Maura Healey, ‘the first of her name’: let her be herself without shame

Ten Johns, seven Williams, three Georges, three Samuels, two Alexanders, two Charleses, two Levis, one Mitt, one Deval, one Arego, one Increase, one Elbridge, and exactly one Jane.

Before last night, of the 75 people who would serve as governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts during the last 242 years, only one had been a woman; and no woman had ever been elected to the position. Yesterday, that changed.

Add to that male-dominated list: One Maura.

We should celebrate this late and necessary change loudly and often. That the next governors of Massachusetts more accurately reflect the gender, racial, and ethnic diversity that has always existed here.

And yet, what became clear from Governor-elect Maura Healey’s campaign is actually how little the campaign chose to emphasize the historic opportunity voters had to elect the first woman, and the first openly LGBTQIA leader, for the highest office in the state. While a good part of me wishes they had underscored the importance of this moment, I can understand why they might not have.

Those of us who go first often feel compelled to downplay our differentiation from our predecessors.

There is a cruel privilege in being perceived as “normal”, whatever that may be.

I’ll always remember another clergy colleague who told me I needed to keep my voice down and buy more blazers, instead of wearing the Michelle Obama-esque feminine cardigans I preferred. In her mind, she was helping smooth my entry into the ranks of the largely male clergy.

There is a cruel privilege in being perceived as “normal”, whatever that may be. I took his advice seriously; I bought more blazers in the old Filene’s Basement.

See also  AOC, congressmen arrested protesting abortion

I spent my entire career as an ordained minister in a profession that, in this country, has been dominated by straight white men. Everything from the cut of the clerical shirt I wear, to the titles by which I am called, reminds me that this profession was not initially intended to include me, no matter how talented or God-called I may be. According to the Study of National Congregations 2019, 13.5% of all religious congregations in the United States are led by a woman. I’m sure far fewer are run by openly gay women.

And as is often true, in the lie of a progressive state like Massachusetts, we believe this job is already done.

I think of my friend and president of the board of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, the Reverend Jennie Barrett Siegal, who now serves as Senior Pastor at Old South Union Church in Weymouth. The church was founded in 1723 and had never been led by anyone other than a man. The “normal” history of that place predates the founding of the state.

When asked what made it possible to lead that nearly 300-year-old church, Reverend Barrett Siegal said:

I remember so many people telling me I had ‘big shoes to fill’. But someone wise told my church, ‘Jennie is not called to wear someone else’s shoes.’ She already has hers. And so, it has been an honor for me to serve this congregation wearing my own shoes, leading with my own gifts, trusting in my own calling.

When we don’t mark occasions like these and properly celebrate when barriers are broken, we minimize the number of walls that come down and the imaginative space that opens up. Because there are many who seek to rebuild walls. Many are trying to threaten and force women, people of color, and queer people into less visibility in public life.

See also  LGBTQ-friendly church agrees with Southern Baptist boot

To be clear, we need the celebrations to be as definitive and bold as the protests.

Healey supporters listen to their candidate's victory speech on Election Day night at the Fairmont Copley Plaza.  (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Healey supporters listen to their candidate’s victory speech on Election Day night at the Fairmont Copley Plaza. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

In recent months, we have seen a visible and violent presence of white nationalists in Massachusetts. We are witnessing more anti-Semitic, anti-Black and anti-LGBTQIA attacks, not elsewhere but here. In particular, the online Y personal attacks on women in public service should give pause to anyone who thinks we have achieved equality or safety for women, the Black community, people of color, and gay leaders: the attempted kidnapping of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer; the violent assault of Paul Pelosi; the incessant threats and attacks on Boston Mayor Michelle Wu; and the vitriol addressed to Rep. Ayanna Pressley.

The myth of assimilation seduces some into thinking that because queer people are recurring primetime TV characters, we are safely integrated. Meanwhile, courts, school boards, and elected officials undermine human rights. At the same time, weird youth they are increasingly likely to experience bullying, homelessness, and suicidality.

I don’t care about Pride merch and TV shows if people aren’t safe and free.

When we are the first of our name, we don’t need anyone else’s blazers or shoes but our own.

What I know, and can testify, is that my distinction as a public and visible queer clergywoman in church leadership is that it has brought me high levels of animosity and incredible blessings. I try to be honest about the heat and the anguish it brings. I will not hide that pain any more than I will hide who I am.

And, the blessings run deep. I have learned that I am creating space for others because I am present. I know I can change conversations by how I lead and who I take with me. Not all places are ready to hear these stories. But I cling to the mothers who bring their daughters to me in the women’s restrooms and ask me to bless their babies.

See also  Olympia council asks city staff to find ways the city can support abortion rights

After 242 years of electing only men and no openly queer leaders, my profound hope for Governor-elect Healey is that we allow her full ethos to shine through.

We have seen your audacity as attorney general. We have seen his ability to listen carefully, to think deeply. But we also need that. 5’4” point guard, 3rd place all-time Harvard assist leader. We need him to pass others who have had far fewer chances to shoot and score. We need her to be unabashedly herself.

When we are the first of our name, we don’t need anyone else’s blazers or shoes but our own.

Follow Cognoscenti on Facebook Y Twitter.