by Rudy Serra
Ferndale native Tom Coleman’s latest book, “The Domino Effect: How strategic moves for gay rights, singles’ rights and family diversity have touched the lives of millions,” educates and inspires.
Coleman’s memoir starts with his trip to law school in 1971. He remembers his first earthquake as well as recalling a time when any sexual activity between unmarried adults was a crime in every state. There were few openly gay attorneys and “there were no openly gay judges … fast forward to 2009. Six states allow same sex marriage.”
His book includes his personal journey into marriage as well as society’s journey toward greater acceptance of diversity. He helps readers appreciate that the journey is sometimes seismic and other times as difficult and slow as moving a mountain.
Coleman started by organizing the first group of openly affirming LGBT law students. This seemingly small beginning is traced to the present and even encompasses predictions of the future.
Coleman recounts how first winning the right to a law license for an openly gay attorney snow-balled. Starting by opposing anti-gay police entrapment actions and then taking the offensive to challenge the constitutionality of unfair laws, Coleman shows how a small group of dedicated activists can create lasting change.
Coleman’s personal journey is cast against the dynamic background of an evolving nation. He notes that the U.S. Census Bureau first started counting unmarried partners in 1990, finding 3.2 million Americans in that category. By 2007, there were 100 million unmarried adults in America. The changing demographics guided strategy through a deliberate choice to build coalitions so that the rights of all unmarried Americans, not just unmarried LGBT Americas, became a focus for change.
“The Domino Effect” shows the effectiveness of a broad-based approach. His strategy included litigation, lobbying and public education. “Educating the general public as a method of winning court cases”was a tactic that relied on the moving accounts of real people prevented from visiting their dying partner in the hospital, as well as the plights of single children caring for an elderly parent without being able to get them insurance. The unfairness of employee benefit laws, tax laws and housing laws persuasively show the need to “redefine the family.”
Coleman’s experience is instructive for everyone who wants a fairer society. “The gains made in the 1980s and 1990s do not insure fairness in the future”he warns. “Some of us in the family diversity movement paved the way. Now it is left to other, perhaps younger, advocates to monitor events and to remain vigilant in the on-going quest for equal rights.”