Shiju Kadree (03Ox 05C, 09L/PH) is the Chief Advocacy Officer at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in New York City.
Paige Crowl (17C) sits on the Communications Committee of GALA and recently interviewed Shiju for this newsletter.
PC: Could you start by telling me a little bit about your background and how you ended up at Emory?
SK: I grew up between Maryland and Atlanta, graduating from Woodward Academy. I went to Oxford because I wanted the Emory level of education, in a smaller, more intimate school setting (it was a little further from home, ha!). Oxford provided a relaxed setting explore my educational and social service interests. When I transferred to the main campus, it was like having a completely separate college experience, which was wonderful! I dove into different clubs and leadership activities, including student government. One of the most transformative experiences I had was being selected for the inaugural class of the Kenneth Cole Fellowship in Community Building and Social Change. I knew that no matter professional journey I chose, I would be always working to bring my experience and expertise to communities in the greatest need. Most importantly, I learned to ask “What do you need and how I can support and center you?”, rather than the historical “I see you need something, so I am going to give you what I think you need.”
PC: How was your Emory experience from an LGBT+ perspective?
SK: It wasn’t, as I didn’t actively participate in any LGBTQ-specific projects or programs.
PC: What inspired you to pursue law and advocacy?
SK: It has always been in the fiber of my being! Since I was about 3 or 4, I have always been using the gift of gab to support and advocate for myself and those around me.
Through the Kenneth Cole Fellowship, an incredible experience, I confirmed my desire to go to law school, but added the idea of getting a Master’s in Public Health. I wanted to pursue a career in environmental justice, representing communities – often low income, rural, and overwhelmingly people of color – who are forced to bear a disproportionate burden if environmental hazards.
When it came to pursuing a joint law and public health degree, Emory again stood out. I was accepted to the law school and deferred for one year (I applied to Rollins during this year), during which time I participated in the Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellowship. That fellowship balanced direct community service with federal level advocacy, and set me on my current path. I was the first joint JD/MPH student that Rollins had in the Global Environmental Health track. This provided some flexibility for me to determine what courses would be most supportive of my desire to balance legal training with a grounding in the scientific research to prevail in environmental justice work. The irony of the situation is that I graduated from law school during the height of the recession, and the job offer I had was rescinded. I moved to New York, threw my name into many application pots, and was hired as a public defender with Brooklyn Defender Services. After four years I moved on to serve as a legislative counsel for the New York City Council speaker, and subsequently landed at The NYC LGBT Center, where I am now the Chief Advocacy Officer.
PC: Can you tell us a little bit about the work you do with The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center?
SK: I oversee all of The LGBT Center’s government relations, government fundraising, government grants and advocacy work. As part of that portfolio, I lead a statewide advocacy program for the LGBTQ community, that allows The Center to convene the diverse intersections of our community; create and promote an expansive policy and legislative agenda; provide the community tools to mobilize and become engaged in civic life; and provide strategic support to equip the next generation of activists.
PC: What challenges have you faced about being out in public service since you’ve started your career?
SK: I think the greatest challenges happen no matter where you work – having to come out over and over again, being responsive to assumptions, and bringing queer and transgender-affirming norms into spaces that purport to be progressive, but don’t have the tools. Simple things, like not assuming someone’s identity and asking about pronouns, their significant others or family composition, can go a long way. However, we still operate in a very hetero- and cisnormative society, and real, lasting change takes time.
PC: Is there advice you’d like to share with current Emory students who currently or will identify as LGBT+ on being out in public services?
SK: Remember that we are always on a journey of becoming a better version of ourselves. If we are always on that journey, so is everyone else; so give grace to those who may not have reached a destination of acceptance and affirmation of the nuanced and deep diversity of the LGBTQ+ community. And don’t let their journey ever stop you from loving and celebrating yourself!