"The legal fight for trans people and rights is entirely antithetical to the vision of my work because I do not really believe in rights or the law but I am a lawyer so I do deal with those concepts in my work," said ACLU's Chase Strangio.
This vision of the world was woven into all of Strangio's remarks at the University of Chicago's Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality ( CSGS ) hosted event, "What Can the Law Do for LGBT Rights? A Conversation with ACLU's Chase Strangio," Nov. 7 at CSGS headquarters.
Strangio is an ACLU LGBT/HIV Project staff attorney who represented Chelsea Manning during her incarceration and transgender teen Gavin Grimm's lawsuit against his Virginia school district. Strangio is currently a co-counsel in ACLU's lawsuit against the Trump Administration's ban on transgender individuals in the military and the lawsuit against North Carolina's anti-trans laws HB2 and HB142.
CSGS' Contexts of Coalition Project Director Chase Joynt ( CSGS and Sociology postdoctoral scholar ) organized the event. Joynt is an internationally award-winning filmmaker and writer whose first book, You Only Live Twice, ( co-authored with Mike Hoolboom ) was a 2017 Lambda Literary Award Finalist.
In terms of the work he does, Strangio said he is always conflicted because the law is unfair and uneven depending on the judge, lawyers and jurisdiction involved in each case.
Strangio related a story about a Black man's sentencing by a democratically appointed white woman federal judge who has been called a marriage equality hero. The judge, Strangio explained, said many racist things to the man and then said she could make things better for society by putting him in jail. Strangio noted this is how the legal system works and it disturbs him because it traffics in white supremacy.
"The way I stay grounded is by reminding myself that every intervention I do as a lawyer is a compromising constraint and perpetuates harm in one way or another," said Strangio. "No matter what we are doing or what our intentions are as legal system advocates we are complicit in these structures. My goal is to expose the system for the harm it creates at the same time as I am working on individual wins."
Strangio said he was praised by many people for being Manning's lawyer but he noted that she, unlike others, had many more resources and privileges when she was released due to her fame and status as a civil rights hero. He explained that Manning's experience is not indicative of what most trans people face.
Joynt asked Strangio where Manning's and Grimm's cases fit into Strangio's understanding of the larger movement.
Strangio noted that both Manning and Grimm had a specific challenge concerning violence against them and that is why they came to the ACLU for help. He said the ACLU also seeks out clients that would make good cases to advance equality and access for marginalized people.
Joynt inquired about trans visibility and specifically mentioned actress Laverne Cox's rise to fame and how that impacts the work Strangio does.
"The visibility of trans people changes the legal advocacy and the legal advocacy changes the nature of the visibility," said Strangio.
Strangio noted the law is an important tool to fight back against trumpism but it also disturbs him because if the judiciary system is the best that can happen society has already lost the battle. He also explained that the over reliance in the law and passing more laws does not really solve problems among individuals and groups of people. Strangio noted that currently there is a movement among the far-right to weaponize the law around religious discrimination against minorities writ large.
As for what motivates Strangio outside the law; he said it is all about relationship building, what it means to love and being a parent.
See www.aclu.org/bio/chase-strangio and gendersexuality.uchicago.edu/ for more information .