The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Fran Hutchins

Headshot of Fran Hutchins
Executive Director
Equality Federation

Degree & graduation year: Dual Master of Public Policy and Administration/Master of Business Administration ’13

What I do: Equality Federation is the movement builder and strategic partner to state-based organizations advocating for LGBTQ people. The Federation provides leadership development and advocacy support to our network of 40+ member organizations across the country, including groups like Equality Florida, Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, and Basic Rights Oregon. As deputy director, I manage a team of directors, lead our strategic planning, and represent our organization at national and state-level legislative coalitions. [Ed. note: In December 2020, Hutchins was named Equality Federation's executive director.]

How I ended up working there: Before coming to UMass, I worked as a policy analyst for the city of Los Angeles and was involved in LGBTQ advocacy as a volunteer. I came to UMass thinking I’d get another job in government, possibly at a higher paygrade, thanks to my two new degrees. But in 2012, I had the opportunity to work with one of Equality Federation’s members, EqualityMaine, on the marriage equality ballot measure. I worked for the campaign as regional field director that summer in lieu of an internship and took off the fall semester to see it through to Election Day. (We won!) I was offered the job at Equality Federation just as the campaign wrapped up. It was a job that used my policy, political, and organizing skills, so I couldn’t pass it up. The fact that my boss was flexible and allowed me to finish my last semester at UMass before starting full time sealed the deal.

The best part of my job: I love helping local LGBTQ activists, especially those working in conservative states, feel less alone in their work. Whether it’s having a coaching conversation with someone dealing with a rough legislative session or connecting leaders in a dozen states who are all facing copycat negative bills, the work my team and I do builds the movement for equality.

A recent exciting work experience: In 2018, I had a chance to work on the Yes on Question 3 campaign in Massachusetts, when we were voting to uphold our nondiscrimination law. This work was especially exciting for me because the field strategy for the campaign was based on research that I led at Equality Federation. In partnership with scientists from UC Berkley and Stanford, we determined that having a longer, “deep” conversation with voters at the door or on the phone increases support for transgender rights. The study will soon be published in American Political Science Review and was recently covered by Vox.

How the School of Public Policy prepared me for my career: I had been working as a practitioner without formal policy or management training. I got a dual degree, so the classes at Isenberg were a crash course in the business side of organizations. The public policy gave me an analytical frame for things I had already been doing: policy analysis, the policy process, and nonprofit management. Statistics and economics classes gave me critical thinking and quantitative tools that helped me envision and measure success. Lastly, more theoretical courses such as organizational behavior challenged me to think beyond my lived experience.

Advice to students considering a degree in public policy: This is a very practical degree, especially if you want to work in government, advocacy, or public affairs. I work with many people in these fields who went to law school and didn’t end up wanting to practice law. Take advantage of the networking opportunities in the program, especially the trips to Boston and DC, to meet alums working in the field.

Future plans: I am excited to keep working for LGBTQ equality in the coming years. This year, we are facing an especially onerous onslaught of more than 240 anti-LGBTQ bills in state legislatures. At the same time, we are making progress, even in more conservative states. Recently, Utah and Virginia banned the discredited, harmful practice of conversion therapy, and Virginia is poised to be the first state in the south to pass a nondiscrimination law. I also plan to stay engaged as a proud UMass alum. I currently serve on the board of directors for the UMass Alumni Association.