My Name is Pauli Murray was a documentary that I wasn't going to miss when it played at Sundance 2021, because of the directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen's previous film, RBG. My Name is Pauli Murray ended up being my personal favorite of the festival as well.
Pauli Murray fought for gender equality as a queer writer, lawyer, professor, and priest. Identifying as male, scholars and family held onto the she/her pronouns instead of embracing the he/his they/their pronouns that Pauli Murray identified to more closely. Their Aunt Pauline was the family member who got it the closest: referring to Pauli as her "boy-girl". At first, Pauli traveled under a male guise and said it was for protection, but later told doctors they appeared to be a woman but was really a man.
Racially, Pauli was African-American, Irish, and Cherokee. In 1940, Pauli and friend Adelene McBean were arrested for not moving to the back of a Greyhound bus in Virginia. The documentary also covers how Harvard Law School rejected their application and due to racist hiring practices, they were forced to set up their own law firm. Pauli wanted to get out of the United States to escape the constant lynchings, teaching law school in Ghana until it was apparent that government was dictatorial.
The documentary also cover their relationships with Peggy Holmes and Irene Barlow. After Barlow's death, Murray went to seminary, completely changing their career to become a priest.
Pauli Murray passed away on July 1, 1985 at the age of 74. Ahead of their time, they unfortunately weren't able to take the hormones they wanted and to live as the sex they identified as. However, their work lives on. Their story serves as a reminder that we are all complex human beings and we have to fight for what we think is right.
-Developed a tapeworm from eating cheap hamburgers