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Aliya Bean ’16

A quote from Aliya Bean ’16 that says "From high school to the present, I carry with me an eagerness and tenacity to engage in policy work that gives voice to the most marginalized."

Aliya Bean ’16 is a master in public policy candidate at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, focusing on health policy. Previously, she served as the interim executive director and legislative aide of the LGBT Equality Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. She graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Brandeis University with a Bachelor of Arts in History and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

In honor of Pride Month, the Brandeis Alumni Association invited Aliya Bean to reflect on her experiences working on policy issues in the U.S. House of Representatives, the state of LGBTQ rights movement and her time at Brandeis.

Before graduate school, I was serving as the 2018-2019 David Bohnett Victory Congressional Fellow working as a legislative aide for the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. Just months into my fellowship, it was clear that I would not have the typical fellow experience. By November of 2018, I not only was the first fellow to work in a majority pro-equality House of Representatives, but also, I was unexpectedly promoted to interim executive director of the LGBT Equality Caucus. As the only staffer for the caucus during the transition to a new Congress, I was thrown into the deep-end and tasked with an enormous range of responsibilities.

I dove head-first into my new duties and took on this leadership role for over six months with confidence and gusto. There, among many notable moments, I recruited the largest LGBT Caucus in House history (upwards of 160 members) and was intimately involved in the passage of the Equality Act. Last June, I also wrote and published a white paper entitled “Queering Reproductive Justice: How to Ensure LGBTQ Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Care at the Federal Level.” In February, I expanded upon my research and presented the paper at a Queer Politics conference at Northwestern University.

Back in March I decided to temporarily leave Chicago and come back to Boston to live with my family during the pandemic. Even though it was a very difficult decision, it was ultimately the right one. Despite having to continue my degree remotely, in many ways this time has been a blessing in disguise. I am grateful for the unexpected quality time with my family (and dog) given that it is the first time we have all lived together in over eight years. I am also thankful for the ways in which this crisis has brought people together. I have reconnected with old friends and coworkers, and continue to strengthen my existing relationships with friends across the country through regular Zoom parties and FaceTime chats. The pandemic has also revealed and exacerbated significant disparities in our healthcare system. As someone focusing on health policy, I have been thinking intensely about the ways we as policy professionals and policymakers can fill these gaps and prevent such crises moving forward. This summer, during my internship with Manatt Health [a consulting firm dedicated to transforming America's health system and improving health care, especially for vulnerable and high need populations], I hope to put these thoughts into action and work on health policy related to the coronavirus pandemic.

From high school to the present, I have carried with me an eagerness and tenacity to engage in policy work that gives voice to the most marginalized. Working towards this goal has informed my understanding of social justice, inspired my career, and motivated me to pursue a master in public policy. During my time at Brandeis, I worked as a facilitator in public schools educating young people on LGBTQ identities. There I observed the profound impact storytelling can have on creating a culture of inclusivity and the importance of personal connection in social justice efforts. For three years, I worked on the frontlines of federal policy making from LGBTQ and nondiscrimination policy to reproductive health and health care policy to hate crimes and civil rights policy. In each of these experiences, I learned first-hand the importance of resilience and persistence. I discovered how to find opportunities for proactive change while defending existing policies, and I came to understand the piecemeal nature of political progress. In pursuing my master in public policy at the University of Chicago, I seek to build upon my leadership in policy making and public advocacy and enhance my nuanced understanding of social justice. Beyond Harris, and as I look towards the future, I hope to continue to “repair the world” and engage in informed health policy work that reflects the needs of society’s most vulnerable.

As we celebrate Pride Month, I am proud of a lot of things. I am proud that we have more LGBTQ people in office and running for office than ever before. I am proud that the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, which would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and other key areas of life. I am proud to see more diverse LGBTQ people in television and film. I am energized by all of the LGBTQ people across the world coming together in creative ways during this trying and unprecedented moment.

None of this progress would have been possible without the Black and Brown transgender women that ignited the Stonewall Riots and the LGBTQ rights movement as we know it, over fifty years ago. As recent events show, we still have a very long way to go. We have an administration that has explicitly targeted BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Color] and the LGBTQ community—particularly transgender people—and is undermining essential non-discrimination protections at a time when people need them most. Transgender people, specifically Black trans women, continue to face an epidemic of violence. LGBTQ people in most of the country can still be fired from their jobs because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity—and whether or not this will continue is currently in the hands of the Supreme Court. We have a healthcare system where LGBTQ people, specifically LGBTQ people of color, have a very difficult time getting the comprehensive care they need at an affordable price without fear of discrimination or alienation.

If we, particularly white cisgender folks like myself, are not honoring, seeking justice, or advocating for and alongside queer and trans people of color, then we are failing our entire community and the legacy of Pride. But if we continue to educate ourselves, uplift BIPOC activists and voices, advocate, grassroots organize, run for office, and get elected, things will change for the better and there will only be more we’re proud of moving forward.

Not only did Brandeis instill in me the importance of social justice, critical thinking and community-building, but it also gave me opportunities to pursue those concepts in the real world. During my time at Brandeis, originally as part of an academic internship, I worked as a facilitator for Greater Boston PFLAG, educating young people on LGBTQ identities in public schools across the state. Through that opportunity, my junior year, I was selected to serve on the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth where I discovered my love for policy making. Similarly, through the Social Justice World of Work Scholarship, I had the opportunity to work in Washington D.C. for PFLAG National. That experience was invaluable. It solidified my love for federal policy and provided me with the connections and professional experience to pursue policy work full-time after graduation. In addition to these skills and opportunities, the people were what made Brandeis particularly meaningful. I am still in touch with many of my professors to this day and am proud to call a host of fellow Brandeis alumni my best friends.

To Brandeis students today, I would say: Take advantage of all the opportunities Brandeis has to offer! From the WOW scholarships to the Heller School to experiential learning to professors to your fellow students—there are so many unique resources at your fingertips. Get out in the world and do something to make a difference! As wonderful as academia is, it’s important and necessary to get out of the Brandeis bubble. Volunteer at a local organization, work on a local political campaign or get involved in local activism—you may stumble upon a career path or passion you never expected. Build and sustain relationships! As cliché as the word “networking” sounds (I prefer the term “relationship building”), it is not only helpful but essential. The academic and professional relationships I fostered during my time at Brandeis are the reason I am where I am today. Those mentors guided me throughout my professional journey in D.C. and they continue to provide me with guidance as I pursue my graduate degree and future career.


Read additional Pride Month reflections from Brandeis alumni.