Elizabeth “Lizzy” Wingfield: Archery and advocacy

Elizabeth “Lizzy” Wingfield

The Independence Business Alliance (IBA) is the LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce for the Greater Philadelphia area. Led by Zach Wilcha, the IBA has become one of the most respected organizations in the city (with one of the best Christmas parties in town). Whether you’re a Pop & Pop small business or a large corporation, there’s something for you at the IBA. They have a ton of programming and one of the highly anticipated events that they hold is the annual business luncheon where they lay out the agenda for the next year. The event is a place to celebrate the achievements of the LGBTQ+ business community, and “provides an outstanding opportunity to place your business in front of decision makers and support the work of Greater Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce.” 

I had a chance to learn more about the organization from IBA Board Vice President Elizabeth “Lizzy” Wingfield. An attorney and advocate, Wingfield currently serves as an Associate in the Litigation Department of Ballard Spahr. Previously, Wingfield was a Stoneleigh Emerging Leader Fellow at Education Law Center working to decrease exclusionary discipline, reduce discrimination and remove educational barriers that disproportionately affect LGBTQ+ and gender non-conforming (GNC) youth in Greater Philadelphia schools. Prior to this role, she held positions at a number of public interest law organizations in Philadelphia, including Women’s Law Project, Philadelphia Legal Assistance, Philadelphia Volunteers for the Indigent Program and Community Legal Services. She also served as a Staff Editor for the Temple Law Review. Phew! And now she serves Gerber’s creamed carrots as a new mom. We spoke while the little one was enjoying nap time.

Thanks for letting me take some of your precious quiet time. Let’s start by learning where you’re from?
I am from upstate New York. A small, rural town called Middleburgh. 

What was life like in Middleburgh?
It was because I grew up in a rural environment that I did a lot of activities that you wouldn’t normally do in an urban environment like Philadelphia. In particular, archery, which I really got into for awhile. It was something typical for the area where hunting was common, but not so common here, at least pre “Hunger Games”! I shot archery competitively which was really fun for me. 

I took archery in gym class and routinely got beaten by my blind classmate! It was actually pretty cool. The teacher put a beeper behind the bullseye and he would shoot three arrows. We would let him know, “That was at about 2 o’clock and about three inches from the center” and he would adjust and then hit the bullseye!
What a clever accommodation!

Yeah, but humbling for those of us who had to say that the blind guy beat us! He loved it. How many in the family?
I have an older sister. There’s our parents and the family cat. We actually had two cats growing up, the first one my sister named, Cringer. I think the name was from some cartoon superhero. After that, we had Muffin, who I got to name. They were both delightful cats.

What did the folks do?
My dad was a surveyor and my mom worked in the library, so it was really fun to go to work with her and be around books all day. 

Other than archery, what else did you like to do?
I really enjoyed reading, always. And… hmmm, I’m hesitating because there was a lot of stuff that we did with our parents, like hiking and fishing and camping, and I did those things but I pause because my sister and I never enjoyed them! [Laughing] That’s why I live in a city now.

That’s funny.
Yeah, I was home-schooled growing up too. But what was nice was that my mom and I worked on building the curriculum together. So I remember going over things with my mom and helping her pick the math book that most appealed to me or the history book that was most intriguing. Being able to engage in directing my education is something I’ll always remember fondly. 

What’s the worst fight you ever got into with your sister?
OK, my sister is eight years older than me, so in my opinion, the fights were never fair. She would say that the worst fight we ever got into was when I put a worm in her spaghetti. I don’t remember that incident and I maintain that it didn’t occur! From my perspective, the worst fight we ever got into was when she would pretend to be a witch, which was terrifying to me. She would pretend to turn me into a tissue and she would blow her nose on me. 

Now that’s really funny! I was super skinny as a kid and had long, unruly hair, so my big brother would hold me upside down and use me as a human broom. Siblings! On the flip side, what would be a fun family memory?
We used to visit my maternal grandmother a lot. She lived about an hour and a half from us in Utica, NY. She always had the best stories because she lived in Liverpool, England during World War II. She would tell riveting war stories. She’d also recite poems that she grew up with. They were told in her delightful English accent. And I remember always asking her to take her dentures out, and she’d surprisingly do it for us. We just thought that it was the best party trick ever. 

Love it. Moving forward, you studied philosophy in college. What in high school sent you down that path?
I was always interested in the humanity of people, but I was also very ambitious and in high school, I thought that meant going into the hard sciences. Somehow in my mind, that represented the greatest success, so I went into college planning to be pre-med, but then I realized that I don’t like science and I’m not very good at it. That led me to an exploration of what I was interested in. I took an introduction to philosophy class and loved it! It felt good to think about different problems through a humanitarian lens. 

Ah, and where did the law degree come in?
As an undergrad, I took classes such as “The Philosophy of Law” which led me to wondering what practicing human rights law would look like. I had an internship at Women’s Law Project when I was in college and I really enjoyed it. The women I worked with were amazing forces of nature and I wanted to be like them. After college, I was a paralegal in legal aid and found that work incredibly meaningful. My work centered on survivors of domestic violence who were some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. So when I went to law school, I wanted to continue that social justice work. 

What was a favorite class?
In law school, I had two classes involving family law and maybe it shouldn’t have been surprising given the subject matter but I was pleasantly surprised at how explicitly feminist they were and how much they made me think about gender and family. The classes were fascinating and we had some great discussions.

Describe to me what you do now?
That takes me into my journey as a queer professional and figuring out what that meant. As a person who really cared about civil rights and had done social-justice work before and during law school, I assumed that meant that I would work in a nonprofit as my 9-5 job. But for my first job out of law school, I got a fellowship advocating for the LGBTQ community. It was an amazing job and the work was really meaningful. But I realized that some of my professional interests were broader than that. I was interested in doing complex commercial litigation, which is usually done at big law firms and I had to sit with myself for a while before making the transition to a big firm. It felt like I’d have to leave my identity and values at the door but I’ve been really heartened because I’ve found a lot of colleagues and mentors who were like minded. A lot of my work, both paid and pro-bono, has been geared toward furthering civil-rights causes and it’s what led me to the IBA! It was actually a Ballard partner who really believes in the IBA mission who brought me to an event that he had encouraged the company to sponsor. I got to meet all of these other queer people who also cared about equity and were also in the business world.

I read that a lot of the work that you do is with gender nonconforming and trans kids. We’re in a little bubble here in Philadelphia, but things are getting crazy out there.
Yes, we’re in a bubble when it comes to having some great policies on the books in Philadelphia. In a lot of other jurisdictions, there are some pretty terrible policies on the books. It’s institutional bullying in my opinion. But overwhelmingly, the issues I saw when I was advocating for LGBTQ youth full time was relentless bullying and harassment, and that happened in school districts with great policies on the books and the ones with bad policies. You just hope that the institutions respond appropriately but unfortunately, regardless of what’s on the books, it doesn’t make kids be kind to each other. What I saw was escalating harassment until the queer student avoided going to school altogether, which is such a shame. 

Since you litigate in the courtroom, do you go to toastmasters or rehearse with friends to polish your communication skills?
A colleague once recommended that I do breathing exercises and superhero poses before I go into court and it sounds silly but I have done that every time I’ve had to appear, and it helps! 

What’s a big takeaway from the work that you’ve done?
I think my time both in legal aid and advocating for LGBTQ youth really underscored for me how amazing moms are. Whether it’s a survivor of domestic violence or a mom advocating for their queer kid, or both. Moms really are the unsung heroes of the world. 

And now you’re a mom yourself!
A new mom! I’ve only had him for a short time. He’ll be five months tomorrow. 

What’s one of the cutest things he’s done so far?
He’s really into licking, which is kind of gross, but also very cute. He’ll lick your nose. He tries to lick the poor dog. It’s very strange but cute baby licking. 

Ha, I was getting off the subway the other day and this mom suddenly looked at her kid and said, “Where did you get that gum from?” and the kid shrugged his shoulders. A look of horror came over her and she said, “Did you get that from the seat!?!” and he just smiled. I giggled the rest of the day thinking about that poor mom. But enough of that, tell me a little about the IBA.
Yes, it’s a great organization. We advocate for the queer business community in many different ways. It can be for queer business owners, especially small businesses, queer employees, corporations interested in equity. We work in a lot of different areas and capacities. We do workshops and trainings, and networking events, outings, Zoom coffee and happy hours. There’s a lot of programming. 

I’ve been fortunate enough to go to several of them. And you have a big event coming up!
Yes, I look forward to the business luncheon, and as a mom, I’m happy to have something I can go to in the middle of the day! It’s a great chance to network with other queer people in the business community or people who care about queer people in the business community. There are going to be some really engaging speakers and good food! The thing I’m really looking forward to this year in particular is that we’re going to talk about our new mission. [Smiling] I’m not going to reveal the verbiage here. You’ll have to go to the luncheon, but we took a step back this year to see if the mission we had was reflective of the work that we’re doing and want to do. We put a lot into thoughtfully rewriting the mission and I’m really excited about that. It will really inform our work as we go forward. 

Bravo! So, now for some random questions: Phillies, Birds, Sixers or Flyers?
Birds — but the Phillies are a lot of fun right now.

What do you do to relax?
I am a big Bravo fan, so I like to watch the shows and also listen to podcasts dissecting what is going on in the Bravo universe. It is just a really fun fandom to be a part of.

When you were a kid, did you have any posters on your wall? If so, of what?
I had a life size cutout of Legolas from “Lord of the Rings.” As an archer, I loved to see the archer representation! 

Favorite bedtime story?
My Nainy (the Welsh word for grandmother) used to tell me this poem: “If you meet a fairy/ Don’t run away. She won’t want to hurt you. She’ll only want to play. Find a tiny present for her when she goes. They love silver paper and little ribbon bows. Now, I knew a girl once who saw twenty-three, playing in the orchard, as happy as can be. They asked her to dance with them to make them twenty-four. She ran to the nursery and hid behind the door. Hid behind the nursery door! Now what a thing to do. She grew up very solemn — and very ugly too. So if you meet a fairy, remember what I say. Talk to her nicely, but don’t run away.”

Beautiful! I’m ready for my nap now!

Newsletter Sign-up