both the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference over concerns that his sexual orientation would hurt their causes. Despite this, Rustin served as an advisor to King jr. regarding Gandhian non violent tactics during the Montgomery bus boycotts, and he was instrumental in organizing the march on Washington in 1963. Rustin remained an outspoken advocate for equality and justice his whole life, working to bring the AIDS crisis to the attention of the NAACP in the late 80s, including testifying for the NY state gay rights bill the year before he died.

For today, take a minute to reflect on Rustin’s words about nonviolent resistance:

“Continuous resistance in nonviolent form breaks through the paralyzing peace which is peace for the master and misery for the mastered. Paradoxically, as it breaks the unjust social peace, its weapon of goodwill and love builds the sacred base of real brotherhood, in which the dignity and equal opportunity of every person is sacred and guaranteed.”


Day 30: Andrew Marin

I will never forget the scene: a Pentecostal church in the suburbs of Chicago; a group of parishioners gathered for a workshop about ways the congregation can be a welcoming place for gays and lesbians; the presenter, Andrew Marin, who had grown up in the church, holding the tension as some of the attenders were having visceral, deep and emotional reactions to the idea of welcoming gays and lesbians. Andrew, a young heterosexual, understands the response. He had been there himself. What Andrew also understood – something that I did not until that day – was that it is often love, not ignorance and hate that causes so much division. On this particular day, I marveled as Andrew was able to pray with two women who had been the most vocal, until they broke down in tears, acknowledging that they love their church, the Bible, God, and they loved their lesbian daughter in one case, and sister in another. They felt they were being torn apart, and in that moment, the tension was overwhelming.


A few years later, Andrew wrote a book called “Love is an Orientation”. Unlike the William Penn saying “Let us try, then, what love will do” as if to say “after we have tried persuasion and argument, let’s try love”, Andrew’s work at its best is not about persuasion, but about loving. His work focuses on the bridge. His personal actions go deeper – showing up at gay pride parades with “I’m sorry” signs that show a respect for the power of healing and forgiveness. But it is his bridge-building that impresses me. I don’t always agree with his words or his sentiments, and he certainly has plenty of critics on both sides of the lgbtq divide. But as his quote below reminds me, and may be of benefit to many who desire greater peace and seek to build bridges:

“Inherent within bridge building is the necessity to intentionally partner with and work with both worldviews. Building bridges does not mean everyone will eventually agree. It means both worldviews can view each other through a lens of worth based on their shared humanity.”  (from Our Last Option, Chapter 4)

Submitted by Brad Ogilvie