Every day of Pride Month, Mashable will be sharing illuminating conversations with members of the LGBTQ community who are making history right now.
In the 50 years since the Stonewall uprising, America has made significant progress in the fight for LGBTQ rights. We still have a long way to go, but without the efforts of one remarkable individual, Mary Bonauto, we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we are today.
For decades, the attorney, activist, and Civil Rights Project Director for GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) has advocated for LGBTQ inclusion and equality, working cases around the country and playing a critical role in the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Among Bonauto‘s many achievements: making history serving as lead counsel in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the landmark case that led Massachusetts to become the first state to allow same-sex couples to legally marry in 2004. She also argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that led to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015.
In honor of Pride Month, Bonauto spoke with Mashable about the work she’s doing with GLAD, the future milestones she hopes to see the LGBTQ community achieve, how people can get involved, and more.
The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.
Mashable: Tell me a bit about your history as an activist and lawyer, and what led you to become the Civil Rights Project Director at GLAD.
Mary Bonauto: I went to a small practice in Maine after graduating from Northeastern University School of Law in 1987 and jumped into representing men with HIV — both discrimination cases and estate planning, and defending against bad and advocating for good HIV related legislation. I was one of three open lesbian attorneys in the state and soon was taking on all kinds of cases affecting our community. It was exciting, and my firm, Mittel & Heffernan, now known as Mittel Asen, was teaching me a great deal about being a lawyer. But I also couldn’t resist the opportunity to work at GLAD as the first full-time attorney addressing sexual orientation related issues, so I took the job in 1990. I’ve been at GLAD ever since, and have grown as a lawyer and person as our communities’ justice fights have expanded and deepened.
Mashable: What is GLAD’s core mission, and what are some of the services it offers to members of the LGBTQ community?
MB: GLAD’s mission is to create a just society that is free of discrimination based on gender identity and expression, HIV status, and sexual orientation. In addition to bringing strategic legal cases to New England State courts and in federal courts, we are active in state and federal legislative and policy advocacy, and in public education efforts to increase understanding, empathy, and support for LGBTQ equality. GLAD also supports our local New England communities by providing information about LGBTQ rights on our website, by presenting interactive workshops with community groups, and through our GLAD Answers line, where people can get free and confidential legal information and referrals.
Mashable: How did it feel to not only witness marriage equality milestones taking place nationwide, but to have played such a crucial role in achieving them?
MB: There are many people who contributed to these victories and the growing acceptance of LGBTQ people, and I never forget that. It took all of us, nationwide. For me, it’s about freeing up people to be who they are, have choices, and be part of the ever-widening circle of belonging. It’s been a ton of work, with tons more to go, and thankfully love and justice remain powerful motivators going forward.
Mashable: What are some ways GLAD has taken action as the country’s political climate has shifted over the past nearly two and a half years?
MB: We are using all the tools we have to confront hostility from the federal government, such as our two ongoing cases challenging the transgender military ban. And as allies, we are pushing back against new and proposed rules undermining contraception and abortion access, LGBTQ healthcare nondiscrimination protections, shelter access for transgender people, vital data collection on LGBTQ youth in foster care, and more.
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LGBTQ people are in the Supreme Court again, too, and in the next term that Court will decide whether to back the important rulings we’ve won — that both sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination are discrimination “because of an individual’s sex.” We have reasons to be very optimistic on that one since it is impossible to conceptualize an LGBTQ person without reference to “sex,” and the text of the law is the key to coverage. We also continue federal policy advocacy on issues such as the Equality Act and other issues where LGBTQ people should be integrated into existing federal protections.
We continue to listen, learn, and build out the racial and economic justice lens on our work to make it more inclusive of all of us. New England is a place where we can see the intersecting efforts toward fairness and justice making a difference, even as it is very much a work in progress.
Mashable: This year is the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Though society has made significant progress toward inclusivity and equality, there’s still a lot to accomplish. What major milestones do you hope to see for the LGBTQ community in the next few years?
MB: Among the milestones I would like to see:
Achieving nationwide nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in jobs; housing; public accommodations; federal funding, both in the Courts and in the U.S. Congress; and an end to de jure discrimination against LGBTQ people, including ending the transgender military ban.
Ending the arguments that religious beliefs allow entities to defy nondiscrimination laws when they receive government funds to do a particular job, and individuals and businesses to pick and choose who among the public they can serve.
Understanding within our communities that we are one justice movement. LGBTQ people are part of every community and demographic in this nation, and some parts of our community — particularly people of color, those who are economically marginalized, women and trans people, and immigrants — require all of us to step up and collaborate even more in these times.
Mashable: What are some ways people can get involved in GLAD’s efforts?
MB: Our website, notransmilitaryban.org, has up-to-date information on Trump’s transgender military ban and our efforts to fight it. GLAD is a partner on the protecttranshealth.org campaign, where people can make their voices heard in opposition to the Trump administration’s threats to remove transgender and LGB people from nondiscrimination protections in the Affordable Care Act. The U.S. House recently voted to pass the Equality Act, but we now all need to contact our senators to tell them to pass this bill that would provide explicit, comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people across the country. For those in New England, I encourage you to visit www.glad.org to learn about and support some of the state legislative issues we are engaged in this session, including access to accurate IDs for non-binary individuals; legal security for LGBTQ families; including non-married families; and advocating for inclusive sexual health education and the ability for minors to access PrEP to protect against HIV transmission. Lawyers can get involved with our lawyer referral service. And of course we have opportunities to volunteer at GLAD events and at our GLAD Answers line, and to support our work as a donor.
Mashable: What plans do you have for yourself — as an attorney, activist, and GLAD Civil Rights Project Director — in the future?
MB: I am learning Spanish so I can communicate directly with more people. I want to get better at quantitative data analysis so I am clear about when government agencies and others distort data. I want to learn more about AI and algorithmic justice issues because these threaten to reify existing inequalities in so many aspects of life. There’s a long list … And as I have over the last 30 years, I want to make sure GLAD’s work moves the ball with love and justice for all.
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