by Natasha Aggarwal LL.M ’21
“There has been a last-minute withdrawal from the spring clinic, and I am reaching out to see if you would be interested in enrolling.”
I received this email from the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs right before the beginning of the spring semester. I have never made a quicker decision! I immediately replied to express my interest and was fortunate to soon be enrolled as a Student Attorney in the LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic.
As expected, after I hit send my fears and anxiety kicked in. Was I going to be able handle working with the clinic? How will it work online? LL.M. students habitually feel like outsiders in a sea of J.D. students, and I was afraid that this was going to be another such instance. Thankfully, Professor Alex Chen only seems intimidating. He is in fact incredibly kind, helpful and a fantastic supervisor.
There is only so much you can learn in a classroom. By reading caselaw, I understood the larger issues impacting the LGBTQ+ community – same sex marriage, healthcare, and bathrooms. In other words, I had visibility on the issues that made it to court. But the classroom doesn’t offer the opportunity to explore legal issues in the everyday life of someone experiencing minority stress as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. I didn’t realize that pretty much everything has the potential to be challenging. For example, did you know that transgender elders have to be more careful while drafting their will because of the risk of being misgendered upon death? Or that it is extremely difficult to change your name on the birth certificate of your child if you transition after their birth?
There are various moments when I’ve felt emotionally exhausted – most recently, while researching the treatment of transgender women in ICE detention centres especially in light of all the anti-trans legislation across the country. While I was initially hesitant to bring up my exhaustion with Professor Chen (on account of my own shyness), he created space for the clinical students to express their frustration with the legal system and the real world. After having worked in corporate law firms for five years, I cannot emphasize the importance and value of having a supervisor who recognizes the reality of the world we live in, and guides and mentors you in addition to just reviewing your work.
It was this guidance and support that gave me the confidence to interview individuals who are part of multi-partner relationship structures. I was pretty uneducated about polyamory before I started working with the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition as part of my clinical work. After attending a few meetings and interviewing a few individuals, my perspective shifted and I completely understood the need for legal (and social) recognition of polyamorous families. Why shouldn’t someone be allowed to visit one of their partners in the hospital? Why aren’t individuals afforded the autonomy to determine their own relationship and family structures? My learnings in the classroom formed the foundation for these questions, and the clinic taught me to seek answers.
Although I am sad that my time at Harvard Law and the LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic is over, I am so grateful that my time as a Student Attorney has prepared me for what it would be like to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community outside of the classroom.