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Out Front

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Despite fighting for the civil rights of others, Christine Sun ’98 had been a late bloomer in her own self-realization. “When I was in law school, I really could not have imagined being here,” said Sun upon accepting the honor of OUTLaw Alumnus of the Year in January. “I know that sounds like false modesty, but that’s actually true, because when I was in law school I wasn’t even out to myself.”

Shortly after graduating, Sun acknowledged her sexual orientation to herself, but she still kept it from the former civil rights lawyer for whom she clerked, Judge Robert Carter of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, and even from the LGBT-friendly law firms for which she worked afterward.

When Sun made it through the closet door at last, she found a world of difference. “I could finally focus on my work,” she said, “and learn the craft of being a lawyer without the nagging distraction that comes from hiding an important part of oneself.”

Sun, a regional staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, worked as deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, where she oversaw its economic justice work and efforts on behalf of the LGBT community, and as senior counsel for the ACLU’s LGBT and AIDS projects. In 2010, the National LGBT Bar Association included her among its Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40, and in 2012, NYU’s Black, Latino, Asian Pacific American Law Alumni Association gave her its Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award.

In spite of her successes, Sun still feels the sting of a case she lost early in her career on behalf of a lesbian high school student who had suffered discrimination by school officials when she came out. “To this day,” Sun said in her OUTLaw speech, “if I think about that case I still feel a slight wave of nausea. But even with all of that, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. Although it makes sense for our movement to celebrate our many victories, I want to remind us that we also need to celebrate our losses…. If you don’t know what it’s like to lose, you will fear it, and that fear will stop you from taking risks—risks that you need to take in order to be truly successful.”

Sun has lived that philosophy, most recently by switching to immigrants’ rights work. She knew she would have to learn a whole new area of substantive law and prove herself to an entirely different legal community.

“These were risks I was willing to take on,” said Sun, “so that I could continue to challenge myself, to make sure that the amazing education I got from law school was being used to its fullest.”

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