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.
As a Field Director with the ACLU of Washington, Liezl leverages her privilege, power, and skills to build sustainable relationships and coalitions at the intersections of gender and reproductive justice. In our conversation reflecting on nearly ten years of collaboration with GJL, Liezl shares some movement wins, challenging moments, and several lessons for other cis allies organizing in support of trans & gender diverse communities.
Note: this interview was conducted in December 2022.
How did you begin collaborating with GJL? What have we worked on together?
As the Field Director at the ACLU of Washington, part of my responsibility is to build relationships with organizations and community leaders with similar goals [as the ACLU’s]. The first person I met from Gender Justice League was either Danni [Askini] or Elayne [Wylie], probably through Washington Won’t Discriminate in 2016-17. Since then, I’ve also worked with GJL in criminal legal spaces, largely around [supporting] trans folks who are incarcerated; rule-making for legislation around gender-affirming care insurance inclusions; and on the Referendum 90 campaign, where GJL was a key partner, as well as other legislative campaigns.
GJL is one of the organizations in a really strong community of trans and gender diverse advocates in Washington, so it was important that the ACLU worked with GJL—but I will say that it was GJL’s leadership, specifically Danni and Elayne, who really drew me into learning more, and wanting to build relationships with them personally and with other trans and gender diverse-led organizations. Danni and Elayne are brilliant, charismatic, and really inspirational people, so it’s hard to not want to be around them.
Right now I’m working with Danni on the Northwest Abortion and Gender Justice Coalition—and I give a lot of credit to them for the name of that coalition. Most of the folks in that coalition are abortion providers or the traditional folks you might see in the repro freedom space, and Danni was really helpful in getting folks to think beyond the binary of it being only [cis] women who need abortion care services.
Tell me more about the Northwest Abortion and Gender Justice Coalition!
It’s a really informal coalition that grew out of the Dobbs Decision last summer. The ACLU was having conversations with Legal Voice, Planned Parenthood, and Pro Choice Washington about what we were going to do [since we anticipated] Washington to get an influx of folks from Alaska, Montana, and Idaho [accessing abortion and reproductive care].
We originally thought this regional coalition would take actions together, but at our first meeting, there was a lot of conversation about the purpose of the group. [Because] we already had state-based coalitions, [people wondered if] this coalition was going to be duplicative. Through conversations with folks across the region, what surfaced was that we didn’t need another action-taking coalition; what we did need was a space for those of us across the Pacific Northwest to come together and share resources, information, trends happening in our states, and education.
For example, there are a number of traditional repro advocates and providers whose experience is largely in the binary idea that reproductive care is only abortion, and only [cis] women need abortions. The most vocal folks in the group came with this binary view [and it was evident] through the conversations about naming the coalition. When we were voting on the name of the group, most people wanted only “abortion” in the coalition name. So, I reached out to Danni to let them know about the vote and to say we would have a conversation about it as a group, and I also offered to have a conversation with them before that meeting. We had a conversation which also included Denise Diskin from QLaw Foundation, [where my intention was] to let them know about the direction of the coalition, let them know they’re not going to be alone, and asked for their advice on how to move forward—that when we have this [group] conversation, they would have allies in the room who would speak up. Danni ended up providing a lot of education [to the group] on how the trans community is impacted by limited abortion and gender-affirming care. As a result, the group changed its decision on the coalition’s name, and we are now called the Northwest Abortion and Gender Justice Coalition.
We have monthly presentations on various aspects of repro freedom and gender. For example, we’ve had a doctoral student from the University of Washington talk about her research on the need for medical abortions at colleges and universities in Washington. We’ve [also] had someone from Montana give a presentation on their clinic’s patient navigation process. We’ve also had a presentation on self-managed abortions. I’m looking forward to upcoming conversations about the intersections between gender justice, repro justice, and immigration.
Another area that I have really appreciated about GJL and Danni, in particular, is that—in spaces like the Northwest Abortion and Gender Justice Coalition, where there’s not any QTBIPOC representation—Danni will always remind the group that folks who are going to be disproportionately impacted are going to be QTBIPOC, so we need to engage them. I appreciate Danni for always reminding folks that not everyone is at the table.
Tell me a little bit more about your role within Washington Won’t Discriminate?
I tried to show up as an ally, not wanting to take up too much space in the Washington Won’t Discriminate Campaign. My role was to reach out to allied organizations to be a part of the campaign to stop the initiative [I-1515, a campaign to restrict bathroom and locker room access for trans people in Washington]. I also worked with ACLU volunteers to help them get engaged. At the time, there was a Decline to Sign campaign [opposing I-1552, also a campaign to restrict bathroom and locker room access for trans people in Washington], so my work was to engage our supporters in getting signatures, which were intended to build the campaign list and supporter base in the event that the initiative was certified.
Have you had any challenging moments while doing this work?
Years ago, there was a coalition focused on supporting and advocating with and for trans folks who were incarcerated, called the Trans Prisoners Coalition. I stepped into that coalition without really having strong relationships with folks in the trans and gender diverse community, so there were missteps that I took, and missteps from the ACLU. Danni Askini and Danny Waxwing reached out to me and shared honestly about how the ACLU’s actions impacted them and the trans community. So, there were a lot of learning moments. There were a number of conversations between the coalition and the ACLU, and Gender Justice League and the ACLU, and it took a lot of time and distance.
Since then, we’ve come back together and our relationship is stronger and more honest. I feel like my role in that was just continuing to be open, and making sure that the ACLU was still engaging in conversations as we were learning how to be accountable partners in this work. [I see] my role being as a listener, a learner, and also maybe a connector to other folks in my office.
Do you have a favorite or funny memory from your time with GJL?
My favorite moment was a lunch meeting with Danni and Elayne around 2018. It was after we had those bumps around the Trans Prisoner Coalition. We had lunch at Ba Bar in Capitol Hill, and it was my first alone time with Danni and Elayne. They were just so open with me in sharing their experiences as trans women and little tidbits about their backgrounds and what brought them to Gender Justice League, and they were really open with me about how actions by the ACLU or other organizations have impacted not only Gender Justice League but them personally. They were just really welcoming to me and have continued to be that way towards me all the time. To me, that means they view me—I hope—as an accountable ally, who they know will respond to their needs, be there and listen, and do my best to fulfill their request or remedy their concern.
I think the lesson is for cisgender folks to not take up all the space and to not make up the rules or proposals, but really listen to trans and gender diverse communities. Cisgender people [must] stand next to trans and gender diverse folks. Stay behind the podium, sit in the audience, be a backup dancer—but don’t be the lead singer.
What are you most proud of with your work with GJL?
I would have to say it’s our relationship. There have been multiple bumps where there was a misstep that I took, or the ACLU took, and either Danni or Elayne said, ‘hey, this is what happened, and this is how it impacted us.’ Our response was, ‘I’m sorry, we’ll try our best not to do it again.’ But we’re people and we’re flawed, so we did it again. But I feel like the folks at Gender Justice League have not given up on us or given up on me, and [we] just continue to be in relationship with one another. I really appreciate that we’ve been able to maintain a connection despite the missteps.
What are you most proud of that GJL has done overall?
GJL has had a really huge impact on the ACLU, and myself as well. The impact GJL has had is making the ACLU’s leaders, staff, and myself, to be more mindful and reflective of how we show up. The ACLU—not just the ACLU of Washington, but also our affiliates across the country and nationally—historically have had challenges with many organizations because we are the 800-pound gorilla in the room. From the tough conversations that we have had, I think GJL and its leaders and staff are really good teachers of accountable partnerships. That is something unique that GJL, Danni and Elayne especially, have provided to the broader social justice community: to help the collective us to do better.
How has GJL made an impact for trans & gender diverse people in Washington?
[As a cis person] I don’t want to identify what is or isn’t impactful for trans and gender diverse folks, but I do think about the positive impact that GJL has had on me and my family. I am raising two young girls, a four-year-old and a six-year-old, who will see trans and gender diverse folks as their friends, colleagues, and neighbors—not as ‘others.’ I started talking to them about trans and gender diverse folks when my youngest was two and when my oldest was four. My children know about [the expansiveness of gender] because of my relationship with GJL and other trans folks and communities. The overall positive impact that I hope will be felt as my children grow up is the acceptance and normalization of gender diverse folks.
I want folks to know that GJL is a group of leaders who will change your life, and that they should learn about GJL, support GJL, grow with GJL, and stand next to GJL.