Being Queer at HLS Means Standing Up

It is impossible to pin down what being queer at Harvard Law entails. The nature of intersectional identities means that every LGBTQ student’s experience is necessarily different. Our many identities—race, gender, class, and otherwise—have been, and continue to be, scrutinized by the law in very different ways. Our members fill all four corners of campus extracurricular life; you can find Lambda members in every affinity group, student practice organization, and journal. You will discover queer individuals engaged in very different work in in all pockets of our school. Our strengths as a community lie in the granularity of our differences. But we have done our best to condense three takeaways about what it means to be a queer 1L at Harvard Law.

Stand up for your community. The current administration has turned the tide of progress back against the LGBTQ community. The administration has laser-focused on harming the trans community, specifically by re-instituting the trans military ban (still illegally enforced) and rescinding a Department of Justice guidance that protected the right of trans students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. The President’s religious liberty executive order and the Department of Justice’s religious liberty task force have placed cross hairs on all our hard-fought gains in pursuing marriage equality and combating job discrimination. The Supreme Court’s punt in Masterpiece Cakeshop denigrated the experience of all LGBTQ individuals who lack equal treatment under the law. By removing all mention of LGBTQ people from the White House website and from the upcoming census, the President is attempting to erase us and our relevance. Meanwhile, trans women of color continue to be murdered at astonishingly high rates. Being at HLS endows us with a significant amount of power and privilege, and we encourage you to explore opportunities to fight for the rights of LGBTQ community, especially for queer and trans people of color, outside the walls of our school. You can volunteer with Y2Y, a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth. You can help us push for the creation of an LGBTQ clinic. You can intern with an LGBTQ rights advocacy organization during your 1L summer. You can join us in protesting the campus presence of organizations that discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Our community needs us, and we invite you to join us in the fight.

Stand up for your peers. Your professors will frequently remind you that law school is a “professional school” and that your behavior in classrooms is closely watched and evaluated by both your teachers and your peers. Given that looming pressure, it is easy to stay silent in the name of avoiding awkwardness or drawing attention to yourself. Most of our straight friends self-proclaim to be allies to every progressive cause. But on many occasions, we have seen those friends nervously shift in their seats, avoid eye contact, and remain silent when others made oppressive comments that denigrated our classmates’ races, religions, genders, and class backgrounds. We encourage you to speak up, even when others’ statements or actions do not target you or the LGBTQ community specifically. Discrimination rears its ugly head in many contexts, and it is incumbent on queer folks to speak out when they witness any form of marginalization at this school. Resist the temptation to divorce the real world from the seemingly “neutral” classroom discussion, and let your classmates know that you acknowledge their experiences by standing up for them as an ally.

Stand up for yourself. Self-care in law school, specifically in 1L year, is important. To many, 1L year was the best year of their life—to others, it was the most trying. Regardless, being queer in heteronormative spaces can be a draining experience. 1L year is a marathon, and you should take the necessary steps to take care of yourself. Sometimes, your peers’ comments and actions that negatively implicate your queerness or other facets of your being will may make you feel isolated, belittled, or hurt. But you and your opinions matter, and by taking care of yourself, you’re asserting your presence here as a resilient, queer member of the HLS community. Don’t be afraid of rejecting the fear of missing out during the hectic early months of 1L year—there will always be another section hangout, formal, or round of drinks at Cambridge Common. Instead, take the chance to come up for fresh air and take a night to binge Netflix, catch up on readings, or hang out with friends outside law school to pop the “bubble.”

With that said, we leave you with some parting advice. You were someone before you came to law school. You came to law school for a reason. You will get sucked into the HLS whirlpool on your very first day. But don’t lose sight of who you are and why you came here. Welcome to Harvard Law—we can’t wait to meet you all in person!

Laura Older & Heather Pickerell

Laura Older and Heather Pickerell are 2Ls. They are the co-presidents of Lambda.

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