Meet LGBT Pride Month Local Hero Mattheus Stephens

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LGBT Pride Month Local Hero Mattheus Stephens

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Mattheus Stephens is a founding partner of the Progressive Law Group — a firm based in San Diego, built with the goal of claiming the “progressive” political label in the legal world. But despite his full time work there, Stephens puts a lot of energy in to teaching. He’s lectured at UC San Diego for about a decade. He loves teaching. And part of what he loves most is learning from students.

“We as educators tend not to give students as much credit as they deserve for how creative and intelligent they are,” Stephens says.

He says by far the most important course he teaches is “Race and Law,” which reviews the legal history of slavery through its constitutional end, and the impact that history has on housing, voting and employment today.

Not surprisingly, Stephens’ “Law and Sex” course is quite popular. “When they learn it’s not a how-to course, they get a different feel for it,” Stephens says.

Aside from his academic and professional endeavors, Stephens is also passionate for public service. He’s been on the San Diego Civil Service Commission since 2008. “It’s awesome,” he says. “The reason I love it is because I really am passionate about the city of San Diego. I think it’s a phenomenal place to live and work and raise a family. It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Outside the classroom and City Hall, Stephens is a standout in the LGBT community — a leader just by being who he is in the roles he’s earned. He’s the first transgender person to receive KPBS’ Local Hero award, and the highest-ranking transgender person serving the City of San Diego, to his knowledge.

“Frankly, not enough of us survive to achieve the community recognition I have had the privilege to attain,” Stephens says. “We are quite literally just trying to survive.”

Suicide and poverty rates are well above average in the transgender community. Stephens noted that for these reasons, it’s unusual for transgender people to have the resources to help improve local communities as he’s had the opportunity to do.

To that end, Stephens aims to elevate the LGBT community through the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. It’s a national organization that helps elect LGBT politicians to office, particularly in areas with low LGBT representation (unlike San Diego). When more openly LGBT candidates get elected to office, the areas they govern are more likely to support equality, and people get treated the same, according to the nominee.

Stephens said he learned of his nomination by voicemail, left by KPBS general manager Tom Karlo. “I was alone in my office, and when I listened I literally blushed. I turned beat red. I’m beyond thrilled and grateful for the acknowledgment.”

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