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Governor Maura Healey named USA TODAY Women of the Year honoree

Xavier Roger

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Maura Healey is one of USA TODAY’s Women of the Year, a recognition of women who have made a significant impact in their communities and across the country. Meet this year’s honorees at womenoftheyear.usatoday.com.

Maura Healey broke two glass ceilings when she was elected governor of Massachusetts in November: She became the first woman in her state to hold the office and was one of the first two lesbian politicians in the nation elected to a governorship, alongside Tina Kotek in Oregon.

Healey, 51, is no stranger to historic firsts. A political newcomer, in 2014 she became the first elected openly LGBTQ+ attorney general in the nation after winning the race for that office in Massachusetts.

As the state government’s top attorney, she quickly gained a national profile. She became a leading public challenger to Trump administration policies, suing the administration nearly 100 times on issues including the travel ban targeting majority Muslim countries and family separation policies at the U.S.-Mexico border.  She also made Massachusetts the first state to sue the Sackler family for  its role in the opioid crisis.

Earlier, while working in the Massachusetts attorney general’s office as head of the civil rights division, Healey led a successful legal challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, helping to pave the way for marriage equality to become the law of the land.

And before she was a lawyer and politician, she was an accomplished athlete, playing professional basketball in Austria after college. As a child, she played basketball, field hockey, soccer, tennis and softball.

Healey said she brought lessons from her years as an athlete to her work as a lawyer and beyond.

“I love sports,” she said. “You learn about teamwork, hard work, overcoming adversity, goal setting, all of that.”

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Who paved the way for you?

So many people. I think first about my mother. I think about what she did specifically as a single mom to raise us. She’s just a really strong woman who taught me an awful lot.

I remember she sold her wedding ring to pave half a basketball court behind our old farmhouse. She was always looking for ways to make opportunities available for us. I learned a lot about hard work and sacrifice and teamwork from her from an early age.

I think about the people who have gone before me. I think about the people who are making this possible, the trailblazers, whether they were women in their fight for equality or members of the LGBT community who weren’t afraid to live their lives authentically. I’m grateful to them for all they did to make it possible for me.

Massachusetts Gov.-elect Maura Healey sits in the House chambers in Boston before being sworn in Jan. 5, 2023.
Massachusetts Gov.-elect Maura Healey sits in the House chambers in Boston before being sworn in Jan. 5, 2023.
Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe/AP, File
What are some of your proudest moments?

I’m really proud of having the opportunity to build and lead an attorney general’s office that found ways day to day to make a difference in people’s lives.

Another thing I look back on and I’m proud of is our successful challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act. That was a case that many people thought we couldn’t win, and we took it all the way to the Supreme Court and we won. And that helped to lay the groundwork for marriage equality nationwide.

I’m also proud of the work that my team did to expose the Sackler family and bring accountability against opioid manufacturers and distributors who have ruined so many people’s lives in this state and around the country. We were the first state to sue the Sackler family and expose the  Sacklers’ wrongdoings and Purdue Pharma’s.

What are some specific ways you get involved in advancing equality, and what are some ways that others can help support this movement?

As a woman and member of the LGBTQ+ community, I am focused on leaning into all the ways that government can advance equality. This includes making sure that we have policies across all of the government – including housing, employment, education and health care – that address systemic inequities. It also means ensuring representation on boards and agencies that incorporate a diversity of lived experience and a commitment to standing up for the rights of those who have been marginalized for far too long. This is why I’ve instructed my team to apply an equity lens to everything we do, starting with conducting an equity assessment across all of state government to measure where gaps exist in access to our services.

Massachusetts Gov.-elect Maura Healey shakes hands as she arrives in the House chambers to be sworn in as governor, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, at the State House in Boston.
Massachusetts Gov.-elect Maura Healey shakes hands as she arrives in the House chambers to be sworn in as governor, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, at the State House in Boston.
Nancy Lane/The Boston Herald/AP, File
What are some ways you’ve overcome adversity?

There were challenges as a girl and woman along the way. Now we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, but I remember growing up that there just weren’t that many girls playing sports. It just wasn’t something that a lot of girls did, and most of my youth teams were dominated by boys. I’m lucky I got a chance to play, but being one of few girls was something I had to get used to.

Later on, in my professional life, it was for a long time majority men in certain realms. I was pleased as attorney general to lead an office that was majority women managers and leaders and staff. I am particularly mindful of representation really mattering and its importance for those who have been marginalized for too long.

I also remember as a gay person, being nervous about how I might be perceived in the workplace, what clients would say if they knew. That was a long time ago and a lot has changed, but I’ve had experiences where I was aware of being “other” or being not what people expected. And ultimately, you have to find your own confidence in yourself and who you are.

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey in her corner office at the State House in Boston on Jan. 9.
Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey in her corner office at the State House in Boston on Jan. 9.
Marc Vasconcellos/The Enterprise
Is there a guiding principle or mantra you tell yourself?

With any bad game or practice, you have to be able to get up the next day and shake it off and move on. I think it’s always helped me to have a strong team around me. That’s what I benefited from when I was playing basketball and later in the attorney general’s office and that’s what we’re working on building right now in the governor’s office.

When you’re in government and your job is to deliver for people every day, people who have so many needs, and you look at some of these issues around housing, workforce, childcare, food security, there’s so much work to be done. And you have to have this mentality that you’re gonna give it your all every day and do the very best you can and then get up and do it again the next day.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t be afraid. Trust your gut. Trust your instincts. Follow your passions. Don’t assume that you’re not able to do something just because you don’t see someone who looks like you doing it.

Mass. Gov. Maura Healey
Don’t assume that you’re not able to do something just because you don’t see someone who looks like you doing it.

What was a time you trusted your gut or took a big risk that paid off?

When I graduated from college, I had to make a decision about whether to go to graduate school or do something else, get a job. And I felt a lot of pressure to do both of those things; I had just graduated from Harvard.

But what I ended up doing was going to play professional basketball in Europe. People thought I was crazy to do that.

It ended up being one of the best decisions of my life. I had an opportunity to move to a new country, a new continent and have a whole new set of new, mind-opening and eye-opening experiences.

Another time was when I decided to run for office. I was seen as a very unlikely candidate having never run for office before, and we were certainly an underdog. I’m so glad that I didn’t listen to people who said it wasn’t my turn.

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