August Naston (he/they) is a law student at Fordham University School of Law and a board member of the National LGBTQ+ Bar’s Law Student Congress. He is the first openly trans member of Fordham Law’s SBA and a co-founder of Advocates for Trans* Law Students (ATLS), a student organization on Fordham Law’s campus that provides support for transgender and nonbinary students and educates the campus on nationwide issues impacting the trans community. ATLS is an official student affiliate of the LGBTQ+ Bar and was the first trans law student group in the nation. Only a few months after ATLS was founded, the University of Kansas’ Transgender Law Students Association formed independently. Both student organizations are now joined by other trans law student groups forming around the country – some of which were launched through collaborations with ATLS.
While Naston always cared about social justice, they didn’t always know whether the legal profession was for them. “I didn’t have lawyers in my family,” he explains, “so law was a distant but interesting field.” Their interest in the legal profession grew during the pandemic. While quarantining with his partner’s family, Naston began helping his soon-to-be father in law, an attorney, with his plaintiff-side employment practice. The experience gave them a taste for legal work and after graduating college in 2020, they worked as a family law paralegal at a small general practice firm. “I was lucky to have a direct supervisor who was really invested in my success,” Naston explains. “She knew I was interested in going to law school, so she involved me as much as possible in the litigation process.” Through that exposure, he realized law school was the natural next step for him. Looking back, Naston is grateful they worked for a few years between undergrad and law school. “It allowed me to build valuable skills relating to time management and work-life balance,” he reflects. “That experience also gave me even more appreciation for all of the legal professionals behind the scenes.”
A current 2L, Naston is considering their options for the future. “I am interested in LGBTQ+ rights, especially trans rights, at the national and international level,” they say. In particular, he aspires to work in impact litigation, for an NGO or an international governing body, or in policy. While Naston always considered this area of public interest law a possible career route, it was not until seeing the recent regression of civil rights that he decided to dedicate his professional life to advocacy for trans rights. “When I started law school, I thought this practice area was a possibility, but I was considering it alongside others,” they explain. “As the legislative landscape worsened dramatically for the trans community, it became clear that we need all hands on deck.”
The current political landscape does not just impact Naston’s plans for the future: it also shapes their current law school experience. “As [trans students] sit in the classroom, our rights are being debated in state legislatures and litigated in courtrooms around the country,” he says. Naston further explains that when trans people’s very existence is the object of political aggression, trans students’ most basic requests become subjects of debate on campus. The political climate has made his and other trans law students’ law school experience into one of constant advocacy – often making balancing schoolwork, externships, clinics, and student leadership positions more difficult than it is for their cisgender peers. “Other students experience this too,” he adds, “law students of color in particular are also subjected to microaggressions and discriminatory treatment, which means these issues are especially exacerbated for trans students of color.”
It is no secret that for many years, the legal profession remained fairly homogenous. While we are thankfully now seeing increased diversity in the profession, diverse legal professionals, particularly those with intersecting identities, still face uphill battles. Many of those battles often begin in law school – something Naston experiences firsthand. “Being trans in law school is difficult in the way it is difficult to be part of any marginalized group in law school,” Naston says. “Trans rights are wrongly viewed in many senses as debatable, especially in the classroom.” That approach creates a hostile environment for trans students who are facing compounding stressors in law school, which is itself an already notoriously stressful setting. “Our cisgender peers don’t have to worry about a guest speaker misgendering them, or being followed into a gendered bathroom, or a professor making a transphobic joke,” Naston explains. They elaborate that when such incidents occur, trans students are then also the people who have to handle the follow-up, such as attending meetings with administrators or reviewing class recordings for timestamps.
Despite these challenges, Naston sees a silver lining: the resilience and strength of his community. “The difficulty of this moment also creates beautiful solidarity both within and outside of the trans community,” they say. “The challenges I experienced over the last few years gave me opportunities to build close relationships with the people around me.” One of those opportunities came in the form of Advocates for Trans* Law Students (ATLS), a student group that Naston founded alongside fellow students Grey Berkowitz, Grey Arthur-Cohen, and Rhiannon Reilly. They created ATLS to forge a space that “specifically dedicated time, energy, and labor” to advocating for the trans community. “Founding ATLS allowed us to have a dedicated group for trans advocacy and community building,” explains Naston. “Through ATLS, we have assisted over 150 community members with their name changes, advised on faculty trainings on trans sensitivity and inclusion, planned programming to educate and raise awareness on trans issues, coordinated with our IT department to ensure chosen names and pronouns appear across all of our various tech platforms, and more.” The group doesn’t limit their advocacy to campus. They also meet the local trans community’s needs by running name change booths at local trans community events and rotating between local LGBTQ+ bars weekly. By coming to community spaces, ATLS aims to eliminate the intimidation and hesitancy some trans people feel about interacting with the legal system. “Our goal is to empower our community,” Naston says. “I feel we have done just that, and we will continue to do so.”
Naston also found community within the National LGBTQ+ Bar Association. He serves as a board member of the LGBTQ+ Bar’s Law Student Congress (LSC), which he joined because he wanted to represent trans students and students going into public interest law. “I also wanted to connect with other law students and build coalitions,” Naston explains. “By working together, we can strategize, troubleshoot, and brainstorm solutions to the kinds of problems we all experience, whether it’s being misgendered in class, your deadname showing up on a roster, or your student health insurance not covering gender affirming care.” This summer, at the LGBTQ+ Bar’s Annual Lavender Law® Conference and Career Fair, he facilitated the LSC’s annual meeting alongside LSC Chair Wenxi Lu.
The LGBTQ+ Bar is proud to count August Naston amongst our membership, and we look forward to seeing what the future holds for them. If you are interested in learning more about the LGBTQ+ Bar’s law student programming or the Law Student Congress, please contact Patrick O’Brien at email@example.com.