Robin Fretwell Wilson
Advocacy for LGBTQ Affairs
2020 Larine Y. Cowan Make a Difference Award
As one of the creators of “Tolerance Means Dialogue,” an innovative program that is at the forefront of efforts to further the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the legal profession and all of society, Robin Fretwell Wilson is unafraid of leading the difficult conversations that lead to greater understanding.
During a time when discussing complex social issues can seem divisive and overwhelming, Professor Wilson’s tireless efforts elicit real change. The Dialogues foster constructive, candid discussions of hard questions at the intersection of faith, sexuality, and families that ask participants to engage perspectives that may be vastly different from their own and engage in honest conversations with each other.
Importantly, Tolerance Means Dialogues engages students across universities, including law students, but also students from other parts of campus. The Dialogues give a national and international platform to students’ insights about what tolerance means and how their experiences could help forge a better, more inclusive, respectful society. Professor Wilson and her “Tolerance Means Dialogues” initiative has had impact on students at colleges and universities across the country and promises to continue sparking dialogue around these issues.
Robin Fretwell Wilson is the Director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs for the University of Illinois System, of which the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is a part, as well as the Mildred Van Voorhis Jones Chair in Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Professor Wilson co-directs the College of Law’s Epstein Health Law and Policy Program and co-directs and founded its Family Law and Policy Program. She specializes in family law and health law, and her research and teaching interests also include biomedical ethics, law and religion, children and violence, and law and science.
In 2019, Professor Wilson was named to the Fulbright Specialist Roster by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and World Learning for work on Civil Rights Complementarity. Professor Wilson has worked extensively on behalf of state law reform efforts, helping Utah state lawmakers pass anti-discrimination legislation that balances religious liberty and LGBT rights. Professor Wilson is the founder and directs the Fairness for All Initiative, which seeks to provide tangible support and advice to thought-leaders, stakeholders, policymakers, and state and local legislators who seek balanced approaches that respect both LGBT rights and religious freedom. The Fairness for All Initiative is made possible by the generous support of the Templeton Religion Trust. Professor Wilson is the founder and director of the Tolerance Means Dialogues, a gift-supported effort to generate dialogue around deeply contested questions in civil society. She is joined in that effort by prominent gay rights leaders and sitting legislators.
Professor Wilson is the author of thirteen books, including her most recent book, Religious Freedom, LGBT Rights, and the Prospects for Common Ground, with Yale University Professor William Eskridge, Jr., which is now in paperback at Cambridge University Press.