Skylar Cushing

Photo of Berkeley Law Student Skylar Cushing '26 sitting on steps outside Law Building.
Skylar Cushing ’26. Photo by Natch Valverde

“I graduated from Pennsylvania State University, University Park with a Bachelor of Science in nuclear engineering where I had a ten-year career in that field. I was driven to that field because I believe that nuclear energy can be a safe and reliable way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with proper safeguards in place. Unfortunately, like the LGBTQIA+ community, it was misunderstood and politicized, often out of fear. Over time, I became involved with diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) initiatives, including helping issue guidance on the inclusion of transgender and gender expansive employees. 

By the time I transitioned, I was ecstatic and hopeful for the future of our community since trans kids are more likely to be accepted by parents, to have access to doctors, and have their insurance cover their transition. However, navigating the barriers, avoiding or appealing the bans and denials of medically necessary gender-affirming care often requires us to be experts in healthcare insurance coverage requirements because insurance companies often don’t comply in this area. As a result, I created and helped develop a plan selection tool for gender-affirming care and fertility benefits which is currently being maintained by my friends in Pride in Federal Service. 

At the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), I had the amazing opportunity to contribute to OPM’s implementation of E.O. 14035, ‘Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce.’ It ordered the Director of OPM to ‘promote equitable healthcare coverage for LGBTQ+ members . . . including coverage of comprehensive gender-affirming care.’  I researched and authored a report to OPM policymakers and leaders on the status of gender-affirming care healthcare coverage and provided policy recommendations to OPM on how to best comply with the executive order and latest standards of care. The next year, carrier letter 2023-12 led to several plans becoming available nationally that cover near comprehensive gender-affirming care. 

However, policy can only go so far when there are state-wide bans prohibiting this healthcare or that make it difficult to live. With the past roughly six years of anti-trans backlash, levied by legislatures and sometimes upheld in courts, threatening this dream, I was motivated to go to law school. I also felt a law degree could be an asset to any policy work I go into later.  

Photo of Berkeley Law Student Skylar Cushing
Photo by Natch Valverde

I came to UC Berkeley, School of Law, knowing I would engage in LGBTQIA+ pro bono work because I am committed to incorporating this work into my career. I joined the Queer Justice Project (QJP), which currently has three distinct projects – one with Lambda Legal, another with the Transgender, Gender-Variant & Intersex Justice Project, and the last with the Transgender Law Center (TLC). I assisted with the TLC’s legal helpdesk, which responds to a vast array of issues that impact transgender people. Through QJP, I got to know several of the Berkeley Law graduates who founded QJP, including Megan Noor ’24, Kat Harlow ’24, and Peyten Sharp ’24. They created a fun environment and QJP was a highlight of my first year.

Next year, Euni Lee ’26 and I are co-leading the TLC project! I look forward to sharing my enthusiasm with others and to equipping new students with legal information and resources for those who contact the helpdesk. As law school can be a difficult adjustment and quite busy, I look forward to being a resource to incoming 1Ls, as they become resources to TLC helpdesk callers. SLPs are not always all business – I also am excited to plan more social events between all our teams!  

Sometimes the courses, the news, and even the helpdesk itself can make one feel like there isn’t reason to be optimistic. While I am not known to be optimistic, Pride Month is often a good time for reflection on the progress we’ve made – even if some SCOTUS opinions seem to reverse it. Overall, things are better for the LGBTQIA+ in the United States than they were 15 years ago: we can get married, our gender-affirming healthcare is more likely to be covered, we are protected from employment discrimination, conversion therapy and gay and trans panic defenses are more likely to be banned, and there’s more positive queer representation in media. We aren’t going anywhere. I believe this anti-gender movement will lose steam eventually. I think most people would rather express their love and compassion for another and permit others liberty, than to die on their hill of hate located in a fog of misinformation. Through pro bono, we can help the LGBTQIA+ community to weather the hate storm.”

Queer Justice Project (QJP) is one of 40 SLPS projects. Click to read more about Berkeley Law’s Student-Initiated Legal Services Project, and other enriching pro bono opportunities. 

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