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My Impact: A Conversation with 2017 Equal Justice Works Fellow Alexander Chen

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Photo of Alexander Chen

My Impact is a conversation series from Equal Justice Works, using interviews with alumni to shine a light on what’s possible with an Equal Justice Works Fellowship. For Pride month, Brand Manager Lauren Wright spoke with Alexander Chen, a 2017 Fellow hosted by the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Alex currently serves as the founding director of the Harvard Law School LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic.

“I never thought I would be a lawyer—I never planned to go to law school. I ended up here because of my own lived experience,” said 2017 Equal Justice Works Fellow Alexander Chen, when asked about the beginnings of his career in public interest law. Choosing to live “more authentically as [himself],” Alex saw firsthand how difficult it was to obtain accessible, gender-affirming care as a transgender person, even while equipped with the educational resources to navigate the system.

“I experienced just how difficult it was for many people—my friends and in my community—to be able to navigate the very complex, bureaucratic systems that we have in our country,” Alex said. Inspired to pay forward the types of affirming services he himself had fought to receive, Alex entered law school in 2011.

“When I went to law school, I was really nervous about whether I could make a career that centered trans rights and LGBTQ+ rights,” said Alex, thinking back to just ten years ago when trans rights issues were not recognized—or respected—in mainstream media the way they are today. Following law school, Alex pursued an Equal Justice Works Fellowship with the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), an organization with a commitment to trans rights and the “less flashy” areas of LGBTQ+ law, such as family law and immigration.

Through an Equal Justice Works Fellowship, Alex was able to engage in a three-pronged approach to expanding the rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming youth in schools, families, health care, child welfare systems, and juvenile justice facilities. Working in collaboration with NCLR, Alex used impact litigation, legislative and policy advocacy, and public education to improve outcomes for his own clients and the LGBTQ+ community at large. During his Fellowship, for example, Alex leveraged the support of his sponsors, Baker McKenzie and Salesforce.org, to create and disseminate his first-of-its-kind Trans Youth Handbook.

Now, two years into his role as founding director of the LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic at Harvard Law School, Alex has built upon many of these skills—impact litigation, advocacy, and education—to shape the future of LGBTQ+ advocacy outside of a nonprofit, donor-oriented setting. This model, he says, allows for planning in the intermediate to long term instead of working solely in reaction to attacks on LGBTQ+ rights.

“The mission of the clinic is to focus on the kinds of issues that will define the future of LGBTQ+ advocacy, which we believe means focusing on marginalized communities within the LGBTQ+ community, and thinking about the ways in which the work of social justice for our community connects to broader movements for social justice,” said Alex. “We prioritize three areas… issues that disproportionately affect LGBTQ+ people of color; issues that disproportionately affect transgender, gender nonconforming, gender nonbinary, and intersex individuals; and issues that…look to the idea of LGBTQ+ people as whole persons who are connected and have many facets to their life.”

When asked to share advice for new law students—particularly those interested in fighting for LGBTQ+ rights in 2021, which the Human Rights Campaign has deemed, “the worst year in recent history for LGBTQ+ State Legislative Attacks”—Alex encouraged listeners to follow their passions.

Where people tend to make the most difference tends to be where their heart lies, and where their lived experience lies.

Alexander Chen /
2017 Equal Justice Works Fellow

“The real question is where YOU can make the most difference, not where ANYBODY could make the most difference—and where people tend to make the most difference tends to be where their heart lies, and where their lived experience lies,” he said.

For more about Alex’s time as a Fellow, his experience within the Equal Justice Works alumni community, and the work that he has done to advance LGBTQ+ rights throughout his career, view the full interview.

To learn more about following your passion for equal justice and public service, visit here to apply for a 2022 Design-Your-Own Fellowship before the application deadline (September 20, 2021).

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow