Updated: Sep 21, 2020
Women everywhere have so much to thank Ann Maguire for. She has played a vital role in bringing awareness to the prevention of breast cancer. Ann has dedicated her life to advocating for others, she has been a friend and mentor to so many women. Her work has influenced incredible change for breast cancer awareness and inclusion for the LGBT community.
Ann Maguire co-founded the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition (MBCC) in 1991, along with a group of likeminded women who were concerned over the insufficient attention to breast cancer. Ann went on to be the first President of MBCC and Co-Founder of Silent Spring Institute. She has received State Senate official Citation, a House of Representative official Citation, and Globe Award to honor her contributions.
Through the MBCC, Ann led an incredible call to action and Massachusetts became the first state to proclaim breast cancer an epidemic. MBCC is dedicated to ending the breast cancer epidemic and the Silent Spring Institute continues to research the links between risk of breast cancer and exposure to chemicals found in everyday products. We talked to Ann about her incredible life.
Ann, tell us about your story, where it began and at what point did you know you wanted to make a difference for women rights and the LGBTQ community?
Ann: “Well, I was born and brought up in Worcester, in central Massachusetts. My parents and my older brother were always very giving people, religious, but in the way of helping, and wanting to help people. I remember the great tornado in Worcester when I was young, tremendous damage, many, many people killed and injured, and my father and brother went down immediately and started helping to do anything they could, and that was one of my childhood memories, and that made a big impression on me.
When I was still a teenager, I started getting very serious about bowling, and some of the women I bowled with took me to a Gay bar in Worcester, it was then I realized I had found a place where I belonged.
A couple of years later I moved to Boston with my lover at the time. She had a very rejecting family, she had a very hard time coping, as did so many people in those years. In fact, the horrible conditions of fear and rejection that LGBT people had to live with then contributed to her alcoholism and eventual suicide.
I wanted to do something to help other LGBT people feel good about themselves, so I started volunteering at the Homophile Community Health Center in Boston which was started by Richard Pillard. I volunteered there as a peer counselor and worked with people who needed someone to talk to.
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There was a small group of gays and lesbians starting to organize themselves then, and I started to get to know them. Men and women always worked very well together in Boston, which is a hallmark, I think of the Boston movement, and one of its very great strengths. Through these groups I got to know Elaine Noble and she asked me to run her campaign for the State Legislature. Elaine was elected to as a state representative, three full years before Harvey Milk was elected to the Board of City Supervisors in San Francisco.
The first time a gay person was elected to a state office, this made history. Around this time, in 1974, I started doing the call-in radio show, GayWay, talking with writers, activists, and leaders of LGBT organizations who came into the studio. People could listen in their cars, or their rooms or with a little ear phone, and have a connection to the gay community that was positive, affirming and informative. It was one of my favorite things I have ever done.
From there I opened a woman’s bar called Somewhere in Boston in 1977, a place where women could come and just meet other women, hear women’s music, connect with the community, find solace, and just feel good about themselves.
After that I went into City Service as an out lesbian, in 1984 in several capacities, and managed Tom Menino’s first successful campaign for Mayor of Boston. He was a fine man, and a great mayor, and a great supporter of our community, and all communities in the City.
Later I helped found the National and Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalitions, because there was so little research being done about breast cancer. It was obvious that money was needed for additional research into causes and effective treatment.”
Did you have to work harder to be heard because you were a woman in the community? Do you still think that is the case today?
Ann: “Well, things have improved since the women’s movement had its impact in the 60’s and 70’s. But there is still so much to be done. We are seeing now in a new way, how hard things have continued to be for women, even after all the progress that was made. Women still work for less money in so many fields. In Boston there has always been a great deal of cooperation between Gay men and Lesbians. The Boston Lesbian and Gay Political Caucus was started by a wonderful team of men and women who worked very well together. But at the first International Gay Rights Congress in Scotland in 1974, we had a lot of work to do, to get the men there to understand that we women were not just there to serve them coffee and tea. I have always just moved ahead with whatever I saw needed to be done.”
What would you say was your most outstanding achievement, both personally and as an activist?
Ann: “It’s hard to just pick one. GayWay was such an important resource for people at that time. Somewhere served thousands and thousands of women from all over, brought people together. Elaine’s election was historic, and it broke ground. Tom Menino was a special person, and maybe the best mayor in Boston’s history. It was an honor to work with so many fine people in the breast cancer movement. I can’t say there is a particular one.”
Were you afraid of being visible and outspoken for the LGBTQ community?
Ann: “It was much easier for me to do some of these things because I was out. I was not afraid of losing my job, unlike so many members of our community who were still closeted. My family was always very supportive, and so I could do some things that others weren’t in the position to do.”
If you could urge the younger generation of women to take action, what would you say to them?
Ann: “It doesn’t matter how you start. Anything helps. Write a letter. Find a group doing work you believe in. Find a candidate you can work for or run yourself. There is power in numbers. There is no point complaining unless you are willing to do something.”
What is your favorite inspirational quote?
Ann: “My favorite quote from Margaret Meade, the great anthropologist is: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Spending any amount of time with Ann leaves you feeling there is so much more we each, as individuals, can do to make the world a better place for everyone. Ann has played a major role in taking action and providing support for others, now the next generation are raising the mantle.
Dr. Maggie Rizzi, a longtime friend of Ann, has produced a documentary about her life, Ann Maguire An American Hero.
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