The autistic, non-binary, queer, law student fighting for disability justice

Lydia X. Z. Brown is angry.

A gender non-binary, queer, disabled person of color, Brown is self-described as “multiply-marginalized.” And the third-year law student at Northeastern, whose resumé of activism and pro bono disability justice work spans nearly 20 pages, is angry that there is still a need for this type of effort.

“I’m angry about how I and people like me are treated,” Brown said. “I’m angry at the erasure, the isolation I and people like me have experienced. Ten years after I began doing advocacy work, I’m still saying the same damn things all the time.”

Brown, L’18, is set to graduate in May as a public interest law scholar. Brown identifies as gender non-binary and uses “they/them/their” pronouns, an identification which will be reflected throughout this story.

By doing disability rights work, Brown slowly became drawn toward disability justice work.

Brown explained that disability rights work seeks equity and inclusion. Disability justice seeks reparations, a deep pivot of values away from ableism, and an understanding that the law alone—in all its plodding deliberateness—may not be enough.

Indeed, Brown sees the manifestation of ableism—discrimination in favor of able-bodied people—everywhere. Sexism is the result of the belief that men and masculinity are the norm and women and femininity are other. Discrimination against queer and transgender people is based on the belief that straight, cis-gendered people are the norm. Racism is based on the belief that whiteness is the norm.

“Law is a powerful tool for change.” Lydia X. Z. Brown L’18

“So much of this invokes the larger language of disability,” Brown said, voice rising with passion. “Ableism is everywhere. Disability justice calls on us to fight this, to develop a deliberate consciousness—it is inherently intersectional.”

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