By Shéár Avory, Biden Fellow for LGBTQ Equality
Note: This post is part of our “The Heart of the Issue” series, blogs authored by the Biden Fellows. Each Fellow has a close connection to one or more of the Biden Foundation’s policy pillars, and their updates will bring you straight to the heart of the issues that drive our work forward.
What if youth were part of the conversation? What if young people were allowed to develop the policies that impact their lives? These are the questions we explored at the twentieth anniversary symposium of the Children Rights Litigation Committee of the American Bar Association.
Hosted at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego, the symposium convened thought-provoking conversations that intersected the issues of foster and out-of-home care, homelessness, juvenile injustice, immigration, and education. I joined Yorri Berry-Harris, Director of Youth Engagement at the National Network for Youth, for a presentation on the history – and future – of youth-led movements and policy changes.
As a young person of intersecting identities I have years of experience advocating on my own behalf. In the third grade, I successfully advocated for healthier school lunches after my peers and I were served spoiled food for the entirety of the first semester. While in foster care, I sought – and won – a court order to enroll in an independent study program after enduring bullying, harassment, and physical assault in the first week after I was placed at a new middle school. And when I experienced further harassment in my sophomore year of high school, my mother and I met with representatives of then-Senator Barbara Boxer of California in support of the Student Non-Discrimination Act.
At the age of seventeen, I became the youngest person to serve as an Executive Committee Member of the Los Angeles Transgender Service Provider Network. Representing Gender Justice Los Angeles and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, I advocated for and ensured youth inclusion in the development of the pioneering Trans Wellness Center. And as a Community Portrait Research Analyst of the “What’s Your Issue?” National LGBTQ Youth Survey, I facilitated the documenting and archiving of the lived truths, traumas, and resiliency of young people. This unprecedented research, led with the guiding principle “No Research on Us without Us” is informing the work in my current position as the Biden Fellow for LGBTQ Equality.
As a multiracial, black and indigenous, transgender non-binary femme young person of color, these lived experiences and youth perspective are not only part of my personal story, they’re also the focus of my work, which is rooted in the empowerment of young people. At the Biden Foundation, we are giving voice to LGBTQ young people – listening to their needs, elevating their stories, and ensuring their seat at the table as we push for changes that will make the world safer and more affirming.
I’ve seen the power of youth-informed policymaking and of youth-led advocacy efforts – now more than ever before. I am inspired and empowered by the resilience, audacity, and unprecedented embrace of the leadership of the students of Parkland who are saying #Enough, and for the young leaders nationally and internationally who together are boldly declaring that #BlackLivesMatter. Young people have been at the vanguard giving life to and sustaining new hope in our movements for social change; young trans* women and femmes, non-binary people, and people of color began the intersectional movements for social, economic, racial, gender, and disability justice that continue today.
Now is the time for our movements to be intentionally inclusive and empowering of young people with stories like mine – with a voice in every conversation and a seat at every table so that young people can thrive instead of merely surviving. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
Shéár Avory is a National Social Justice Advocate committed to the advancement of social, economic, racial, gender, and disability justice and a 2018 Biden Fellow for LGBTQ Equality.