op-ed: “black, queer, feminist, erased from history: meet the most important legal scholar you’ve likely never heard of”

January 13, 2016

In the 1960s, Dr. Pauli Murray, a black scholar and graduate of Howard University School of Law began the groundwork for what would later become the first winning legal argument that the Equal Protection Clause could and should be applied to cases of gender discrimination, in the ways in which it was applied in racial discrimination cases. In 1971, as part of Notorious RBG’s (Ruth Bader Ginsburg) legal work in the Reed v. Reed case, Murray’s groundbreaking previous research earned her co-authorship credit of the cases legal brief (even though she didn’t directly help write it)—”the most direct precursor to Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality.”

By Erin White, AFROPUNK contributor

Read a few excerpts below. Originally published by Brittney Cooper, teacher of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers, on SALON.com.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg has emerged as the liberal hero of a hopelessly right-wing Supreme Court, a ram in the bush for those of us who look on in horror as the court presides over the dismantling of key pieces of legislation like the Voting Rights Act, anti-discrimination law and affirmative action policy, which have been so critical to African-American advancement since the 1960s.”

“In a recent interview at Georgetown University, Ginsburg reflected on the history behind one of her key legal accomplishments, the 1971 case of Reed v. Reed. After an estranged couple lost their son, his mother, Sally Reed, petitioned to administer his estate. But Idaho law maintained that “males must be preferred to females,” in such matters.”

“But much of the legal groundwork for that argument can be attributed to Dr. Pauli Murray, a Howard University-trained lawyer, who began to argue in the 1960s, that the Equal Protection Clause should be applied to cases of sex discrimination in much the same way that it had been applied to cases of racial discrimination.”

“Though today we speak of these matters in the language of intersections, a term gleaned from legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, it is Pauli Murray’s initial invocation of the race-sex analogy for black women’s positionality within the law that is the most direct precursor to Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality.”

“Pauli Murray was a gender nonconforming person, who favored a masculine-of-center gender performance during her 20s and 30s. She struggled both with her sense of gender identity and with her sexual attraction to women. She asked doctors to administer male hormones to her in the 1930s, and tried to convince one doctor to perform exploratory surgery to see if she had “secreted male genitals.” “

“In today’s terms, she very probably would have embraced transgender identity, and might have identified as a trans* man. That terminology was not available to Murray in the 1930s and 1940s, since it was not invented until the 1950s.”

Read the original article at SALON.com
Follow Brittney Cooper on Twitter.
Photo credit: AP