Paul Sindberg L’23, the first graduate of the LGBTQ Certificate program, will advocate for equitable LGBTQ+ rights and care as a union lawyer.
This May, Toll Public Interest Fellow Paul Sindberg L’23 became the first University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School graduate of the LGBTQ Certificate program, housed at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2).
In this Q&A, Sindberg reflected on their experience in the program, highlighting the multitude of ways in which the cross-disciplinary certificate will bolster their effectiveness as a dedicated advocate for workers’ rights and social justice.
Q: What sparked your interest in these fields and brought you to Penn Carey Law?
Sindberg: I am from a small corn-farming town outside Chicago. My great-grandfather was a union member. My grandfather was a union member. My dad’s a union member. My sister’s a union member, and my partner’s a union member, too. With that legacy of union membership and support in our family, growing up as the queer, trans, non-binary person that I am in our small town was not as tough as it could have been. Because my dad had a union contract, I could access things like gender- and sexuality-affirming healthcare whenever I needed it.
During my junior and senior years, the graduate workers at my college unionized and won a union contract. My friend got a 56% raise and the right to have their top surgery covered by their new employer-paid insurance. It was so emotional and exciting to be a part of the undergraduate solidarity efforts, and it forced me to realize that so many of the privileges that I had enjoyed as a queer person growing up were because we had that union contract to protect our family. This helped me realize that I wanted to help more working people win transformational change, and that’s why I became a union organizer.
To me, the fight for economic justice and the labor movement is a critical component of a much broader fight for intersectional social justice. I’ve had the privilege of seeing in my own life and work what the power of unionization can do for those who live at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities. I came to Penn Carey Law to become a better advocate in the fight for worker’s rights.
Q: Why did you opt to pursue the cross-disciplinary LGBTQ Certificate?
Sindberg: I wanted to spend time deepening my understanding of LGBTQ+ counseling services and issues because I view the labor movement as a very critical component of our firewall against the attack on trans lives that we’re seeing across the country. If I can fight, for instance, in my union work to include gender-affirming healthcare provisions in contracts for working people, I can help circumvent attempts to preclude access to hormone therapy. If I can organize towards LGBTQ+ justice alongside working-class community members, then I can help build coalitions that protect and nurture trans children and queer people.
I’m grateful for this program because it’s allowed me to develop new skills–both analytical and practical–and I’m grateful to the team at SP2 for helping share these skills with me.
No one experiences the law devoid of social context, and it’s accordingly really important for people who want to go into the world to make a positive difference to be intentional about developing client and community-oriented counseling skills. I want every future lawyer to have the opportunity to think critically about intersecting issues of class, race, gender, ability, and sexuality, and I’m really glad to have benefited from opportunities to do so with this LGBTQ Certificate.
Q: What courses did you take, both at the Law School and elsewhere across Penn?
Sindberg: I worked with Dr. Amy Hillier at SP2 as well as [Managing Director of Cross-Disciplinary Programs & Academic Options] Amanda Aronoff L’95 to develop a program that would allow me to do this while also pursuing my coursework at the Law School.
In terms of my coursework, I took “Reproductive Rights and Justice” with the incredible [George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights] Dorothy E. Roberts here at the Law School, which was such a wonderful tethering of these different concepts of law, social movements, and gender and sexuality. She provided history as well as detailed doctrinal content and gave us opportunities to think through ways that the law can and should and must change. I’m grateful to her for creating that space.
I also took “Employment Discrimination” with [Professor of Law and History] Serena Mayeri, which was another great convergence of my interests and of the requirements of this program. I got to spend time learning about how to bring cases on behalf of queer and trans clients in the working class, and that was really exciting; I learned a lot.
The “Human Sexuality” course at SP2 was an incredible historical and theoretical overview of different core concepts related to human sexuality and gender identity. I’m grateful to Professor Kim McKay, who created and teaches that class. They’ve used it as an opportunity to introduce a diverse group of students to different practitioners in social work and sexuality. It’s been really great to dig into themes and topics like race, sex, class, fatness, and disability and to learn about these really critical and liberatory topics while there’s such a fervor brewing at the national level in conversations about human sexuality.
I also completed a field requirement. For me, what that looked like was an externship with the AIDS Law Project of PA, where I worked on lawsuits and litigation projects on behalf of HIV positive clients. I also got to work on things like name change petitions and other trans rights matters that helped me get to know the queer and HIV positive community here in Philadelphia. I’m grateful to the AIDS Law Project, which was so wonderful to learn from and has so many incredible attorneys doing really important, under-thanked, and under-seen work.
The other requirement has been participating in a yearlong pro-seminar with other professionals and practitioners who have been coming together across their fields to discuss and reflect on their experiences working with LGBTQ+ people. That has meant brainstorming, problem solving, and collaborating with people from entirely different schools of thought. Working with social work students to think through ways that I could support clients in my own practice and pro bono work has been really helpful. It has also been really grounding to be part of a community of people who care about these issues at Penn. I want to thank our pro-seminar leader Mx. Maddie Luebbert; they’re a phenomenal educator, a patient instructor, and a skilled facilitator who made sure that all of us had the opportunity to share and reflect on our experiences.
Q: What did you learn from working with social work students and others in this interdisciplinary program?
Sindberg: Social work is hard work. My colleagues in the pro-seminar are constantly asked to figure out the best possible, most supportive client-centered approach to a number of problems on a daily basis. There are so many different aspects of the world that only run because social workers are there to help facilitate them.
Coming in as a law student, I wasn’t sure what I was bringing to this space. There was this wonderful array of practitioners and students who were speaking about their experiences working in direct client care in institutional settings, hospitals, therapy, and macro social work, and I didn’t know if I was going to have anything to share. But, it became clear over the course of the year that, actually, so much that I was doing on a daily basis was relevant. Anytime you interact with clients, those interactions are mediated both by the way that your client perceives your gender and sexuality and by the way that you perceive your client’s gender and sexuality. It’s really a core part of the human experience that we all are caught up in, and learning that it was okay to have questions and to want to work through things together was really rewarding.
Q: How will you carry this experience forward after graduation?
Sindberg: One really heavily regulated aspect of people’s working lives is the relationship between work, sexuality, and gender. Accordingly, when a union lawyer represents someone in a legal proceeding that relates to the union membership, there’s a good chance that it’s going to have something to do with their experience of gender or sexuality in the workplace. I’m really excited to enter that work defending working class people and building social justice movements within the labor movement that tackle this intersection head on.
I want to fight for workplaces that are more just and inclusive along lines of gender and sexuality. I’m eager to negotiate union contracts that have trans healthcare protections baked into them; I’m eager to negotiate workplace contracts that have accountability for sexual harassment and misconduct at work. This program has offered me a theoretical lens through which I can deepen my understanding of human sexuality and gender, as well as practical skills so that I can approach client counseling and working with employees who’ve been impacted by these things in a more inclusive and informed capacity.
Q: What would you tell others considering pursuing this Certificate?
Sindberg: There are so many law students who come to Penn who are learning and thinking about so many of these things already, and who have very valuable lived and professional experiences that would be such a gift to this program. I urge law students to pursue this certificate because it puts us in contact with people who can help grow and develop our thinking in really beautiful ways. My participation in this program has made me a better, more thoughtful advocate, and I’m excited to see more law students participate in the future.