“The biggest piece of advice I can give, which is something that I live by everyday, is to “come whole”. By this, I mean that it is important for people like us to not only demand but also take up space. To refuse to negotiate our identities in order to be included (I say this lightly though because this action can be rooted in privilege for some). Ultimately, it is important to remember that what privileges we do hold should be utilized to build with others.” – Avatara Smith-Carrington, ’15

My name is Avatara Smith-Carrington (they/them), and I graduated from the School of Arts and Sciences in 2015 with a degree in political science and English. The biggest challenge I faced while at Rutgers was the act of choosing to honor my performance of gender in spite of those who seek to invalidate, invisiblize, and dehumanize me. Although, I knew I had a community of folks at Rutgers who saw me as whole and complete in all my complexities; there were many who engaged in acts of harm against me because they refused to acknowledge me as a gender non-conforming person. To this day, I will never forget the faculty/staff member who asserted that once I left Rutgers, I would not use my pronouns (they/them/their). It’s been a few years since that incident and to this day, in every space I enter—be it a law firm, judges chambers, or in conversation with folks who have never met someone like me—I always say “my pronouns are they, them, their.”

One of my fondest memories was getting a grant from the Tyler Clementi Center to pursue work on the docu-series, “To Queer Things Up”, that I produced and directed while I was an undergraduate at Rutgers. Being able to receive support from my community, both monetary and emotional, gave me the ability to grow with my queer community in a way that provided me with the privilege to create a platform to amplify queer voices. It’s not often that people invest in others. And it’s rare to see institutions redistribute their resources in order to make sure that students who look like me and hold the identities that I do—being black and queer and trans and complex—have the ability to dream big and bold. I can honestly say that having the Rutgers LGBTQ community give me the space to bloom in that way forever changed my life.

Since graduating from Rutgers in 2015, I briefly worked for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America as a digital organizer. While there, I not only chose to actively center black and brown LGBTQ folks in the work I did for reproductive autonomy but also created a national campaign addressing the intersections between voter suppression and attacks on reproductive rights. I was also part of a group of law students that submitted our personal testimony to the Supreme Court in an amicus brief on behalf of G.G. — a discriminatory North Carolina bathroom policy that sought to segregate transgender students from their peers.

Currently, I serve as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Chair for the LGBT Bar Law Student Congress. I am an intern at FreeState Justice, a legal advocacy organization that seeks to improve the lives of low-income LGBTQ Marylanders. Finally, I will be spending my summer interning with Whitman-Walker Health in Washington DC — a nationally recognized community health center and legal services provider serving individuals who face barriers to accessing care, and with a special expertise in LGBT issues.