Iván Espinoza-Madrigal ’05, OUTLaw’s Alumnus of the Year, discusses civil rights work

On January 28, OUTLaw, NYU Law’s organization for LGBTQ students and their allies, honored Iván Espinoza-Madrigal ’05, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, as Alumnus of the Year. Espinoza-Madrigal has focused his career on LGBT rights, immigration rights, and HIV law and policy, serving as an attorney at organizations including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Lambda Legal, and the Center for HIV Law and Policy before taking on his current role.

Prior to the award reception, OUTLaw held a panel discussion moderated by Scott Skinner-Thompson, acting assistant professor of lawyering, on the unique challenges LGBTQ individuals face in the immigration context, including treatment of queer and gender non-conforming persons in detention centers, preparing applications for political asylum, and other issues that arise in navigating the immigration system. 

Espinoza-Madrigal accepted his award with a deeply personal speech, explaining how his experience growing up in a low-income, immigrant community fueled his passion for and commitment to justice and equality. “Even today, every case I file reminds me of my family’s struggles,” he said.

In describing some of the cases he has worked on, Espinoza-Madrigal argued for the importance of considering the whole, lived experiences of clients. “There are many ways to approach the law. You can approach the law from an academic or theoretical perspective. I approach the law through the lens of survival,” he said. “Maybe it’s because I know from my own experience that poverty, marginalization, and oppression can be messy. I know that the struggle is real. And I would like to think that our rights and our equality don’t have to wait for picture-perfect plaintiffs and clients.”

Just as every client must navigate multiple experiences and roles, so too does every lawyer, Espinoza-Madrigal said—underscoring the necessity of accepting one’s own whole identity. “We should not be afraid of being the only dissenting voice at the dining room table, in the classroom, in the workplace, in the courtroom, or in the boardroom,” he said. “To do this, we must be comfortable with ourselves. I didn’t bring my full self to work until I fully came out, and I mean very broadly. I had to embrace not just my sexual orientation, but also other aspects of my lived experience, from growing up in poverty and surviving domestic violence to having undocumented family members.”

Acknowledging that being a lone, dissenting voice can be difficult, Espinoza-Madrigal encouraged the gathered students to consider themselves as part of a long tradition of civil rights movements. “Remember that you do not stand alone,” he said. “From Harvey Milk and Audre Lorde to Bayard Rustin and Sylvia Rivera and countless others, you are in good company.”

Posted February 11, 2016