On Wednesday night, the MacArthur Foundation announced the 2014 class of MacArthur Fellows – providing a $625,000 no-strings-attached stipend to each fellow to support their creative endeavors. Among the list of 21 exceptional individuals chosen, were two notable leaders in the LGBTQ community: Mary Bonauto and Alison Bechdel.
Mary Bonauto is a civil rights lawyer, strategist and longtime champion in the movement for marriage equality. As the Civil Rights Project Director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), she has worked on landmark same-sex marriage cases across the U.S., including Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, which provided the first federal court wins against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and paved the way for the Supreme Court striking down Section 3 of DOMA in 2013 in United States v. Windsor.
The MacArthur Fellowship has previously supported several artists and academics doing work related to LGBTQ issues. However, Bonauto is the first community leader to receive the award specifically for advocacy of LGBTQ rights.
Alison Bechdel is a cartoonist and graphic memoirist whose work intimately explores the lived realities of lesbian communities and the complexities of family. Her widely-loved comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For (1983–2008), used humor to portray the political and cultural concerns of queer women and made Bechdel an icon in the LGBTQ community.
“This is a heartening sign of the times,” comments Kristina Wertz, Director of Engagement at Funders for LGBTQ Issues. “It’s exciting to see the MacArthur Foundation – such a respected institution – recognize the decades-long work of the LGBTQ movement, and in particular the contributions of these two powerful queer women working to change our laws and our culture.”
In addition to Bechdel and Bonauto, openly gay playwright Samuel Hunter received a MacArthur Fellowship for his thought-provoking plays that explore audiences’ capacity for human empathy, as did Ai-jen Poo, a longtime ally to the LGBTQ movement and Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
Previous LGBTQ MacArthur Fellows include Luis Alfaro, renowned Chicano performance artist and writer; Allan Bérubé, historian and author of acclaimed book “Coming Out Under Fire”; and playwright Tarell McCraney, whose work depicts the complexities of gay and Black identities.
With assets of $5.9 billion, the MacArthur Foundation ranks as the ninth largest foundation in the U.S. by asset size, according to the Foundation Center. The MacArthur Foundation is a member of Funders for LGBTQ Issues.