[by Phyllis Shaikun]
For the past 50 years, the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights (KCHR) has battled to eradicate discrimination in the Commonwealth through enforcement of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act. The Commission affirmed its vision to promote a Commonwealth united against discrimination and united for equality this past weekend at its Golden Anniversary Conference held at the Kentucky Convention Center.
At the culminating luncheon held on Friday, October 15, the Commission recognized a number of individuals who have made significant contributions to the state’s progress in civil and human rights in the areas of race, sex, religion, disability, age and economic status by inducting them into the Commission’s Hall of Fame. Among the honorees was Jewish community activist Marsha Weinstein.
To Weinstein, civil rights are basic rights that should be accorded to all citizens regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. She feels so strongly about protecting women’s rights in particular that she has expended her energies over many years to secure just treatment for women and girls of all ages.
An Alabama native, she moved to Louisville with her husband, Gary, and family in 1979 and began volunteering with the National Council of Jewish Women, Louisville Section. Soon after, she testified before a Kentucky House Judiciary Committee in support of a bill on the need to public funding of centers to support victims of domestic violence. That same year, she joined the boards of Kentucky Youth Advocates and the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights.
Her work led to her co-founding of Kentucky Women Advocates in 1986 and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) in 1987. She worked on several political campaigns and in 1992, Governor Brereton Jones recognized her efforts for women by appointing her executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Women.
During her four-year term of office, she coordinated a Kentucky Women’s Media Project; founded the Kentucky Women’s Leadership network; sponsored the U.S.
Southeastern Regional Conference on Women; led a delegation of women to the Beijing United Nations Fourth NGO World Conference for Women; sponsored a program honoring the 75th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and provided leadership to the Kentucky Chief Justice’s Gender Fairness in the Courts, Women-Owned Business Task Force and the Kentucky Legislative Domestic Violence Task Force.
One of her personal agendas was to appeal to the governor to grant clemency to women imprisoned solely for defending themselves and their children against their abusers. She worked with a group of incarcerated women to create a quilt to give voice to their abuse, a project that eventually moved the governor to grant clemency to 10 of the women with whom Weinstein still works. At her behest, Governor Fletcher also granted pardons to more than 21 women in 2007.
She served a three-year term on the National Girl Scouts of the USA Board and was one of three individuals named a national “Community Builder Fellow” to serve HUD’s Kentucky office as part of an Urban Peace Corps to revitalize American cities. In 2003, she founded a leadership development program for high school girls, which she continues to coordinate, and she helped start the nonprofit Youth Build Louisville for underserved youth ages 18-22.
Her interest in women’s history led to her founding of the nonprofit Elizabeth Cady Stanton Trust, which she serves as vice president. She has chaired the National Nominating Committee for the League of Women Voters and was honored as a Woman of Distinction by the Center for Women and Families in 2007. This year she was named a Louisville “Connector” by Leadership Louisville.
Weinstein’s past efforts as an advocate for civil rights in Kentucky and on the national scene have been clearly documented, and there is no doubt that her efforts in that regard will continue in the future.