Building Connections in the Asian and Pacific Islander and LGBTQ+ Asian and Pacific Islander Communities

Photo of Victoria Jeon

By 2020 Fellow Victoria Jeon, who is supported by the Paul Rapoport Foundation and hosted at UnLocal, inc.

In legal matters, the needs of the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community are often overlooked; LGBTQ+ API individuals are overlooked even further, alienated from both Asian and LGBTQ+ communities. I’ve been afforded the opportunity to serve these clients through my Equal Justice Works Fellowship at UnLocal. There, I work with the Queer Immigrant Justice Project, which primarily aids LGBTQ+ asylum seekers in their asylum cases, assists with obtaining Green Cards, and provides various other forms of legal assistance. During my Fellowship, I’ve met and assisted many clients from all over the world, all of whom inspire me with their own strength and resilience.

I’ve met and assisted many clients from all over the world, all of whom inspire me with their own strength and resilience.

Through my work, I also help with connecting UnLocal to local API organizations for partnerships with UnLocal’s education and legal programs. This focus is even more important given the rise in anti-Asian racism in light of COVID-19. The pandemic has emphasized the need to support API and LGBTQ+ API communities and raised new challenges in my line of work. COVID-19 has been devastating for many organizations, especially smaller nonprofits. Although I’ve been able to assist asylum seekers from all over Asia and the Caribbean, where there is a prominent diaspora of Chinese and Indian people and their descendants, the pandemic has compromised the capacity of many API organizations I had hoped to collaborate with. Despite this, I’ve still had the chance to be a liaison, connecting UnLocal to local organizations, like the Caribbean Equality Project, National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, and more.

Victoria Jeon blog
Victoria (left) with a client & his family.

Although UnLocal’s specialty is in immigration law, I had little experience with this specific area before joining the organization as a Fellow. Nonetheless, my supervisors at UnLocal gave me the opportunity to learn, and they effectively guided me so that I could handle some trials on my own. As a result, I was able to contribute significantly to a Ghanaian man’s asylum victory and lead a case that resulted in winning asylum for a Haitian LGBTQ+ ally and political activist and his family. These victories at court and my personal progress are what I’m proudest of during this Fellowship.

After completing my Fellowship, I plan to stay on at UnLocal and help with its Queer Immigrant Justice Project. This work continues to be relevant and crucial, especially given the global political tension, and I am thankful to UnLocal for putting the faith in me as they have until this point.

We’re proud of the work that Victoria is doing to advocate on behalf of LGBTQ+ Asian and Pacific Islanders. To learn more about her Fellowship, visit here.

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).

On May 12, we announced the 77 new Fellows in our 2021 class, who, later this year, will launch their public interest careers through an Equal Justice Works Fellowship of their own design.

In honor of Pride month, we spoke with 2021 Equal Justice Works Fellows Lucie Gulino and A.D. Lewis about their LGBTQ+ rights-focused projects.

Photo of Lucie Gulino
Photo of Lucie Gulino

At Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), Lucie Gulino (she/her/hers) will launch a first-of-its-kind clemency and family support project focused on holistic advocacy and outreach to lower-income Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPOC)—populations that are disproportionately incarcerated.

Clemency is “a critical tool that enables the [Massachusetts] Governor to retroactively combat the detrimental impacts of the criminal justice system,” which includes the over-policing of marginalized identities and communities. In 2020, however, more than 100 petitioners sought commutation—one form of clemency—in Boston, yet only a single petitioner was successful. This is partly due to the fact that clemency petitioners do not receive right to counsel during this process, and there is a dearth of attorneys available to provide representation. Lucie’s Fellowship seeks to change that.

“Community-based legal advocacy is an essential way to mitigate the immediate violence the criminal justice system enacts upon BIPOC and QTPOC,” said Lucie. Through her Equal Justice Works Fellowship, Lucie will create a clemency pro bono clinic at GBLS’s CORI & Re-entry Project, which will provide legal assistance and representation to petitioners; host community meetings and Know Your Rights events for those with incarcerated loved ones; and engage in a public education campaign to raise awareness about the potential to reimagine clemency as a tool for racial justice.

Community-based legal advocacy is an essential way to mitigate the immediate violence the criminal justice system enacts upon BIPOC and QTPOC.

Lucie Gulino /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

Photo of A.D. Lewis
Photo of A.D. Lewis

At Disability Rights California, A.D. Lewis (he/him/his and they/them/theirs) will represent trans people with disabilities in jails, psychiatric facilities, and/or immigration detention centers.

Transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary individuals experience significant discrimination, mistreatment, and violence when incarcerated; including sexual and physical violence, inadequate mental health and medical care, harassment, and denials of fundamental self-expression. As a result, high rates of PTSD, suicidal ideation, and exacerbation of existing mental health needs is common. By focusing on the most marginalized and underserved trans people, A.D. hopes to “challenge the structural barriers that trans people with disabilities face when seeking justice, fair treatment, and adequate care.”

“As a trans lawyer, I will fight for the most marginalized people in my community,” A.D. said. “They deserve fierce legal advocacy and caring community.”

As a trans lawyer, I will fight for the most marginalized people in my community. They deserve fierce legal advocacy and caring community.

A.D. Lewis /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

To learn more about Equal Justice Works Fellows and alums supporting the LGBTQ+ community, visit here.

By Lauren Wright, Equal Justice Works brand manager

On May 12, we announced the 78 new Fellows in our 2020 class, who will launch their public interest careers through an Equal Justice Works Fellowship. In honor of Pride month, we spoke with 2020 Equal Justice Works Fellows Victoria Jeon, Gabriella Larios, and Arielle Wisbaum about the LGBTQ+ rights-focused projects they will begin this fall.

Photo of Victoria Jeon

At the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), Victoria Jeon will promote intersectional legal rights for LGBTQ+ Asian American and Pacific Islanders (API). An LGBTQ+ Korean immigrant herself, Victoria notes that LGBTQ+ APIs are often overlooked in both their respective communities and the LGBTQ+ community at large, leaving a significant gap in legal services for these populations.

“What I am fighting for is written in my face and identity. I want to be an advocate for my own intersectional community and make a difference on their behalf,” Victoria said. The issues her project will address include immigration law, family law, criminal law, and more. By blending law, advocacy, and community organizing, Victoria’s project aims for a stronger communal infrastructure for the LGBTQ+ API community. Through this work, Victoria hopes not only for a stronger LGBTQ+ API community, but for a greater awareness and inclusion of LGBTQ+ API individuals and racial diversity in the greater LGBTQ+ community.

Photo of Gabriella Larios

As a Fellow at the New York Civil Liberties Union, Gabriella Larios will engage in policy advocacy, public education, outreach, and litigation to challenge the use of religion to discriminate against individuals seeking reproductive healthcare and LGBTQ+ New Yorkers. Gabriella points to an uptick in mergers between secular and religious hospitals as a driving force behind her project, noting that religion has been weaponized to deny access to health care and services related to reproductive and LGBTQ+ care. Additionally, “health care providers have been emboldened by the federal government’s recent attacks on reproductive rights and the LGBTQ+ community, often hiding behind the cloak of religion,” Gabriella said. Her project will lay the foundation to strengthen protections on the state and local level.

“This fight is personal for me,” said Gabriella. “As a lesbian Latinx woman, I am deeply committed to advocating on behalf of my communities while empathizing with and uplifting the stories of all people who have been denied care because of their identity.”

Photo of Arielle Wisbaum

At New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Arielle Wisbaum will provide holistic advocacy for transgender, gender non-conforming, intersex (TGNCI), and HIV+ immigrant New Yorkers to access healthcare, including gender-affirming procedures. Noting the double marginalization of citizenship status and gender identity, Arielle will take a holistic approach that considers immigration status, profiling, and harassment while addressing her client’s pressing medical needs.

“Serving this community and graduating from law school is a privilege that I will not take lightly,” said Arielle. COVID-19 has drawn out the existing structural barriers and state violence that TGNCI and immigrant communities face. ICE and the police continue to arrest and harass TGNCI and immigrant New Yorkers—placing them in detention centers where the virus is spreading and exacerbating healthcare neglect on the inside. For those detained and living with HIV, treatment is inconsistent at best. Organizers, activists, and resilient TGNCI community members are the backbone of this work. My intention through my Fellowship at NYLPI is to be there when state violence and barriers to healthcare get in the way of their power.”

Interested in supporting the LGBTQ+ community as an Equal Justice Works Fellow? Visit here to learn more and apply for the Fellowship class of 2021.

What I am fighting for is written in my face and identity. I want to be an advocate for my own intersectional community and make a difference on their behalf.

Victoria Jeon /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The U.S. Supreme Court issued two major opinions this week in Bostock v. Clayton County and Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of Univ. of Cal. The Court ruled that LGBTQ+ people cannot be fired because of their sexual orientation or because they are transgender, and the Court overturned the Trump Administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

“These landmark decisions advance our nation’s promise of equal justice for all. Equal Justice Works will continue our ongoing effort to mobilize passionate public service leaders to advocate on behalf of those whose identity and contributions are wrongly devalued or discriminated against in our country.”

– David Stern, Equal Justice Works Executive Director