My Impact: A Conversation with 2020 Fellow Gabriella Larios

/ Fellows in Action

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. National Advisory Committee member Leslie Espiricueta spoke with Gabriella Larios, a 2020 Fellow in the Design-Your-Own Fellowship Program hosted by the New York Civil Liberties Union, where she is now a staff attorney. 

For Gabriella Larios, the stakes for her work in LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights are high because they are tied to her sense of self. “Growing up in a religious community, where I didn’t feel like my identity was accepted… really paved the way for me wanting to work in LGBTQ rights law,” said Gabriella. As a queer woman, she has a personal connection to her work and acutely understands how legislation related to reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights can affect people.

Her work during her fellowship mainly consisted of engaging in advocacy, public education, outreach, and litigation to challenge the use of religion to discriminate against individuals seeking reproductive health care and LGBTQ+ New Yorkers. Challenging the way that trans and non-binary people are discriminated against by government actors was also an integral piece of Gabriella’s fellowship.

“Both of these issues—reproductive rights and justice and LGBTQ rights—were deeply intertwined for me as I was going through law school and thinking about what kind of lawyer I wanted to be,” said Gabriella. “Both of these issue areas stem from an attack on bodily autonomy and from being able to shape your own life in whatever way you see fit.”

As a 2020 Fellow, Gabriella had many hurdles to cover throughout her two-year project, including adjusting to working completely remotely during CVOID-19. Nevertheless, she was able to overcome this huge adjustment by consistently showing up and thinking creatively about how she could engage in a meaningful way with her community. Gabriella’s ability to adapt during this time allowed her to successfully educate and encourage the community in Schenectady and beyond without hosting in-person activities.

Gabriella’s Fellowship was her first job out of law school—meaning that as a junior lawyer, she had to be especially mindful about building meaningful relationships with clients. One challenge she faced was creating an environment where clients felt safe divulging traumatic experiences to her through a screen.

“Sometimes you just sign on to a Zoom and shut it down when you’re done talking about the agenda items, but that never felt right or authentic to me,” said Gabriella. “I… always tried to get a sense of what [was] going on in my client’s life—beyond the case that we were working on, beyond the issue we’re advocating on. That is integral to building strong relationships.”

The opportunity to work with NYCLU was a great fit to Gabriella, due to their advocacy for religious liberty and freedom in addition to their advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights and reproductive rights. “I feel in some ways lucky that I started working on this area when I did in 2020,” said Gabriella. Since her Fellowship, the urgency, timeliness, and necessity of Gabriella’s work have all remained clear. Cases such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the case of 303 Creative v. Elenis are both prime examples of why people like Gabriella need to be out in the field fighting for rights in communities across the country.

Continuing her work at NYCLU post-Fellowship, Gabriella remained involved in LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights work. Many of the cases she worked on as a Fellow are still active, and much of the community advocacy and policy work started during her Fellowship is ongoing. She leads a gender and sexuality workgroup at NYCLU, where she fosters discussion on issues related to LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive rights, gender, and justice. She commits to taking a multi-faceted approach to her work and collaborating with other departments at NYCLU to ensure that they meet the needs of their clients and community. Additionally, Gabriella has expanded her practice to develop additional expertise in healthcare and incarceration settings.

“I’m excited to keep exploring different aspects of civil rights and civil liberties issues while maintaining this focus on LGBTQ rights and reproductive rights,” said Gabriella. “I think as the Supreme Court continues to make decisions like Dobbs and like 303 Creatives, there is going to be more and more work to be done. To push back against that…I think there’s also a lot of opportunity to think creatively about how we want to push courts in New York State and push legislation in New York.”

She ended her conversation with some advice for law students and young lawyers who are starting out in their careers. One piece of advice was for people to push themselves to gain experience outside of a classroom during law school, whether through clinics, externships, or other opportunities. “It is really important to step away from the studying and get real practical experience doing the work that you want to do as a public interest lawyer,” Gabriella stated.

She also encouraged people who are starting out to take time for themselves and lean on their community. This, Gabriella emphasized, is essential to avoiding burnout: “Find joy in things outside of the workplace outside of school [so] that you can rest and be recharged enough to continue doing this work for a long time.”

To learn more about Gabriella’s work advocating for educational rights, watch the full interview here.


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