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“Across the country, the youth who populate carceral institutions and foster care are disproportionately BIPOC, queer, and/or poor. This is not an accident or something that can be repaired; these systems operate exactly as they were intended to operate. NCLR supports the movement to abolish these harmful systems and replace them with a safety net that promotes the health and well-being of low-income LGBTQ youth of color in their homes, schools, and communities.

Shannan Wilber, NCLR Youth Policy Director

NCLR’s Youth Policy Director, Shannan Wilber (she/her) joined the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) staff in 2013 after being connected to the organization as a donor, board member, and cooperating attorney since the early 1990s. When she was a young lawyer, she explains, NCLR provided a model for the kind of attorney she wanted to be – “feminist, collaborative, fearless, creative, and unapologetically lesbian.”

Wilber has a background in social work and worked at a domestic violence shelter before attending law school at Santa Clara University in California. Though she knew little about lawyering at that time, she was drawn to areas of legal practice that centered around family law, criminal defense, education, and children’s advocacy. Wilber has since worked in child advocacy for over 30 years at Legal Advocates for Children and Youth, the Youth Law Center, Legal Services for Children, as well as NCLR.

Pictured: Shannan Wilber serving as NCLR Board Co-Chair with Audrey Koh, M.D. before joining staff in 2013.

Wilber became more deeply involved in NCLR’s work when Shannon Minter created the organization’s groundbreaking Youth Project. Together, they launched the work that soon became Wilber’s deepest passion – advocating for LGBTQ youth in justice and foster care systems. The central focus of her work is promoting the health and well-being of LGBTQ youth of color who are in the physical custody of the government.

“I felt called to [this area of work] because it provided a way for my mind and my heart to work in tandem,” Wilber explained. “My mother once said that I had ‘an exaggerated sense of justice.’ She didn’t mean it as a compliment, but I have come to embrace the description.” Wilber further elaborates that she is inspired to repair broken things and she believes deeply in balance and reconciliation. Her favorite part of her job is the opportunity to achieve justice creatively and collaboratively.

Pictured: Shannan Wilber posing for a picture in front of the step-and-repeat with her spouse Laurie at the 2017 NCLR Celebration Gala.

As NCLR’s Youth Policy Director, Wilber has decades of experience as a social justice advocate. For those who have just started their career in this field or are looking to join this field, Wilber offers this advice:

“Believe in yourself and your instincts. Find a few good mentors whom you admire. If you want to solve a problem, be sure to check with the people most affected by the problem first. Take breaks, eat lunch, laugh often.”


SupportOUT: Promoting the Well-Being of LGBTQ Youth of Color in Their Homes, School, and Communities
Shannan Wilber & Maribel Martinez
Columbia Journal of Race and Law


Shannan’s Interview with Arcus Foundation at National LGBTQ Task Force’s 2020 Creating Change Conference

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