Alumna named MacArthur Fellow


By Alexandra Malloy, deputy news editor

September marked the announcement of the winners of the MacArthur Foundation’s Fellows Program. Mary L. Bonauto, Northeastern alumna and the civil rights project director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), was one of the lucky recipients.

Started by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur, the foundation is “committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world,” as stated on its website. The criteria for the selection of Fellows is based off of creativity, promise for advances in their work based off of their previous accomplishments and the potential for the fellowship to promote consequential innovative work.

“The Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society,” the Foundation’s website said.

Nominees for the fellowship are brought to the Foundation’s attention, and then applications are then evaluated by an independent selection committee in a multistep review. Normally there are 20 to 30 Fellows and since 1981, 897 innovators have received the fellowship.

Bonauto received the fellowship for her work involving strides made in the effort to achieve marriage equality for same-sex couples.

“In the name of equal treatment and dignity for all people, and in concert with other litigators and advocates across the country, Bonauto is breaking down legal barriers based on sexual orientation and influencing debates about the relationship between the law and momentous social change more broadly,” as said by the Foundation.

Bonauto started her career receiving her B.A. from Hamilton College, in Clinton N.Y., and then a J.D., or Juris Doctor, from Northeastern University School of Law in 1987.

“The co-op program at Northeastern Law School was an invaluable learning opportunity,” Bonauto said in an email to the News. “I also met many people at Northeastern Law who are lifelong friends and colleagues.”

Bonauto’s career sparked when she joined GLAD in 1990. As stated on GLAD’s website, the firm aims to create a “society free of discrimination based on gender identity and expression,” and also has an AIDS Law Project and Transgender Rights Project.

“I chose legal advocacy for a non-profit as it provides the most flexibility for addressing people’s needs and a range of tools for helping people,” Bonauto said. “I started at GLAD in March 1990 and the work continues to grow as we increasingly recognize LGBT people as part of the larger community.”

As stated on the GLAD website, Bonauto and two Vermont co-workers won Baker v. State of Vermont in 1999, leading to the nation’s first civil union law. In 2004, Bonauto was also lead counsel for Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the case that made Mass. the first state that allowed same-sex couples to legally marry.

“Many of GLAD’s cases make a difference for people from all walks of life, whether the context is working and job discrimination, parenting rights, freedom to speak and learn no matter who you are, safety in your community, access to health insurance and government protections or respect for your family,” Bonauto said. “It’s a continuing privilege to do this work and we all throw ourselves into it because people are counting on us.”

The fellowship grants Bonauto and all other recipients $625,000 stipend paid out equally over a five-year period. Bonauto states that receiving the award is an acknowledgement of the work that many in the LGBT movement and those that have stood with the movement have done.

“Massachusetts had been on the front lines for some time, and was [a] particular crucible of conflict from 2002 to 2007 with the lead into and the aftermath of the Goodridge marriage ruling,” Bonauto said. “The message coming out of that period is that the people and each branch of government support equality under law for LGBT people and relationships.”

Photo courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation