The race to put the first openly LGBT attorney general in office is tight before Tuesday’s primary, but even that is a victory for Massachusetts's former assistant attorney general Maura Healey. Her opponent, former state senator Warren Tolman was the clear victor for the Democrats, until Healey began to gain momentum. Now, as Massachusetts’s voters head to the ballot box on Tuesday to choose which Democrat they want vying for the spot of the state's top lawyer, political newbie Healey is giving Tolman a run for his money. In fact, a new Boston Globe poll shows Healey leading Tolman 45 to 29 percent.
Healey’s successes have not come from political wins, but instead from her legal work on civil rights. Five years ago, Healey lead the first successful challenge to overturn section three of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages through federal programs and benefits.
“It was a privilege to be able to bring that case — to be able to stand in court and make the argument and tell the story about a really discriminatory law that hurt a lot of families and a lot of married gay couples in Massachusetts and across the country,” Healey told The Advocate. “It’s exactly the kind of case that you want to be able to work on as a lawyer and the kind you want to be able to fight.”
Massachusetts has leaned more progressively on LGBT rights (through issues like marriage equality, and workplace antidiscrimination laws) but Healey says there are still many issues to fight for, including on school safety for the LGBT kids who are disproportionately bullied. She says she’s also interested in working on better access to healthcare and mental health services, particularly for the aging LGBT population who need nursing homes and care facilities what won’t discriminate against them. If elected Healey also says one of the touchstones of her campaign, fighting sexual abuse and domestic violence, will also be inclusive of the same struggles faced by LGBT people.
Healey says her sense of justice was born out of her love of sports. Growing up, there were not many sporting activities devoted to young girls, so it forced her to prove to others that she could compete, and show that girls can play sports just like the boys. Then with Title IX, which made it possible for girls like her to play organized sports, the 5’4” Healey worked her way up to be named captain of Harvard’s women’s basketball team, before playing professional basketball in Austria for two years.
“I love sports,” Healey says “They taught me about hard work and discipline and teamwork. And as a point guard, they are sort of the floor general, the team leader, the quarterback of the team, you know. And a lot of those skills that I learned on the court — playing tough, fighting hard, keeping a level head, are things I took with me to the courtroom and the work I did in the attorney general’s office as an advocate, as a leader in the office. It’s helped me out on the campaign, too.”
Healey’s campaign has closed the gap with Tolman for the Democratic primary, marked by endorsements from organizations like Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign. But perhaps a Democratic primary in one of the more liberal states in the country, is the right place to make history: as a lesbian, she could be the LGBT state attorney general ever elected in the country.
“To be at the table with other state attorney generals, I think it’s important that the community have a voice in those discussions,” she says. “Because the presence of somebody like me, the conversation will naturally be different.”