By Andrew Cohen
Anne Tamar-Mattis ’06 was one of six “unsung heroes” recently honored by San Francisco public television station KQED for their efforts in the LGBT community. She received the award at a packed ceremony at the Castro Theater in San Francisco.
Tamar-Mattis has spent two decades working in the Bay Area as a community organizer, youth worker, nonprofit manager, advocate, trainer, and lawyer. After graduating from Berkeley Law in 2006, she founded and became executive director of Advocates for Informed Choice (AIC)—the nation’s first organization that provides legal advocacy on behalf of children with intersex conditions.
“I’ve been involved in the LGBT rights movement since 1989, and I’ve seen enormous change,” says Tamar-Mattis. “Back then, AIDS was a death sentence. When I started working with LGBT youth in 1994, the big issue was suicide, not attending prom. When I came to Boalt in 2003, no one I knew took the idea of gay marriage seriously. Now, I can’t drive down the street in my rural town without seeing a ‘No on 8’ bumper sticker.”
Only a year after graduating from Berkeley Law, Tamar-Mattis returned as a lecturer. She has taught Sexual Orientation and the Law at her alma mater since 2007, and also teaches the class at UC Davis School of Law.
Tamar-Mattis has enjoyed her return to campus, and describes Berkeley Law students as “interested, open-minded, and engaged. They have interesting life stories and bring a lot of experience and wisdom to the table. They also seem to really appreciate hearing my stories from the field as a practitioner and longtime LGBT activist.”
From 1992 until it disbanded in 1994, Tamar-Mattis was a member of the San Francisco Street Patrol, a volunteer group that patrolled the Castro and street fairs to protect against gay-bashing activities.
She later spent six years as director of the Lavender Youth Recreation & Information Center Youth Talkline, a peer-support forum for LGBT youth that is now part of the Gay and Lesbian National Hotline. Tamar-Mattis propelled the group from a regional service to a national operation, and trained more than 100 Talkline listeners who handled thousands of calls from around the country.
The first program director for the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, Tamar-Mattis established many of the programs that still exist there today. She served internships with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the East Bay Community Law Center’s HIV Law Clinic during her time at Berkeley Law, and founded AIC after graduating in 2006.
At AIC, Tamar-Mattis advocates for children born with variations of sex anatomy or chromosomes that do not fit standard expectations for males or females. The organization takes on issues such as medical malpractice, school accommodation, identity documentation, immigration, and asylum.
AIC recently assisted a successful asylum claim by the mother of a child with an intersex condition whose life was threatened in her home country. The organization also worked with top bioethicists to instigate a federal investigation of possibly unethical research on pregnant women who may be carrying a child with an intersex condition. Recently, AIC helped negotiate an apology from a leading hospital and physician to an intersex woman for harm suffered as a result of her childhood medical treatment.
“Like many in the intersex community, this woman endured a childhood of humiliating medical display, misleading information from her doctors, and unwanted genital surgery,” Tamar-Mattis says. “Medical procedures are starting to change slowly, but as far as I know no hospital had ever apologized to an intersex patient for the damage caused by misguided practices of the past. It felt like a historic turning point, and like justice.”
While supportive of the effort to legalize gay marriage, Tamar-Mattis has seen it divert funding away from other key LGBT causes. “For those of us working on other issues,” she says, “the push for same-sex marriage has been a bit overwhelming. I certainly think it’s important, but so many foundations and donors are directing their resources towards marriage. Organizations that deal with other important issues, like AIC, are struggling.”
Before receiving the KQED award, Tamar-Mattis had been honored for her LGBT work by several organizations, including Equal Justice Works, the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association, and the Pride Law Fund.