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Guest Column: Student turns personal tragedy into opportunity to advance LGBTQ+ equality

Alex Nally, second from the left, at a legislative briefing session at the Massachusetts Statehouse in December 2017. Courtesy photo.

By Alex Nally

On Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 I hosted a legislative briefing session at the Massachusetts Statehouse with Representative Kay Khan to discuss the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth who are homeless or in foster care. More than 10 other state legislators joined the packed house chamber to hear from myself and the other panelists—LGBTQ foster parents and advocates—on how LGBTQ+ youth are treated in the Massachusetts foster care system administered by the Department of Children and Families.

The issue of LGBTQ+ youth homelessness is the reason why I came to study law and public policy at Northeastern University in 2016. Ten years ago, I left home for the first time, and continued to struggle with housing instability until I was able to move away to college. Experiencing housing instability at such a young age nearly set me up for absolute failure—I was suicidal and depressed when I first left home, following the divorce of my parents.

Alex Nally designed this infographic of nationwide LGBTQ+ youth risk behavior survey data. Click to enlarge image.

At Northeastern, I am using my education to become a more effective advocate for LGBTQ+ youth. My story is not unique. Forty percent of LGBTQ+ youth nationwide experience homelessness for the same reasons I did: family abuse and rejection. Leading up to the legislative briefing, I studied the economic impact of LGBTQ+ youth homelessness in professor Alicia Sasser Modestino’s “Economic Analysis for Law, Policy, and Planning” course. Therein I wrote a research paper, policy brief, and an op-ed analyzing how LGBTQ+ homelessness stunts economic opportunities for LGBTQ+ youth who otherwise might not be homeless but for their family’s rejection. In furthering my understanding of how homelessness and other factors disparately impact LGBTQ+ youth, I designed an infographic of nationwide LGBTQ+ youth risk behavior survey data for my final project in professor Michael Holroyd’s “Information Design and Visual Analytics” course as part of the requirements for my Graduate Certificate in Data Analytics.

My education saved me from the family I was born into, and that continues to ring true here at Northeastern. Last year I remember discussing the landmark same-sex marriage equality court opinion from Obergefell v. Hodges in my “Constitutional Law” class taught by professor Martha Davis, and feeling completely dignified in having this opportunity to use my education to advance LGBTQ+ equality.

Both in SPPUA and the School of Law, I have been able to tailor my classes to benefit the on-the-ground work I do every day as chair of the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth where I oversee the drafting of policy recommendations to more than 20 state agencies annually. Legislative briefings are but one of many tools I have learned to use that can effect positive change for LGBTQ+ youth in Massachusetts, and as I finish my MS in Law and Public Policy this year and go on to finish my Juris Doctor at the School of Law, I could not be more excited to continue researching new ways to protect LGBTQ+ youth under existing law.


Alex Nally is a Rappaport Law and Public Policy Fellow and is a student in the JD/MS in Law and Public Policy Program at Northeastern’s School of Law and School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. Alex works at BAGLY, Inc., an LGBTQ+ nonprofit organization in Boston.

Published On: January 9, 2018 |
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