Last week, I fulfilled a long-held dream of becoming a civil liberties lawyer. I am honored by the opportunity to join the ACLU of Virginia in its fight for gender equality as The Secular Society Women’s Rights Legal Fellow.
As a teenager growing up in Massachusetts, I developed a strong conviction that all people should have the opportunity to live their lives free from sex discrimination. This position developed from my strong belief that no one should be unduly penalized for conditions they cannot change, such as their gender, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. When an ACLU attorney spoke to my English class during my senior year of high school, I was excited to learn the ACLU not only believed in the same principles, but fought on behalf of the most vulnerable members of society to enforce them. Unsurprisingly, upon informing my mother that I had accepted a women’s rights fellowship at the ACLU, she unearthed my college admissions essay, which declared my intention to work as a civil rights lawyer for the ACLU. My 17-year-old self would be very proud.
As a student at Smith College, I began engaging in women’s rights advocacy and, surrounded by strong, inspiring women, grew in my convictions as a feminist. After transferring to The College of William and Mary in 2003, I quickly discovered that Virginia women from all walks of life are vulnerable to discrimination at work or school, are not guaranteed control over their reproductive health, and are often deprived of justice, protection, and support if they experience domestic violence. Moreover, members of the LGBT community face open discrimination from their government, schools, employers, and communities. I could not ignore these injustices then, and I cannot ignore them now.
My experiences in college led me to law school at Washington and Lee University, where I fought to incorporate discussions about women’s rights into campus life, and created opportunities for law students and undergraduates to engage in community activism promoting gender equality. As an intern at Rappahannock Legal Services in Culpeper, Virginia, and Central Virginia Legal Aid Society in Richmond and Charlottesville, Virginia, I represented victims of domestic violence and witnessed how low-income women, women of color, and members of the LGBT community are often discriminated against and denied justice in Virginia courts. I also saw how women’s control over their reproductive health (or lack thereof) played a critical role in their ability to support their families and live above the poverty line.
For the past three years, I have been working in private practice as a civil litigation attorney in Richmond. During that time, I developed skills that will allow me to effectively fight for women’s rights and gender equality in Virginia. I look forward to using those skills as the newest staff member of the ACLU of Virginia.
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