Scholar Class – 2011
Emily McWilliams is from rural Southwest Wisconsin. Even before coming out as a lesbian late in her senior year of high school, Emily was no stranger to harassment and isolation. As a member of the only Jewish family in town, she was the target of anti-Semitic bullying and harassment at school and learned at a young age that standing up for herself - no matter the consequences - was more important than staying quiet and fitting in.
Emily became a queer activist during her undergraduate years at UW-Madison. After a stint on UW Women’s crew team, she became involved in a student organization that was lobbying the university administration to disclosure statistics on sexual assault on campus and improve harassment reporting processes for students and faculty. Emily was soon elected Vice-Chair of the Associated Students of Madison, the UW student government, where a conservative faction tried to impeach her from her position on the basis of her sexuality. In fighting back this attack, her gay identity was forged. From this moment on, it became her mission to be out as a lesbian in all areas of her life to assert the validity of LGBT identity and the right to succeed even in normative arenas such as politics and academia.
Emily then became the staff and finance director of the Campus Women’s Center where she founded an organization to raise funds for sexual assault prevention and pressure the university to implement safety measures in university housing. She went on to be elected the first openly lesbian chair of the Associated Students of Madison where she used her position to call for the full inclusion of LGBT individuals in all aspects of campus life and improve the recruitment and retention of high school students of color and LGBT students. Before graduation, she became a researcher and community organizer on same-sex sexual assault and dating violence. Emily went on to attend Oxford University as a Clarendon International Scholar. There, she gained her masters in Comparative Social Policy, writing her dissertation on the social, legal and civil rights of LGBT persons in the USA and Britain. For the last two-and-a-half years, she has served as legislative staff to a Wisconsin State Assemblyperson and is currently Chief of Staff to the Assembly Democratic Caucus Chair.
It is Emily’s hope that gaining legal expertise, in combination with her legislative experience and policy background, will enable her to be a versatile and strategic advocate for gay rights in the statehouse and the courthouse.