Igniting Change: D Dangaran ’11

D Dangaran ’11 recalls a pivotal moment in seventh grade when Barack Obama ’79, then an Illinois senator, visited Punahou. Dangaran asked what advice Obama would give to someone who wanted to dedicate their life to public service, and the former president delivered a concise and powerful message.

Dream big.

Dangaran never forgot these words, which inspired the now 26-year-old, who was already actively volunteering in the community, to pursue a career as a human rights advocate. While an undergraduate at Yale University, Dangaran engaged in autism awareness, gender equality, and HIV and AIDS advocacy and support. After graduating from Yale, Dangaran advised students at Yale-NUS College in Singapore on gender and health issues.

Dangaran, who is non-binary and thus does not identify as either a man or a woman, recently graduated from Harvard Law School, the recipient of the school’s William J. Stuntz Award, given to a graduating student who “has demonstrated an exemplary commitment to justice, respect for human dignity and compassion.” They worked on gender equality as a legal intern in Cape Town, South Africa, and for the ACLU in New York City.

Over the next two years, Dangaran will serve as a law clerk, first for a Washington D.C. judge, then for Judge Mark Bennett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Honolulu. Their long-term goal is to bring cases to federal and state courts to expand human rights.

Dangaran regards LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning) rights as the current frontier of civil rights equality. “The battles I am most passionate about are those in which people are suffering simply because of who they are,” Dangaran says, adding that by addressing transgender people’s rights, one can help everyone who experiences injustices when they fall outside of what’s considered “normal.”

Some of our current societal norms about race and gender have been handed down from post-Victorian era colonizing society, where one group of people sought dominance over others, Dangaran says. “You don’t have to be transgender to feel the pressure of systemic patriarchy or heteronormativity. Cisgender men and women also experience pressure to conform to society in different ways.”

Dangaran is interested in tackling social injustices experienced by vulnerable prison populations, including LGBTQ people, the young, elderly or those with disabilities, all of whom are disproportionately assaulted or struggle to have their basic medical needs met while incarcerated. One solution Dangaran believes could reduce such trauma in prison and the larger society is transformative justice.

“Instead of reforming and keeping the current system intact, transformative justice would urge questioning and rethinking the system altogether and maybe ending our
use of it,” Dangaran says.

In regard to recent events, such as the case of George Floyd, who died after police arrested him in Minneapolis, Dangaran says transformative justice would address questions such as: Could society fix this pattern instead of fixating on this one instance; could communities develop alternatives to law enforcement; and could we do away with punitive consequences for criminals?

Dangaran recognizes education has an important role in tackling tough, multilayered and systemic issues. For instance, schools could be inclusive of multiple gender identities, whether it’s by avoiding dividing a class up by gender or by asking students to indicate their gender pronouns. “I think non-binary people are more visible now, and these conversations are increasingly part of our culture,” Dangaran says. “And that’s good, because in Hawai‘i, we can lean on native Hawaiian culture as the grounding for the importance of thinking about third genders and other genders.”

Public service has been a focus in Dangaran’s life ever since volunteering with Punahou’s Luke Center for Public Service and delivering a seventh-grade Damon speech on homelessness. “I am grateful to the teachers and mentors I had at Punahou and the Luke Center for teaching me the value of trying to pay it forward,” they said.

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