The Coastal Star

Coastal Star: Boca woman recognized as advocate for human rights

Linda Geller-Schwartz, shown here in her office, was recognized by the county chapter

of the National Organization for Women for her community service.

Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Rich Pollack
    
    Linda Geller-Schwartz has made standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves her life’s work.
    An advocate of causes ranging from protecting victims of human trafficking to the push for equal pay for men and women, Geller-Schwartz tirelessly fights against injustice.
    “If I see something that upsets me, I have to do something about it,” she says.
    For her work in the community, including her efforts as the Florida state policy advocate for the National Council of Jewish Women, Geller-Schwartz, of Boca Raton, last month was named the recipient of the 44th annual Susan B. Anthony Feminist of the Year Award by the Palm Beach County Chapter of the National Organization for Women.
    “Linda is an advocate against every injustice — social or political — in our state,” says Arlene Ustin, president of the local NOW chapter. “She is a role model of advocacy and activism and she’s my hero.”
    Geller-Schwartz’s volunteer work on behalf of the nonprofit National Council of Jewish Women focuses on advocating for women, children and families and often overlaps with the core issues identified by NOW nationally.
    “Everyone knows that she’s at the forefront of all the issues we advocate,” Ustin said of Geller-Schwartz, who’s a member of the local NOW chapter. “You name any issue of urgency or importance and she’s not only a voice, she’s a leader.”
    That leadership, Ustin said, played a big part in Geller-Schwartz’s selection for the award, presented during the NOW chapter’s Susan B. Anthony Luncheon last month.
    As state policy advocate for the NCJW, Geller-Schwartz often teams with leaders of other organizations to persuade lawmakers to support certain issues and not support others.
 “We’re working with legislators trying to get good legislation passed and bad legislation stopped,” she says.
    Geller-Schwartz, who is married and has one son, has frequently reached out to the staffs of state lawmakers — and to lawmakers themselves — to speak in favor of voting rights and against legislation that treads on women’s reproductive rights.
Her efforts have had the most visible impact in the arena of supporting efforts to stop human trafficking in Florida, raise awareness and improve advocacy for the issue.
    As the former leader of Partner Organizations Against Sex Trafficking, and as an advisory board member for 1HTC, a Southeast Florida anti-human trafficking consortium, Geller-Schwartz has worked to get legislation passed that requires the posting of the human trafficking hotline number in public places. That number is 888-373-7888.
    Geller-Schwartz, who did not wish to share her age, has advocated for education in schools about the human trafficking problem in the state.
    While contacting legislators is a big part of Geller-Schwartz’s advocacy efforts, so is communicating with others and encouraging them to write letters or otherwise show their support of causes.
    She writes an electronic newsletter, distributed to other members of the National Council of Jewish Women in Florida, keeping them informed on important issues in Tallahassee and Washington.
    For Geller-Schwartz, who has a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Toronto, working on behalf of the rights of women and children has been an important part of her life.  
    Before moving to Florida two decades ago, she was director general of the Women’s Bureau in the federal Department of Labor in Canada, and a senior policy adviser in the government.  
    In Palm Beach County, she served as an adjunct professor at Florida Atlantic University in the Women’s Studies Center and the Department of Sociology until her retirement.
    “It’s been in different roles, but the issue of equality has always been central in my life,” she says. “We’ll all be better off in a society where equal rights are available to everyone.”

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