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Romero, Anthony (b. 1965)  
 
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In 2001, just a week before the September 11 terror attacks on the United States, Anthony D. Romero took over as Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, the nation's leading public interest law firm and a fierce defender of civil rights for all, including glbtq Americans.

Romero, the ACLU's sixth Executive Director, is the first Latino and first openly gay man to lead the organization. Under his leadership, the ACLU has rapidly grown in size and effectiveness, but it has also been roiled by internal tensions.

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He was born on July 9, 1965 in New York City, the oldest child of Demetrio and Coralie Romero, uneducated Puerto Rican immigrants who sought a better life in the United States. When he was a child, his father worked as a janitor at the Warwick Hotel in Manhattan and the family lived in a crime-ridden public housing project in the Bronx.

The Romero family moved from public housing when Demetrio received a promotion to become a banquet waiter at the Warwick. However, he was able to receive the promotion only after filing a grievance alleging discrimination.

Romero remembers the promotion as a pivotal moment in the family's rise from poverty and the successful resolution of the grievance as significant in his own decision to pursue a career as a lawyer.

He also regards his experience of poverty and stigma as the child of immigrants as having sharpened his empathy for the poor and stigmatized in contemporary society. As he told Time Magazine, "We bring who we are to our job. When you've seen prejudice, you understand that we aren't finished, that we're still perfecting this American experiment."

Romero was the first member of his family to graduate from high school. An outstanding student, he received a scholarship to attend Princeton University, where he studied at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs. After graduating from Princeton in 1987, he attended, also on scholarship, law school at Stanford University.

Following the attainment of his law degree, Romero carved out a career in public-interest activism. At the Rockefeller Foundation, he led a study of future directions of civil rights advocacy. He then served for five years as a Program Officer for Civil Rights and Racial Justice at the Ford Foundation before becoming the Foundation's Director of Human Rights and International Cooperation.

In the latter capacity, Romero led the program through a period of extraordinary growth, transforming it into the Ford Foundation's largest grant-making unit. He annually signed off on nearly $100 million in human rights grants, including many to the ACLU.

During his period at the Ford Foundation, he also became friends with ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser, who functioned as a kind of surrogate father to him.

In 2000, after heading the ACLU for 23 years, Glasser decided to step down. He urged Romero to apply for the position of Executive Director and thus become his successor.

As Glasser later recalled, "I was probably as close to him as I had ever been to anybody in the funding world. We worked very closely as colleagues in the grantee-grantor sort of co-conspiratorial relationship. And he was always terrific for us. I always had a sense that he was very competent, that he was a good manager, that he understood money, that he managed a big budget, and, above all, that he seemed totally committed on a wide range of issues that were core issues for the ACLU."

Glasser championed Romero's candidacy through the selection process, and Romero was chosen Executive Director with unanimous support of the ACLU's Board of Directors.

ACLU President Nadine Strossman spoke for many when she said of the selection of the 35-year-old Romero, "It's just such a wonderful embodiment of the future of civil liberties and the future of this country to have someone who is so young and who represents the future of America, who is bilingual and gay."

Upon his appointment, which he described as "the thrill of his life," Romero remarked that "The issues that are most salient for me right now are the issues around equality, civil rights and civil liberties that pertain to minorities," adding "Within the foundation world, I've been an activist for affirmative action, women's rights and gay rights."

A week after Romero assumed his new position, however, the attacks of September 11 not only changed the course of history, but they also created severe challenges for civil liberties in the United States and necessitated a change of emphasis on the part of Romero.

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