Read this profile of Vic Walczak, a friend and civil rights hero

February 6, 2015 ACLU, Personal Comments (0) 348

I encourage you to read this piece in Colgate University’s newsletter about Vic Walczak, the state legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. I had the privilege to work with Vic during my time on staff there, though never as much as I would have liked. He’s a great guy who’s helped a lot of people, and the story is well worth your time.


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First Amendment Friday: Nov 14 2014

November 14, 2014 First Amendment Fridays Comments (1) 7259

I haven’t done one of these in a while, but if Europe can land a robot on a comet then by God I can read my Google alerts and present my little Constitutional digest. As we end a week in which TIME magazine suggests banning the word “feminist” and a celebrated emerging sci-fi author is revealed as one of the Internet’s most nefarious trolls, it seems appropriate to take a look at what’s happening worldwide with the rights to speech, assembly, and expression:

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Giving Tuesday Suggestions!

December 2, 2013 ACLU, In The News, Personal Comments (1) 383


Giving Tuesday is my favorite post-Thanksgiving theme weekday! Black Friday is behind us–so too Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday–and it’s time to think about how we’re going to give back and do something good for society. Here are four charities I believe in and to which I donate. What are your favorite charities? Let me know in the comments!


City Harvest
American Civil Liberties Union
Cell Motion BioBus
Humane Farm Animal Care

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Stonewall at 44 / the death of DOMA

June 26, 2013 Gay and Lesbian, In The News, New York City, Personal Comments (0) 416

Stonewall2013This photo is of Christopher Street, where I just watched Edie Windsor announce that she defeated DOMA. It’s where I went as soon as I left the office.

It was 44 years ago, almost to the day, when our brave brothers and sisters in the Stonewall Inn decided they’d had enough abuse from the NYPD, and took to this very street with their bottles, beer cans, and bricks. Now the police cordon off the street while we revel in our victory, and keep an eye out for those who may try to do us harm on our day of celebration.

Forty-four years. My mother and father were graduating from high school. My grandfather was, as it happens, driving a paddy-wagon for the NYPD. He was not at Stonewall, as far as I’m aware. Just look what has changed in forty-four years.

I want to congratulate all the couples whose marriages are, as of today, really equal. I want to thank my former colleagues at the ACLU, and my allies at the organizations and law firms who helped to fight this fight. But mostly I want to thank my LGBT elders, the people who came before me, who had it so much harder than I’ve had it. I want to thank those drag queens and fags and dykes who threw bottles and cans and punches, and finally declared on behalf of the whole queer population of America that we had enough. I wonder what it feels like for them, those who are still with us, to see the NYPD protecting us.

I felt a sense of awe tonight every time I heard the name of this case, Windsor v. The United States of America. Edie Windsor is five feet tall, she just turned 84, and she can’t weigh more than the average seventh grader–but she took on a country. And she won.


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Video: Gene Patenting and Public Education

June 18, 2013 ACLU, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 349


While you’re at it, why not subscribe to my YouTube channel?

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In which the ACLU frees Watson and Crick

June 13, 2013 ACLU, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 471


“See, Watson? Here’s the part where our publicly-funded university research earns billions for private corporations and their stockholders.”
“I–I’m Crick.”

In the fall of 2009, I sat in an apartment in Center City Philadelphia with a dozen or so ACLU donors and staff members, and a handful of area Intellectual Property attorneys as ACLU attorney Chris Hansen outlined the organization’s strategy in a new lawsuit challenging the patenting of human genetic material. Earlier that same year, I was with a group of ACLU staff gathered in New York as we learned about a groundbreaking new effort by the organization. For decades, medical treatment and research had been limited by laws granting patent rights to the companies and corporations who isolated and identified human genetic sequences. Experts had long opposed such patent protections, but the ACLU thought they had an answer. We had a coalition of researchers, geneticists, cancer survivors, and health advocates, and we had a strategy to challenge the patents on two genes linked with breast cancer.

The ACLU’s argument, first dreamed up by Hansen and his team, was radical. The IP lawyers gathered in that Philadelphia apartment treated Many had argued that naturally occurring products like genes should not be patented. To grant a patent to the scientist responsible for its identification is like granting a patent on coal to the first man to dig a chunk from a mountain. Patents are meant to protect the invention of a product or process, not to grant proprietary ownership of a natural resource. Many had argued that the first gene patent was an error, made by a patent office who didn’t understand the new science they faced. What no one had ever argued was that the Constitution protects an individual’s right to own the genes in his or her body–that ownership of one’s body was a civil liberty.

Even for the lawyers in the room, it was hard to understand the argument. It was crazy. More than that, it was destructive. In the decades since that first erroneous gene patent, an entire industry had grown up around isolating and patenting genes–corporations had engaged in a race to identify, a race to patent, so that IP law would grant them the exclusive right to experiment, test, and license the genes they found.

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Do you have a minute to talk about idiocy? (The ACLU, WBC, and gay rights)

March 14, 2013 ACLU, In The News, Philly / Pennsylvania Comments (1) 337


Call me partial, but articles like this get my blood boiling. You can read the whole thing at that link, but here’s a summary: John Featherman, writing for, doesn’t believe the ACLU should promote themselves as defenders of gay rights, because the ACLU defended the free speech rights of Westboro Baptist Church in court.

Here’s a sample:

“[ACLU-PA Legal Director Witold] Walczak started out by telling me, “The ACLU defends everyone’s rights and strongly believes that no one is free unless everyone is free. If government has the power to squelch Phelps it has the power to censor other unpopular groups, with the LGBT community being an unfortunate and frequent target.” Walczak later added, “ Just as the ACLU’s defense of abortion protesters doesn’t undermine our commitment to a woman’s reproductive freedom and representing the KKK doesn’t compromise our dedication to racial justice, defending Phelps’ free-speech rights is consistent with our LGBT-rights work.”

I don’t know. I just don’t see it. Maybe I’m just not sophisticated or hip enough to see how you can represent the interests of opposing parties at the same time. To me, a former candidate for political office, that’s like taking money from a donor and then turning around and giving it to their worst enemy. In my world, you just don’t do that.”

So, first of all… WBC is the LGBT community’s worst enemy? Really? Not the politicians who want to prevent us from marrying the people we love, and put us in jail for having sex? Not the religious leaders who incite violence against us, and push foreign nations to legalize the execution of gays? Not the fake psychologists who claim electroshock treatments and solitary confinement can turn gay children straight?

No, those aren’t our worst enemies. People who say nasty things about us. They’re our worst enemies. Continue Reading

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George R. R. Martin cares about what I do!

August 13, 2012 ACLU, Politics / Religion, Writing Comments (0) 453

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do. I hardly need validation from celebrities to make me feel good about my job. Still, it was a nice start to the week to read George R. R. Martin’s screed against nationwide voter suppression efforts. A sampling:

The people behind these efforts at disenfranchising large groups of voters (the young, the old, the black, the brown) are not Republicans, since clearly they have scant regard for our republic or its values. They are oligarchs and racists clad in the skins of dead elephants.

As a fan of GRRM’s books, I’m also a regular reader of his blog. Naturally I posted a comment thanking him on behalf of his fans at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, where we just wrapped up a two-week-long lawsuit against the state’s voter suppression law. We’re expecting a decision this week, so we’re all on pins and needles right now. It’s nice to see that an author I respect and admire is willing to speak out against such injustice.

Now… how do I parlay this into a blurb from GRRM?

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Sometimes I get to feel like I work with super heroes.

March 2, 2012 ACLU, Gay and Lesbian, In The News, Personal, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 407

So a high school principal in Tennessee, Dorothy Bond, was using the PA system to preach about Jesus Christ and his sacrifice. She was holding assemblies to tell her students that gay people “weren’t on God’s path” and were “going to hell.” She promised 60-day suspensions for any students guilty of same-sex PDAs. She also told female students that if they got preganant their lives would be over, and that they would end up “jobless, homeless, and living off the government.”

So then the ACLU found out, and we sent the school district a letter. Three hours later, Dorothy Bond was unemployed.

Dan Savage says: “The ACLU means business, and they will fuck you up.”

What a way to end the week. I’ll be walking on air all the way home.

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