Published: March 18, 2021 By

CU Boulder undergrad whose advocacy helped pass Jude’s Law discusses the role of activism in their research into systemic inequality 

Universities are commonly criticized as exclusive ivory towers hidden behind dense jargon. One University of Colorado Boulder undergraduate hopes to create accessible research that contributes to clear legislation that reduces inequality. 

“I’m making reproductive justice intelligible to the people with power,” explains Mariana Galvez Seminario, whose personal pronouns are they, their and them.  

Galvez Seminario is a senior majoring in women and gender studies and sociology whose honors thesis applies queer theory, an academic tool that studies how gender and sexuality shape dominant points of view, to the reproductive justice movement. That movement advocates for the right to freely make choices about one’s body, the right to have children, the right to not have children, and the right to parent children in safe and healthy environments.  

Mariana Galvez Seminario

The goal is to explain the broader impact that laws have on communities, especially marginalized groups. This begins by shifting the definition of “queer” away from sexual orientation and toward a lens through which people can understand relationships, Galvez Seminario says.  

“If you think of queer as a relationship to power, rather than a solid, stable identity, it can have so much potential in how we apply queer theory to actual movements.”  

Galvez Seminario saw this first-hand when helping to advocate for Colorado House Bill 19-1039, known as Jude’s Law. The bill, which passed in 2019, allowed transgender and nonbinary people to update the gender written on their birth certificates without undergoing surgery, or receiving a doctor’s note or a court order. 

The existing law forced people to give up their right to make choices about their bodies, Galvez Seminario says. This led reproductive justice organizations to advocate for the bill, adding more points of view to supportive arguments and building a larger coalition of support. 

“Even though (Jude’s Law) was perhaps more explicitly LGBTQ and less about abortion, birth control and things that we understand more as reproductive politics,” Galvez Seminario says, “reproductive justice organizations also showed up, advocated for the bill and testified for the bill.” 

Galvez Seminario credits work with the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR) for offering a means of understanding how queer theory can impact reproductive justice. COLOR’s staff immediately encouraged Galvez Seminario to contribute opinions and advocate for issues brought to the Colorado legislature. 

COLOR’s affirmation, in part, encouraged Galvez Seminario to seek out information from faculty to help support their arguments.  

“Mariana contacted me over a weekend,” says Kristie Soares, assistant professor of women and gender studies. “They said they were preparing to go speak to the Colorado legislature the next day, to testify on behalf of a bill that would mandate teaching about the contributions of racial and ethnic minorities in Colorado K–12 schools.”  

Galvez Seminario asked Soares for readings they could use to support the organization’s arguments for this policy.  

“Later I came to find out that Mariana had not only read those readings, but also printed out and highlighted copies for each of the legislators,” Soares says. “The legislators said that Mariana’s testimony and research were impressive and contributed to their decision to make the bill into law.” 

“That’s Mariana. They get things done.” 

Finding a path by reflecting on values 

Galvez Seminario has forged their own path at CU Boulder and found an interest that has become a passion driving their research. However, they are quick to note that students can be best served by charting their own academic experiences. 

“I don’t want to say, ‘Follow my exact path,’ because that’s not going to benefit a lot of people,” Galvez Seminario says. “Students trying to model themselves after me . . .  it might even be hurtful.” 

I expect that Mariana will change the world."

Instead, they encourage students to reflect on the way they envision success at CU Boulder and critique those beliefs. This allows students to better understand their own values and perhaps find interests, passions and majors that help them grow. 

“I came in with this idea of what it meant to be a student from the successful examples I had seen,” Galvez Seminario says. “And it turned out (those examples) were not what I wanted to be. So, keep asking what you want out of your experience.” 

Galvez Seminario credits their academic growth to the care and mentorship offered by many CU Boulder faculty. Soares, mentioned above, and Celeste Montoya, associate professor of women and gender studies and director of Miramontes Arts and Sciences Program, have been especially helpful.  

“Dr. Montoya has taken me under her wing, and I could not be more thankful,” Galvez Seminario says. “Dr. Soares is the best thing that this university has to offer. Period.” 

Faculty praise Galvez Seminario for a blend of drive, intelligence, empathy and passion that make CU Boulder safer and more inclusive. Montoya and Soares say they believe Galvez Seminario can accomplish whatever goals they pursue. 

“I can see Mariana doing amazing work in academia. But I can also see them fully embracing advocacy work,” Montoya says. “Mainly, I hope that they find a path that leads to personal fulfillment.” 

Soares says she believes Galvez Seminario will do that and more. 

“I expect that Mariana will change the world.”