ACLU Executive Director Discusses Social Justice Issues in Dean’s Lecture

“I’m proud to be a troublemaker, a rabble-rouser, a questioner [and] a contrarian,” the American Civil Liberties Union’s sixth executive director, Anthony Romero, said.

Romero came to the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center April 16 to address social justice issues like LGBT equality, criminal justice reform and the importance of protecting rights.

“When I was your age gay men and women could be thrown in jail for loving the person they loved,” said Romero, who is the first openly gay man to serve as the ACLU executive director.

Romero cited a case of a lesbian couple who had been together for more than 40 years as a victory for the LGBT community.

In the case, the couple legally married in Canada, but returned to New York. When one of the women died, the state gave the widow an estate tax of $400,000. The case was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the widow.

“It is a matter of time, not a matter of if there will be equal rights for LGBT people,” Romero said. “It will happen.”

Romero discussed the NSA leak, praising Edward Snowden for his controversial findings.

“Every phone call you’ve placed in your life for the past 12 years, the government has a record of it in Utah,” Romero said. “You never knew about it before Edward Snowden.”

Freshman multiplatform journalism major Alana Pedalino said she found it interesting how Romero supported Snowden.

“When you think about the UMD data breach, … it’s like … should we champion this guy who released all these social security numbers just to show there’s a hole in the system?” Pedalino said. “Snowden did something similar.”

The U.S. government posed more restrictions on rights after Sept. 11 in an attempt to raise national security, Romero said.

Because of this, more people were willing to give up their rights, Romero said. “If you give away your rights, it’s always going to be too late for you to use them when you need them,” he said.

The U.S. contains 8 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prison population, Romero said. He cited the U.S.’s “addiction to over incarceration” and said there were too many people behind bars.

Romero said there are too many people behind bars for nonviolent drug charges and that he would not wish prison conditions upon his worst enemy.

“I thought he raised good points and I think it will help make people think about issues in a way that they might not have thought about it before,” freshman multiplatform journalism major Gaby Galvin said.

Romero, a native of New York City, was named one of Time Magazine’s 25 Most Influential Hispanics in America, according to the ACLU website. He is the first in his family to graduate from high school.

Romero’s discussion is part of The Worldwise Arts & Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series, a free but ticketed event open to the public. The College of Arts and Humanities accepts lecture series suggestions.

The series provide lectures addressing diverse topics spanning all disciplines.

For more information on upcoming speakers, visit here.

 

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