In celebration of Gender Justice League’s 10-year anniversary, this blog post is part of a series called Ten Years of Gender Justice, a commemoration of some of the key players throughout GJL’s history. Throughout this series, we’ll highlight a few of the collaborators, organizers, and activists who have worked within or alongside GJL to make strides in advancing gender justice in Washington State and beyond.
Since 2016, Sophia Lee has used her voice, tenacity, and tech knowledge to fight for trans rights across Washington State. During her time in GJL leadership as Board Chair, Sophia helped defeat anti-trans bathroom and sex-segregation bills as part of WA Won’t Discriminate, and helped to shape reproductive access for trans people across the state.
Note: this interview was conducted in December 2022.
What was your involvement with GJL?
After coming out and starting my transition, eventually, I grew out of needing support groups like the one at Ingersoll. I decided I wanted to do something impactful for the community and to surround myself with—not only trans people trying to survive—but trans people who were thriving and making a difference. So, I started coming to GJL events, and soon after joined the board.
As a board member, I grew to understand the organization more and became a central part of it. Because there was a need, I first took on the Board Treasurer position. As Board Treasurer, I handled the organizational finances and helped create the budget. Later on, because there was a need, I stepped up to become Board Chair. As the Board Chair, I was the leader of the organization. On top of the general board member responsibilities, I’d lead the meetings; I’d have the last say if there was difficulty getting to a consensus; and I’d also be legally responsible for certain things. It was like drinking out of the firehose.
I ended up leaving the board in 2020 to pursue other projects, but since then I’ve been involved with GJL’s advocacy team and other initiatives here and there.
What key moments and experiences do you remember from working with GJL?
I remember being on the executive committee of Washington Won’t Discriminate, helping fight anti-trans initiatives going around Washington State like Initiative-1515, a campaign to restrict bathroom and locker-room access for trans people. There were very few trans people explicitly involved in the coalition, so it felt crucial that I was there to be a voice for the community, and to make sure that the things being done were in the best interest of the trans community.
I also participated in a few different committees for several bills that we were pushing within Washington State. One of the bigger ones was the Reproductive Health Access for All Act, which helped bring access to reproductive health to many more people, including trans people, throughout the state. I helped to ensure that the language of the bill included trans people and addressed our needs.
I also remember going to Olympia to talk to our representatives about the Equality Act, and the need for the decriminalization of sex work. I felt like I was able to utilize the power that I got from GJL to do a lot of good within the community.
What’s felt challenging for you?
I think the most difficult thing for me was, not only as Board Chair, but also as a volunteer for the organization, I was very involved in all the various day-to-day actions that we were doing, and the actions were more or less continuous: for example, helping run Trans Pride Seattle, or conducting annual fundraisers.
I’d been very active in political and activist scenes, too, which were not necessarily responsibilities of the Board Chair, but were things that I made my responsibilities—I wanted this to be how I was going to be a Board Chair. I tried to really utilize my position to make as big of an impact as possible.
What were some of your responsibilities in co-organizing Trans Pride Seattle?
While on the board, I did a lot of the tech work for Trans Pride—for example, creating the live stream of performances, speeches, and stage presentations. We always did a live stream to make Trans Pride available and accessible to as many people as we possibly could, because not everyone is able to come in person.
I also participated in the planning meetings, and took on many of the little projects that all add up to Trans Pride—and there are many.
I also took control and worked on the Trans Pride website—and the GJL website, too. I took on the role of the tech expert, and made sure that our infrastructure was rolling and that we had everything that we needed from a technical standpoint. I also ran our social media accounts for a good number of years.
Do you have a favorite or funny memory from working with GJL?
My favorite memory was suing the Trump administration over the military ban. Realistically, I was not very involved in that, because it was just ‘let’s jump on.’ Lawyers at Lambda Legal approached us about it. We were in a unique situation due to our organizational structure: they needed a members-based organization with members explicitly affected by the ban to sign onto the lawsuit, otherwise, there would be no lawsuit. I think my social media post on my personal account that day was like, ‘Dear diary, today we sued the Trump administration.’
We were able to prevent the military ban from happening all throughout the Trump administration, and we made sure that nothing would happen to trans people who were currently in the military at the time. Lawsuits take forever, and we were able to block the action from happening all the way until the end of Trump’s administration when Biden rescinded the action.
What do you view as the overall impact GJL has had for trans people in Washington State?
Being there and pushing for the community’s needs is a very critical thing that GJL has been able to do. Being there for the community when shit happens to people. I remember an instance where a community member was attacked, and we rallied around that and protected them, while also elevating awareness of the violence happening against our community members all the time.
I remember on the day of the Orlando shooting, we all mobilized and put together a memorial event at Cal Anderson park. We were the organization that gets things done, and I felt that that was really powerful.
What would you like to see GJL do in the next 10 years?
I want to see GJL expand our influence—to be able to take our ability to be the radical voice for the community and to continue to push into things that make so many other people uncomfortable. I want us to take that, run with it, and continue to be a leader in making change happen.
I want people to know how important GJL is as an organization with a radical voice that is connected to the community. I want people to know the importance of trans people having a voice at the table.