Featured A life dedicated to equal and civil rights

A life dedicated to equal and civil rights

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Photos by Lauryn Hottinger

Lois Galgay Reckitt, advocate for abused women and LGBT rights, state legislator

When someone tells Lois Galgay Reckitt she looks familiar, she says, “You’ve seen me on television every time someone in Maine was killed related to domestic violence.”

For more than three decades, Reckitt has been one of the most prominent advocates in Maine for abused women and for LGBT rights. She served as executive director of Family Crisis Services in Portland for 36 years, and co-founded the Maine Women’s Lobby, the Maine Coalition for Human Rights, the Human Rights Campaign Fund and the Maine chapter of National Organization for Women (NOW).

“I had no clue I was a lesbian until I was 36 years old,” says Reckitt, who is now 72 and happily married to Lyn Kjenstad Carter, who also works in the domestic violence field. “I worked on lesbian rights issues long before I realized I was one, because it was the right thing to do because people should be treated fairly. We just didn’t have the lexicon for it. And the same was true with domestic violence and for rape and for child sexual abuse. In my life, I’ve tried to be honest and articulate and to have a clear vision of the world and what is right. To be straight forward, to pardon the expression.”

Reckitt developed her mediation skills growing up as a single child with two parents who were “never on the same side.” Her father was Catholic, excommunicated for marrying a Protestant. He was a Kennedy Democrat, her mother a Republican—and then later on, they switched. “So I got good at finding a way to mediate the struggles,” Reckitt says. “There was a lot of tension in my household. In retrospect, I believe my mother was a battered woman.”

Lois took other positive qualities from her upbringing: working hard like her father, valuing education like her mother.

“My mother was always very obsessed with education as a way forward to independence, whether you were married or not,” Reckitt says, adding that her parents disagreed about her going to Brandeis and then Boston University, where she earned a degree in marine biology and biological oceanography. “I never learned to type,”  she says, laughing, “because if I did, I would have been a secretary.”

It was through her work with the National Organization for Women (NOW) as a young woman that Reckitt got involved with a local task force on domestic violence in the mid-1970s, administering anonymous questionnaires to women in Laundromats and beauty parlors. “We proved there was a need,” says Reckitt, and Family Crisis Services (FCS) was incorporated in 1977 to serve victims and survivors of domestic and dating violence in Cumberland County. “The first client was supposed to be on Jan 1, 1978, but there was a woman on the doorsteps, so they opened early at the very end of 1977.”  

By 1979, Lois was executive director of FCS. “I had a high profile as a feminist, and I had a reputation as a good administrator,” she says. “But I didn’t know until I jumped into that work that it was my life and that it was what I was put on the planet to do.”

“Lois has always showed strength in taking a long view,” says Meg London, who worked at FCS for 23 years and is now director of services at Elder Abuse Institute of Maine. “She would see a need, years ahead of the curve, and let staff run with it.”

“I knew her for 15 years and watched her work before we became a couple,” says Carter, who is now a program coordinator at the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. “She’s a quiet source of strength.”

In all, Lois would spend 36 years at FCS, during which time the nonprofit outgrew one shelter and purchased another. FCS established abuse prevention and protection programs for young adults, elders, and incarcerated women and collaborated closely with police.

“The burden of it was pretty heavy for a long time,” Reckitt admits. “It was worth doing, but hard.”

She held that around-the-clock leadership role until 2015, other than an interlude from 1984 to 1987, when she went to Washington, D.C., to serve as executive vice president of NOW.

Reckitt describes herself as a liberal Democrat. “The things I care the most about are the most progressive issues: equal rights, reproductive rights and civil rights,” she says. “But I also think I’m a pretty reasonable person, and I do look for common ground.”

Finding common ground is exactly what Reckitt hopes to do in her new venture—as a state legislator representing South Portland’s District 31.

“Lois has been a pioneer in the women’s movement for all of her life,” says Jill Barkley, executive director of Emerge Maine, which trains Democratic women to run for office. “Most people would look back on a career like hers, spending more than 30 years fighting to end violence against women, and know they’d earned a break. But Lois decided to run for office. She’s a Democrat and proud of that, but more than that, she wants to go bring people together and get the job done—like she always does.”

One of Reckitts’s biggest fans is eldest grandson Malikai Moulton, a sixth-grader looking forward to being a student page at the State House.

“He’s been a political force,” says Carter, remembering Malikai holding up a sign advocating marriage equality that read: “Yes on 1. My Grandmothers Matter.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer from Scarborough.

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