Graduate Student Bios

Leo Valdes is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at Rutgers University. They study twentieth century social movements and carceral state history in the United States. An oral history practitioner and scholar-activist, their research is shaped by ongoing conversations and political projects in trans of color communities. Their dissertation merges disparate scholarly fields, including African American labor history and trans studies, to examine the historical evolution of the Black and Latinx trans past. By moving away from biomedical themes towards issues of class and race, their dissertation offers a historical account of the emergence of a distinct trans politics inclusive of radical Black, anticolonial, and prison abolitionist traditions.  

Leo (also known as Lili), who is proudly trans and Latinx, among other identities, has published in the U.S. Latina and Latino Oral History Journal, The Metropole, and New Jersey Studies. In October 2021, their article “In the Shadow of the Health-care City: Historicizing Trans Latinx Immigrant Experiences during the Coronavirus Pandemic” received the Antonia Castañeda Award from the National Association of Chicana and Chicano studies for best article on women’s Latinx history. At the 2020 African American Intellectual History Society conference, they received the Du Bois-Wells Graduate Student Paper Prize for their paper “Breaking Cages: Preliminary Thoughts on Race, Transgender Identity, and Black Prison Organizing.”  

In addition to their scholarly work, they also participate in community-based oral history initiatives, like the Rikers Public Memory Project, and occasionally interview authors on the New Books Network. They can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..