Des Moines, Iowa — Casey Gradischnig, who passed away in May at age 57, has been honored by the ACLU of Iowa with one of its highest honors: The Edward S. Allen Award.
Named for the Iowa State University professor who founded the ACLU of Iowa in 1935, the Edward S. Allen award recognizes long-time civil liberties heroes.
And Casey was definitely a hero, one whose most ground-breaking advocacy might have been simply living his life in an open and authentic way.
Back before most people even knew exactly what "transgender" meant, Casey was exploring being transgender and educating people along the way. He started with a simple but powerful act: talking openly to those he met about LGBTQ issues and his own journey.
About 20 years ago, he invited Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu to write a column about "living on the boundary between male and female." She continued to chronicle Casey's advocacy for LGBTQ understanding, including writing about what they observed when Casey, a transgender man, used the women's bathroom, as so many wrong-headed legislators would require of transgender Iowans. (One bathroom user called the police, in fact.)
His advocacy, based on honoring his truest self, started early. As a child, he chose to play only male roles in the theatre productions he participated in. In high school, he bucked norms by wearing a tie in the senior class picture—and then delighted in his classmates' response many years later when he returned, a physically transitioned male, to a class reunion.
As Rekha wrote after his death, "What made Casey so great to work with on these topics were his self-awareness and lack of shame or fear about the stigma of being different. He approached everything as an intellectual and artist, and with his funny, endearing personality, he never took himself too seriously."
One thing Casey took very seriously was his design work on STAND. As a Meredith designer, when he got wind that the ACLU nationally had hired the Des Moines company to design a new magazine, he fought for the assignment. The ACLU has a history of staid design based on lots and lots of long blocks of text, well suited to the legal community but less appealing to younger and more diverse audiences. But Casey had a vision. The resulting publication, very much Casey's brain child, was an exciting, compelling publication that has since inspired other ACLU communications efforts in a new direction. STAND went on to win a long list of awards and reimagined in a fundamental way how the ACLU communicates with its supporters and the larger world.
Casey also served on the ACLU Board of Directors until health problems made it difficult to continue to serve.
Mark Stringer, ACLU of Iowa executive director, said, “Casey was an influencer and an educator for countless people. He lived his life with a creative and compassionate spirit that inspired others to live with integrity and with respect for their own inherent worth and dignity. Even as we continue to mourn his passing, we are pleased to celebrate his legacy of artful activism and courage with this award."
Casey's family and friends will be accepting the award on his behalf at the ACLU of Iowa Bill of Rights Brunch on Saturday, October 12. Details here.