Annie Laurie Gaylor Honors Her Mom, “Lightning Rod” Anne Gaylor

September 24, 2016

There should be a conference just for presentations about how great our moms are. My mom, Cynthia Grzywinski, for example, is super great. She works full time in a really tough job with the FAA doing something so complex that I don’t even understand it, and she also helps care for her elderly parents who live next door, and still finds the time to take part in civic activities, including her leadership of the South Jersey Animal Advocates.

A lot of us probably have within us a compelling my-mom’s-so-great presentation. Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has a great-mom story to tell that’s central to what all of us are doing here in the first place. Her mom was, of course, Anne Gaylor, the trailblazing activist who founded FFRF and made the country pay serious attention to the wrongs of religion, the problems of church-state intermingling, and the importance of women’s autonomy. We’re having a Women in Secularism conference today in large part thanks to Anne Gaylor.

I won’t recount the entire history of her life and accomplishments, but I think it’s important to note what a rare thing it was to see someone stand so firmly and unabashedly for things like contraception and abortion when religious attitudes still controlled access to such services. We still get squeemish in 2016 when someone advocates not just for the choice to have an abortion, but for the social positive abortion itself is. (Katha Pollitt is doing that, and she’ll be here too.) Anne Gaylor penned an editorial advocating affirmatively for abortion’s legalization when doing so was a thousand times more explosive than it would be today. That editorial helped her launch FFRF.

Anne Gaylor was, as one paper called her, a lightning rod. Another said, “Atheist Activist Fights Hard, Wins.” That’s some good posterity.

Annie Laurie recounted how her mother would frequently asked if she was too radical, being pro-abortion, pro-contraception (her state of Wisconsin was the last state to legalize contraception for unmarried women), and heading an organization calling for freedom from religion. “I never liked euphemisms,” she would say. “If you have something to say, say it.”

And so she did. On the broader movement for nonbelievers and the separation of church and state, Anne Gaylor would tell the doubters, “I think the world is ready for us.” Well, ready or not, there she was.