Meet Allen Gilbert, author of Equal Is Equal, Fair Is Fair

Allen Gilbert

I started my research for Equal Is Equal, Fair Is Fair shortly after retiring as executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont in 2016. I had begun the job in 2004. Twelve years later, I felt a need to untangle a lifetime of questions about the concept of equity — the notion that we’re all created equal — and about government’s role in ensuring we’re treated fairly. My specific goal in writing the book was to reach people who wanted to understand how a small state such as Vermont had made big leaps in expanding equitable access to benefits in three key areas of most individuals’ lives – schooling, marriage, and health care. The book is a nuts-and-bolts story of two successful equity movements, and an analysis of a third movement that hasn’t yet achieved its goal.

A good deal of the answer to “Why Vermont?” lies in historical circumstances connected to the state’s founding. Vermont’s founders drafted, debate, and sent to the people for adoption a constitution that stressed the importance of individual rights and the government’s responsibility to ensure that benefits provided by the state are available to citizens on an equal basis. In the 19th century, this vision of equality was often focused on the state’s prohibition of slavery. (Vermont was the first to impose such a prohibition.) But through encouragement by jurists in the 1970s and 1980s, reformers and their lawyers turned to inclusive parts of Vermont law, such as the common benefits clause of the state constitution, to forge new routes to equity around contemporary issues.

The bold actions of judges, legislators, and advocates should be seen as an invitation for all citizens to reflect on the equity that we as a state through our constitution have promised to provide to everyone. I hope that my book serves as such a reflection — that the freedom and unity we prize requires a commitment we all share to accept responsibility for each other’s welfare.

Personal Bio

Allen Gilbert began his professional work as a reporter at the Rutland Herald in 1976. He became city editor of the Herald, and then assistant editor of the Sunday Rutland Herald-Times Argus. He has taught writing at several Vermont colleges, and American studies at a German university. For 14 years he was a principal in PressKit of Montpelier, a communications and public policy research firm. He served as executive director of the Vermont affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union from 2004 to 2016. He was also a regular commentator on Vermont Public Radio.

Gilbert was active in statewide education issues over a number of years. He chaired the Worcester School Board when it joined the ACLU’s Brigham lawsuit, the suit brought to address education funding disparities. He also served on the U-32 High School Board and was president of the Vermont School Boards Association.

Gilbert graduated from Harvard College with a degree in history, magna cum laude. He also holds a master’s degree in education from the College of William and Mary. He lives in Worcester, Vermont, with his wife, Lila Richardson, a former Vermont Legal Aid attorney. They have two sons, Samuel and William.