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Their name was Pauli Murray

Pauli Murray circa 1931, age 21
Courtesy of Amazon Studios
Pauli Murray circa 1931, age 21

... and they was a Black Queer civil rights trailblazer you’ve probably never heard of. In Out in the Bay's final 2021 broadcast, hear Murray in their own voice from the documentary "My Name is Pauli Murray" and from the filmmakers.

Activist, lawyer, poet and priest, Dr. Anna Pauline Murray lived a life of firsts. Yet their extraordinary achievements remained largely unknown until recently, a historical omission filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West sought to correct with their Amazon original documentary, “My Name is Pauli Murray.”

Called “ahead of their time” in many arenas, Murray’s legal writings are credited with laying the foundation for Brown v. Board of Education – the 1954 US Supreme Court decision that outlawed racial segregation in public schools – and other landmark civil rights cases, including 2020’s US Supreme Court decision extending protections in the 1964 Civil Rights Act to LGBTQ employees. This ruling, 35 years after Murray’s death, made it illegal to fire anyone for sexual orientation or gender identity in all 50 US states.

Despite their contributions to gender equality, Murray had a life-long struggle with gender identity. As a child in the 1910s, young Pauli and supportive Aunt Pauline had a deal: Pauli could wear pants all week but had to wear a dress on Sundays for church.

Later in life, doctors were not supportive when Pauli sought, for example, testosterone many decades before it was seen as a viable treatment. Pauli’s self-description in a note to one doctor: “One of nature’s experiments: A girl who should have been a boy.”

Hear more about Pauli Murray’s remarkable life from our Out in the Bay guests: Julie Cohen, co-director of “My Name is Pauli Murray” and of “RBG,” the 2018 Oscar-nominated documentary about the late US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Dolores Chandler, former coordinator at the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice in Durham, North Carolina, who appears in the film.

You’ll also hear directly from Murray in their own voice, as Murray recorded many hours of film and audio – and saved boxes and boxes of written documents – about themself and their life, leaving behind a documentarian’s dream treasure trove. Much of that footage is in “My Name is Pauli Murray” and some is also in this week’s Out in the Bay. The film streams on Amazon Prime Video.

Year-end request: Please help us keep bringing LGBTQ news, voices and stories to the world by making a tax-deductible donation to Out in the Bay now. We’ve been promised $1,500 from a generous donor if we get that much from other donors by January 10. Thanks and all best to you in 2022! (Donate tabs on our website will take you to a Media Alliance interface. Media Alliance is our non-proft 501(c)3 fiscal agent. Your gift will be earmarked for Out in the Bay.)

This episode was produced by Kendra Klang and edited by Christopher Beale.

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Eric Jansen is a long-time broadcaster and print journalist. A former news anchor, producer and reporter at KQED FM, San Francisco; KLIV AM, San Jose; and Minnesota Public Radio, Eric's award-winning reports have been heard on many NPR programs and PRI's Marketplace. His print work has been in The Mercury News, The Business Journal, and LGBTQ magazines Genre and The Advocate, among other publications. He co-produced the June 2007 PBS documentary Why We Sing!, about LGBTQ choruses and their role in the civil rights fight.