Northeastern law student runs a nonprofit to help LGBTQ+ community members find needed resources by Beth Treffeisen April 4, 2023 Share Mastodon Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University Northeastern law student Jamie Sgarro is expanding his toolbox by earning a law degree while running a nonprofit. Sgarro is attending law school to further his work in the trans rights movement and help protect trans justice. “I think the law, if put in the right hands, has enormous power to protect vulnerable people,” Sgarro says. In addition to attending law school, Sgarro is also the co-founder and CEO of InReach, a tech platform that matches LGBTQ+ people facing persecution and discrimination to safe, verified resources. The platform acts as a digital one-stop-shop for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community to find resources that are known to be safe to go to for help, including an attorney, housing, meal assistance, abortion care, medical care, mental health and more. InReach was named to Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2023 “for connecting the LGBTQ+ community with resources in the face of anti-LGBTQ+ policies.” The announcement comes as over 400 anti-LGBTQ+ bills are introduced in state legislatures nationwide. The bills include bans on gender-affirming health care for minors and adults, restrictions on transgender students’ rights at school and book banning. The law degree, Sgarro says, will help him draft and understand policy matters. “I hope my future career is also about trans rights within reach,” Sgarro says. “Otherwise, I think it’s a powerful toolkit to have, and I don’t think enough trans people have access to that sort of opportunity.” Jamie Sgarro, Co-Founder & Executive Director at InReach. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University The beginnings of InReach Sgarro’s organization started by building the world’s first tech platform designed for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers. The idea originated when Sgarro met a gay man seeking asylum in the United States while attending the University of Pennsylvania. Sgarro learned that his friend had struggled to find safe places to go for help—for an affirming pro bono attorney, educational opportunities and housing. The question arose: “Why hasn’t anyone started a digital one-stop-shop to solve this problem?” The friends paired up to start the company. The nonprofit was founded in 2013, named Asylum Connect, with the first pilot launched in February 2016. The company rebranded to InReach in May 2022. The organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and has raised more than $1.2 million. Volunteers entirely run the company through 2018. In 2019, Sgarro switched to running the organization full-time through the Roddenberry Fellowship and continues to run the organization full-time today. InReach has now grown to 8 employees (5 full-time & 3 part-time during 2023). The staff is supported by 50+ volunteers, interns, a junior board of young professionals, a governing board of directors and an advisory council. User growth has picked up since the anti-trans legislation has increased. Last year, the site saw an over 50% increase in total user sessions on the platform, with over 260,000 user sessions. “It tells us people need affirming services right now,” says Sgarro. The most rewarding part of Sgarro’s job is hearing from people who have used the platform, whether it is an attorney for a client or an actual user. “Access does save LGBTQ+ lives,” Sgarro says. Even Sgarro used the website during his transition. He started the website as a lesbian and built something that could help him move into the next phase of his life. “I used it to find affirming name, gender marker changes, life-saving gender affirmation care, and mental health support during my transition,” Sgarro says. What’s next for InReach One of the positive things about technology is that it’s changeable, says Sgarro. For example, when the Roe v. Wade decision came down recently, the nonprofit added an abortion care category to the app. Asylum-seeking may have been the issue that triggered the start of the nonprofit, but now many LGBTQ+ people face those same difficulties in this country, Sgarro says. “Now you’re seeing trans people being compared to political refugees, having to travel and start over in new states,” says Sgarro. InReach hopes to point out the parallels between those leaving countries restricting or banning LGBTQ+ rights in the United States. “If we lose the United States as what it once was a beacon of hope for LGBTQ+ people, it is a massive loss for the movement,” says Sgarro. “I think sometimes that’s not being talked about enough.” Call to Action “My advice would be to understand that trans people are everywhere, and even if you’re not working in trans justice, and you’re working in an immigration space or even the private sector, you’re probably going to meet a trans person, and you might not know that they’re a trans person,” Sgarro says. “I’m always thinking about ‘how can I make this space a safe space for everyone,’ whether it’s a member of the BIPOC community, whether people identify as a woman, or (whether) it’s LGBTQ+ positively trans people,” says Sgarro. “This is an important step that everyone can do.” There is a lower level of awareness than other issues in the trans justice movement because it is a small community, and a newer, visible issue, Sgarro says. “My call to action would be being as vocal as possible about supporting trans people,” says Sgarro. “Because allyship right now, in my opinion, is extremely critical. There might be people I can’t get through because I’m an openly trans person, but other cis(gender) people can because you’re coming from a different perspective. People might take your opinion seriously.” Beth Treffeisen is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @beth_treffeisen.