Meet Akudo Ejelonu — Frankel-Adair Scholar 2017–18

Akudo Ejelonu at the ACLU of Pennsylvania offices on March 8, 2018 (credit: Ben Bowens)

How did you hear about the Frankel-Adair Scholarship?

Through the LGBT Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

What, if any, was your connection to the ACLU prior to applying for the scholarship?

I have always been familiar with the mission and work of ACLU since high school.

What were the most important events or influences that brought you to where you are today?

My family migrating to the United States from Nigeria seeking better opportunities, employment, and access to education. I grew up in inner-city Boston and had to fight against xenophobia, racial disparity, bullying, and socioeconomic inequality and even discrimination from other people of color. My parents worked two full time jobs and being the second born out of seven children, I was responsible for caring for my younger siblings and maintaining the household. After I came home from school, I would assist my siblings with their homework, make dinner and get them ready for school for the next day. I had to grow up really fast but know that I was destined to do extraordinary things with my life (big or small). These experiences were just part of the chapter in my life and not the conclusion.

What do you see as the critical issues facing the LGBT community at this time?

Everything! But if I had to pick one, I would say that we need to shed more light on the treatment and lack of support for “undocumented” LGBT people, especially people of color. It is imperative that undocumented individuals be given the chance to step out of the shadows and away from the fears of deportation and continue the work they do every day in this nation to support themselves and their family. How they are treated by employers, family, romantic partners, friends, colleagues, classmates, and neighbors matter. How are they treated by the legal system, healthcare system, law enforcement, social services and educational institutions all matters. Their physical, emotional and spiritual safety matter. Any comprehensive, successful immigration policy needs to expand opportunity for all rather than selectively applying our nation’s values.

Akudo and ACLUPA Executive Director, Reggie Shuford. (credit: Ben Bowens)

Do you envision your own professional career having an impact on concerns of the LGBT community?

Yes, I do. I am still building my professional aspirations and hope that wherever life takes me, it will allow me to have a direct and/or indirect impact on the community. I feel indebted to Bayard Rustin and other people who history tried to erase because of homophobia. I want the work that I do to matter and to help communities grow and prosper.

What other social issues motivate you?

Global health, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), homelessness, poverty, environmentally induced migration of IDPs (internally displaced persons), and refugee rights.

What effect do you think being a recipient of the Frankel-Adair Scholarship will have on you?

This is the first time I am being recognized within the community-at-large. It is a different feeling. It bears a level of responsibility and gratitude. I stand on the shoulders of giants before me and hope that I can bear that same weight for those in my present and future. This is more than just an award, it is an affirmation, rite of passage and homecoming.

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The Frankel-Adair scholarship provides $1,500 in support of post-secondary education to an LGBT student residing in the Greater Philadelphia area.  Learn more about the Frankel-Adair Scholarship here!

Pennsylvania’s Anti-Discrimination Laws are in Need of a Makeover

By P. Griffin Sneath, Secretary, South Central Chapter of the ACLU of Pennsylvania

P. Griffin Sneath

P. Griffin Sneath

As a young American, I strive to get an education so that one day, I can work hard to earn a living and provide for my family. I value the opportunity to push myself forward with quality work performance, determination, and the right qualifications. But, because of the lack of protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Pennsylvanians in the current anti-discrimination laws, people like me face being fired for their gender identity or expression, or for who they love.

As the law currently stands, I could be denied a mortgage someday because of my sexual orientation. I could be denied a job I was best qualified for just because of who I love. It is possible that someday I could be denied care at a hospital because I married someone of the same sex. And, my transgender friends have to fear being evicted from their apartments someday–not for not paying their rent, but for their gender identity or expression.

As I prepare to apply for college this fall, I should be able to look upon my future without having to fear the setbacks that I could potentially face when I join the workforce. I should not worry about whether or not I will receive care when I am sick.

In a few years, I will make choices about where to live and to work. Pennsylvania is my home, and I believe I have plenty to give back to the commonwealth after I finish my higher education. But will I really want to live in this state knowing that everything I’ve worked for could be denied because the law doesn’t protect me from discrimination?

There are currently statewide anti-discrimination laws that protect many Pennsylvanians, but none explicitly list sexual orientation and gender identity or expression under their protections. Some municipalities do have LGBT protections, but these only cover 30% of Pennsylvania’s population. This oversight in statewide legislation makes it perfectly legal outside select municipalities to fire, refuse to hire, deny a mortgage or a lease, and deny other public accommodations and services for people just because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. I am confident that most business owners and employers will hire employees based on their characteristics that truly matter in the workplace–dedication, hard work, and quality performance–and not on an employee’s sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression. But, some will continue to only employ and serve Pennsylvanians who are protected by current anti-discrimination laws–that is, unless we modernize the laws to include LGBT people. It is time we find the middle ground by giving LGBT employees a chance to be held to the same standards as their straight counterparts under the law.

I believe that I should always treat others as they wish to be treated. I would like to see individuals judged for their work, and not for who they love or how they identify and express themselves. I believe it is time for the Pennsylvania legislature to update current anti-discrimination laws that protect Pennsylvanians to include those who are LGBT. I ask Pennsylvania to make sure that people like me have a chance at achieving the American Dream through hard work and dedication–just like everyone else.

In addition to his duties as Secretary for the South Central Chapter, Griffin has a high school internship with the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg office. He is also the son of Cyndi Sneath, ACLU-PA board member and one of the clients in the ACLU’s landmark Kitzmiller v. Dover case.

Viral Photo Highlights Need for Action In Support Of LGBT Youth

By Ian S. Thompson, ACLU Washington Legislative Office


“I’m homosexual and I’m afraid about what my future will be and that people won’t like me.”

Sadly, this quote didn’t come from a gay person several decades ago, during a time before most people realized that they had gay people they knew and loved in their lives. It isn’t even from several years ago. The quote is from a young boy, captured in a haunting photograph from Humans of New York with a look of pained anguish on his face, as if he is holding back a well of tears.

In the days since the image was first posted, it has received more than 620,000 “Likes” on Facebook and has been shared nearly 60,000 times. Responses, overwhelmingly positive, have poured in from individuals from across the world, including Ellen DeGeneres and Hillary Clinton.

This week, the U.S. Senate will be presented with a rare opportunity to act to ensure that LGBT students across the country are able to obtain a quality public education that is free of discrimination. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) will be offering the Student Non-Discrimination Act, or SNDA, as an amendment on the Senate floor. The need for these protections could not be clearer.

As moving as the response to this photo has been, the fears voiced by this boy are reflective of a tragic reality impacting far too many LGBT young people in schools across the country. Discrimination, harassment, and even physical violence continue to play far too large a role in the lives of LGBT students. A nationwide 2013 survey of nearly 8,000 students found that more than 30 percent of LGBT students reported missing at least one entire school day in the past month because they felt unsafe.

Too often, it is the schools themselves that are the problem. The ACLU and the ACLU of Virginia have filed a lawsuit, on behalf of a transgender student, against the Gloucester County School Board for adopting a discriminatory bathroom policy that segregates transgender students from their peers. The policy effectively expels trans students from communal restrooms and requires them to use “alternative private” restroom facilities.

SNDA, which is modeled closely on Title IX, would provide critical, explicit nondiscrimination protections for LGBT students in federal law. When schools discriminate against LGBT students — such as denying trans students access to restrooms that reflect who they are or barring students from bringing a same-sex date to a school dance — or allow instances of serious harassment to go unaddressed, SNDA provides important legal remedies, including a private right of action, to hold schools accountable.

Schools found to be in violation of the law would also risk losing their federal funding. A half century of civil rights laws have demonstrated that these kinds of enforcement tools are most effective in preventing discrimination from occurring in the first place as well as getting schools to appropriately respond when students are being discriminated against or harassed. At the end of the day, the goal is to create a safe and supportive learning environment for all students, not lawsuits (important and necessary as they sometimes are).

While we continue to celebrate a landmark Supreme Court victory for the freedom to marry, we cannot lose sight of all the important work that remains. It is mindboggling to think that there is still no federal law that explicitly protects LGBT students in our nation’s public schools. By supporting SNDA, senators would make clear that LGBT students should be able to look forward to futures full of promise, not live in fear over whether they will be accepted and loved for who they are.

This article is cross-posted at the ACLU’s Blog of Rights

Learn more about the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s LGBT Nondiscrimination work!