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Lynn Harris: Public spirit uses humor to advance human rights

Lynn Harris
Photo by Jason Speakman

Humanity belongs to everyone, claims Lynn Harris, vice president of communications at Breakthrough, an organization focusing on global human rights and preventing violence against women.

“Today, people get it — not all people, but enough people,” she says, adding gender-based violence and inequality, and their intersections with LGBT issues, race, class, and more, are understood not as personal problems, but as society’s problems. And as urgent.

Harris spent the first 20 years of her career as a writer, author, journalist, and comedian, trying to find mainstream, accessible ways to push for gender equality and other visions for social justice and human rights before blazing new trails at Breakthrough, where she has worked for the past five years with a staff of bright juniors who keep her coming back for more.

“Don’t believe anything anyone says about young people being lazy and apathetic,” Harris says. “They are so insightful and dedicated and creative and passionate about human rights and social justice — they school me every day!”

The Woman of Distinction, who writes about gender, culture and social justice issues, is also co-creator of Breakup Girl, a character that counteracts cliches that only women talk about relationships. The website houses comics of the character and an advice column.

Fans say Harris’s integrity is refreshing and infectious.

“Lynn’s just not going to take anything lying down, but it’s the way she delivers her righteous indignation that’s so scrumptious,” says her friend Amy Keshysian. “She can make you laugh at yourself, while owning that what you just said was so wrong — you want to thank her for setting you straight.”

The pair became friends in 1991, after a friend arranged a meeting.

“I wanted to get into magazine writing, and Lynn was honest, kind, encouraging, and helpful,” says Keshysian. “I can’t think of a more distinctive woman than her.”

Harris’s unique talent for blending humor and advocacy — she is currently busy forming a youth program she calls “Gold: Comedy for Girls” — keeps her abreast of modern-day trends and their relevance in our society, while striking a chord with people about personal feelings and controversial issues.

“I’m especially drawn to the use of pop culture and humor for social change, that’s always what’s guided and inspired me,” she says. “Pop culture and humor reflect societal norms and they are powerful tools for changing those societal norms because they reach so many people, and challenge them from a pretty friendly and accessible place to think in new ways.”

Neighborhood: Park Slope.

Occupation: Vice-President of Communications.

Company: Breakthrough.

Claim to Fame: “Being funny. Not just a hardy-har-har jokester, but someone who can use humor not to make light of challenging issues, but to help make sense of them.”

Favorite Brooklyn Place: Coney Island. “Gritty, shiny, diverse, beautiful.”

Woman I admire: “Dolly Parton. She is a remarkable musician and a hilarious wit. No matter how funny and exaggerated her persona, she is authentically serious about and dedicated to the most important things. She stands for equality and opportunity for everyone. That’s why I went to Dollywood for my 40th birthday. Someone please bring her to Celebrate Brooklyn!”

Motto: “Lean in? Meh. Jump in.”

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