Widener University School of Law this week gave its annual Martin Luther King Service Award to two advocates who have helped spearhead the LGBT-rights movement in Delaware.
The award was presented Jan. 14 to Equality Delaware president Lisa Goodman, a 1994 graduate of the school, and wife Drewry Fennell, who served as the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware for 10 years.
Goodman and Fennell are credited as part of the team that brought Delaware some of its most progressive LGBT legislation, including the First State’s civil-union law, later a marriage-equality law and measures banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
In addition to her work with Equality Delaware, Goodman currently serves as a partner at Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor in Wilmington. Fennell is also an attorney and serves as the executive director of the Delaware Criminal Justice Council.
The couple has been together for 15 years and met at a conference for female attorneys. They were the first couple to be granted a civil union in the state after the law went into effect Jan. 1, 2012.
While at the helm of ACLU Delaware, Fennell led the agency’s advocacy for a successful LGBT adoption bill and a measure that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In her work, Goodman said she was especially impacted when the civil-union legislation passed.
“I felt like I was lit from inside by fire, like I was doing the work that I was meant to do,” she said. “I was doing the work that would be in the first line of my obituary and I’ve done lots of other things in this world that I am proud of, but for me, this was an extraordinary experience.”
Goodman also credited the team at Equality Delaware for its work.
“Everyone executed their assignments in a way that made the team better and I think it showed me what is necessary to accomplish the kind of project that Equality Delaware did,” Goodman said.
She said both she and Fennell are grateful for the chance to play a role in the state’s LGBT-rights movement.
“We are blessed to have had separate opportunities to work on really important pieces of legislation, which have made Delaware a more loving place for the LGBT community,” Goodman said.
The couple was “incredibly honored” to receive this week’s award, she added. “To win an award that is intended to honor the life and legacy of Dr. King is a tremendous honor,” she said.
The school presents the award, now in its fourth year, to individuals who have followed and lived King’s dream through their respective communities.
Goodman said she has learned many lessons from King’s journey for equality.
“The one thing I have tried to take to heart, and Drew has as well, is that anyone can make a difference,” she said. “What we have done has involved a lot of hard work and patience and time, and people often don’t stop to think how many years Dr. King worked for equality. Our journey in Delaware for LGBT rights has been a 20-year process.”
Goodman said the pair has also followed King’s belief in people’s capacity to change.
“We have tried to emulate Dr. King’s approach of being reasonable, and by that I mean meeting prejudice with the most rational and patient response that you could have. It is about winning hearts and minds and that can be a long process. But it is the process that will win.”