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Director of ACLU Steps Down in Vermont

By Rebecca Walker

Last Monday, Allen Gilbert announced that he is leaving his position as the Executive Director of the Vermont Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), after holding this title for 12 years. Gilbert has not decided when his last day will be, but has clarified that he will maintain his position until the summer while a replacement is being found.

It is expected that this replacement process will take about three to four months. The search for Gilbert’s successor has commenced and will span the nation with efforts facilitated by Board Chair James Morse.

“It’s been a great run,” Gilbert said in an interview with VTdigger. “12 years is a long time. It’s a full-throttle job and I just need to slow down.” Gilbert also ensured that he does not plan to quit his work all together, but emphasized the desire to be at a place where he can take care of his health as well. Indeed, Gilbert claims to have a list of about five public policy projects that he will give attention to despite the fact that he is leaving his position.

“I don’t see myself stopping from doing some form of gainful work. I’ve got a long list of things I still want to do,” Gilbert assured the Burlington Free Press in an interview.

The longtime president clearly was not lacking in things to do during his 12 year term with the ACLU. Before leading Vermont’s ACLU, Gilbert held a job as a reporter for the Rutland Herald, worked as an English teacher in Germany and served as a partner in a public policy and research communications firm. As a Worcester resident, Gilbert assumed the position of executive director when Vermont’s chapter of the ACLU only had three staff members. By the end of Gilbert’s term, the chapter was composed of five staff members. One major implementation of Gilbert’s was the addition of ACLU Vermont’s first staff attorney.

“The growth in staff and the strategic location [of the group’s offices] are symbolic of Allen’s successful efforts to expand the ACLU’s work and visibility,” praised Board Chair James Morse in an interview with VTdigger.

Morse’s second element of praise refers to Gilbert’s decision to relocate the Vermont ACLU’s offices from the Vermont College of Fine Arts on East State Street in Montpelier to Elm Street. The goal and successful effect of this relocation of offices was for the members of the ACLU chapter to place themselves closer to the Vermont Statehouse, where they hoped to inspire and fight for concrete changes. In fact, the executive director himself has been described as being a frequent presence at the Statehouse where he has shown no fear for engaging in heated debate with law enforcement members. Gilbert further expressed his passion for his job to VTdigger as he claimed to enjoy that he “never knew what was coming down the pike” as executive director of the Vermont ACLU.

After announcing his decision to step down from the head position, Gilbert revealed two of his proudest moments and accomplishments in his work in the ACLU. The first major accomplishment that he cited was his involvement in the Guiles v. Marineau case in 2006. This was a freedom of speech case in which a middle schooler’s right to political speech was contested. The ACLU ultimately emerged victorious with this case in the circuit court.

The second major accomplishment that Gilbert cited was a discrimination lawsuit that the ACLU worked to use to counter the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville. This case emerged in 2012 when the Wildflower Inn refused to host a wedding reception for a lesbian couple. This case was a success for the ACLU and for Gilbert because the inn settled and agreed to pay the women a civil penalty for their actions.
According to VTdigger, Gilbert expressed that “a civil liberty is never completely and permanently won,” and that he has been honored to have been given the opportunity to play a role in fighting to protect them in his role as the leader of Vermont’s American Civil Liberties Union for all these years.

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