Three Trailblazers in the LGBT Rights Movement
January 7, 2019
The LGBT rights movement has had countless exemplary leaders throughout the years. Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry; Miss Major of the Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP); and Elizabeth Birch, former Executive director of the Human Rights Campaign are three who stand out in particular. In this post, we’d like to honor their contributions to the LGBT movement, without whom we wouldn’t enjoy rights such as gay marriage, adoption, and same-sex surrogacy.
Evan Wolfson, Freedom to Marry
Evan Wolfson has become a household name in the LGBT community due to his lifelong support of gay marriage. His advocacy began back in 1983, when he was a bright young student at Harvard Law school. In his thesis, he articulated a legal argument for gay marriage, which, at the time, was unprecedented. This served as the first of many important milestones Wolfson pioneered as a gay attorney.
After law school, he spent several years working for a LGBT rights nonprofit. While there, he continued to focus on the right of marriage, as well as creating legal tools to reduce discrimination. He took on key cases which would move the needle on how the public viewed the LGBT community. To him, changing “hearts as minds” was as important as changing laws.
In 2001, he founded the organization called “Freedom to Marry.” If this name sounds familiar to you, that’s likely because it was integral to the legalization of gay marriage nationwide. In 2015, the crowning moment of Wolfson’s career occurred, when the ruling of Obergefell v Hodges legalized gay marriage nationwide. It was a moment that he, as well as a coalition of many others, had worked so long for.
Having achieved their goal, Freedom to Marry has now closed, but you can read about their journey, and see a heartwarming celebration video on their website.
Miss Major, Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP)
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy (pictured), also known simply as Miss Major, is an integral leader in the transgender community. Her activism spans decades, and reaches from coast to coast. She spent the first half of her life in Chicago and New York, and was present at the 1969 Stonewall riots, which were a pivotal moment for LGBT rights. In the 1970s, she moved to California and worked with organizations during the AIDS epidemic to save lives.
As a Black transgender woman, during her life, she has undergone incredible hardships, from beatings to arrests to discrimination and homelessness. Through it all, she has remained a visionary and a leader. A key part of her activism has been to encourage the LGBT community to be more inclusive, rather than focusing solely on white gay men. Her work is intersectional, bringing together issues of justice concerning gender, sexual orientation, race, class, ability, and age. For folks like Miss Major, new laws regarding birth certificates and bodily autonomy have been incredibly important steps towards equality.
Currently, Miss Major is the Executive Director Emeritus of Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), a nonprofit based in San Francisco. She has recently released a retirement announcement, in which, reflecting on her life and activism, she stated: “It’s difficult living in our truth, but what better way to survive?”
Elizabeth Birch, Human Rights Campaign
Like Evan Wolfson, Elizabeth Birch has a legal background. However, her career path looks quite different. After working as an attorney with several firms, she was hired by Apple Computers to lead their global litigation team during the early 90s when the now-famous company was just gaining in popularity.
In 1995, she quit Apple and became the Executive Director of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest organization in the country that advocates for LGBT rights. You’re likely familiar with their trademark yellow equal sign on a blue background, an image that has become synonymous with LGBT rights. They focus on a variety of issues, from fighting LGBT discrimination to equal rights for adoption.
During her 10 years as Executive Director, the organization grew exponentially, and became a vital voice for LGBT equality in Washington DC. This was incredibly important to boost the LGBT voice in policymaking.
Conclusion: a shared humanity
Throughout the life stories of each of these three leaders, one common goal has stood out: to help the public see the humanity of LGBT folks. As Elizabeth Birch explained in an interview: “the biggest challenge I have ever had is to figure out is how to help others see gay people as sons, daughters, friends and coworkers.”
While we still have work to do to reach true lived equality for the LGBT community, we’ve come a long way due to these leaders and others. The Gay Family Law Center is a team of proud advocates of LGBT rights, who extend a thank you to those who have played a role, big or small, in helping our community move towards equality.
Image by Quinn Dombrowski