|(Bill Brett for The Boston Globe)|
Leader in promoting equality
Q. What does being chosen as one of 40 Under 40 award winners mean to you?
A. It means a lot. There were 400 nominations across the country by people who know the nominees. I was nominated by one of our board members. It’s also a real vote of confidence for MassEquality.
Q. How did you arrive at MassEquality last year as executive director?
A. I feel really blessed. I came out at 19, and it was an awakening for me how injustice works. I felt very called to civil engagement and advocacy. I got an early start. It’s what I wanted to be versed in. I also spent 12 years in the LGBT movement at the national level. I was the state legislative director of the Gay and Lesbian Task Force and worked with organizations like MassEquality. I helped draft and pass pro LGBT legislation around the country. All of this greatly informs what I do now.
Q. Just what do you do now?
A. I help shape and direct our programs and policies. We’re a generalist organization. We don’t do litigation. We’re making the transition from a single issue campaign about marriage to multi-issue sustainable organization for social justice. How do race and class impact LGBT people? What is our piece? Who do we need to partner with to get a holistic answer to a problem? Identity politics has its limits. We’re fortunate that we’re not in the middle of a big campaign. We have the time and luxury to be really thoughtful about moving the LGBT community forward. What are the priority issues for the LGBT community?
Q. What are your priorities now in Massachusetts?
A. This year, our transgender equal rights bill is our primary goal. We’re working to get that passed. It’s tricky because without nondiscriminatory protections in place, transgendered people are not going to out themselves. It’s neither physically nor legally safe.
Q. Where are we now nationally on gay marriage?
A. One of the things I’ve learned is that it really has changed the country. In the Goodridge decision in 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court permitted same-sex marriage in this state. [Goodridge was the landmark case dealing with same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. The decision was the first by a state’s highest court to say that same-sex couples have the right to marry.] In the eight years since then, marriage has become legal in six jurisdictions [including New York last week] plus the District of Columbia. That’s warp speed for a civil rights march. Politics is both about civil rights and getting reelected. Politicians usually show less courage than the people whom they represent. We’ve shifted from winning in the courts — Massachusetts and Connecticut — to legislatures passing marriage equality laws, like New Hampshire and Vermont.
Q. What did you learn from the defeat of the marriage equality proposition in California?
A. The big takeaway lesson is that when we take the time as a movement to go out and teach people who we are, when we do that, they are receptive to us. We need to invest more in one-on-one conversations. There is no magic bullet. We have to have those uncomfortable conversations. We need more people and more money. That’s how you win a campaign.
Q. Do you miss practicing law?
A. No, the advocacy litigation is for GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders) or the ACLU. I litigated in private practice for two years doing insurance defense work. I’m not a litigator. I’m very detail oriented and a big picture person.
Sam Allis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.