My Life at GLAD: From Goodridge to Obergefell
After eleven years managing GLAD’s public legal information service, GLAD Answers, Bruce Bell is retiring (for the second time). As the voice of GLAD to the thousands of LGBT and HIV+ people who have called or emailed seeking information about their rights over the past decade, he will be greatly missed. Bruce reflects on his time at GLAD below.
In June 2004, I had just retired after 33 years at Cape Cod Community College and was in the process of planning to marry my partner, George Smart, who at that time I had been with for 27 years. I quickly discovered that retirement was not for me, and so began to think of what I could do for a second career. I fairly quickly came to the conclusion that it would be incredible if I could work at GLAD – an organization that meant so much to me personally and would allow me to give back to the LGBT community.
When I saw that there was an open position at GLAD for a Hotline Coordinator, it felt like destiny calling, since it would allow me to use my experience as an educator and supervisor. I started at GLAD on July 19, 2004. Getting up to speed on the legal issues was a challenge, but with the help of the attorneys and the seasoned volunteers, I became more and more comfortable, and found that I thrived on trying to find answers to the questions of the people who contacted us through the hotline.
Now, nearly 11 years later, I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to work in this position with such a talented and dedicated staff and group of volunteers. During my tenure, I have processed about 23,800 intakes and trained and supervised 322 volunteers, and the name of the information service has morphed from Legal Hotline to GLAD Answers.
As Mary Bonauto says so often, the most important thing is the work—and to be able to provide LGBT people and people living with HIV information about their rights and how to exercise those rights has been very rewarding. There are very few jobs where you love the people you work with, are totally committed to the mission, and know that the work you are doing is valuable.
Just one example of how information is power. Before DOMA was overturned, we recommended that people who were denied federal benefits follow any appeals process that was available to them, so, if DOMA were overturned, they would have protected their right to a retroactive benefit. We worked with a woman in Provincetown who had lost her wife and needed the Social Security widow’s benefit to be able to afford permanent housing —every summer she had to move because she could not afford the increased summer rents. She finally had a hearing before an administrative law judge and was given a decision that, if DOMA were ruled unconstitutional, she would have her widow’s benefit retroactive to when she had applied in 2011. So after the Windsor decision, she received the benefit she deserved, was able to purchase a condo and no longer needs to move each summer.
I came to GLAD right after the Goodridge decision and am leaving right before the Obergefell decision. The progress that has been made by GLAD during that span has been incredible—and I am not just referring to the marriage work. GLAD’s work has expanded the civil rights of LGBT people and people living with HIV regionally and nationally. I am proud and honored to have been a part of that work. And yet, every day as I review the GLAD Answers intakes, I see how much still remains to be done.
It has been very difficult for me to say goodbye to the people and work I love so much, but I am also excited about what the future holds for me and my husband. I will continue to remain connected to GLAD as much as I can and to support the work that lies ahead. I want to give special thanks to the 322 volunteers I have worked with—you have done so much for GLAD, and I have so enjoyed working with you.