January 06, 2019 Winter 2019

Stonewall Honoree Mark Agrast

Few attorneys have done more to promote and institutionalize the ideals of our profession or the human rights of LGBTQ people than this year’s Stonewall Award winner, Mark Agrast.  Throughout his career, Mark has fought to ensure that the principles of equality, dignity, and the rule of law are not just abstract concepts, but lived realities enshrined in governmental and legal institutions and norms. Time and again, Mark has been at the forefront of efforts to advance the place of LGBT people in the legal profession and the rule of law both nationally and globally.  He is one of the true legal heroes of our time, and the ABA SOGI Commission is deeply honored to present him with this award.

Mark’s devotion to public service is legendary. After studying as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford and receiving a J.D. from Yale Law School, Mark practiced international law with the Washington office of Jones Day before embarking on more than two decades of public service. He worked first as a top aide to Massachusetts Congressman Gerry E. Studds and then as Counsel and Legislative Director to Congressman William D. Delahunt of Massachusetts.

In those roles, Mark earned a reputation for integrity and a rare ability to translate ideals into effective strategies for real-world change. He was influential in shaping legislative responses to discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, military service, marriage, adoption, child custody, and HIV and AIDS. And as an openly gay man, Mark broke boundaries and built support for LGBT people at a time when being out required considerable personal courage. For some Congresspersons, Mark was the first openly gay person they had ever met, and interacting with him helped dispel negative stereotypes and build support for LGBT equality.

After leaving Capitol Hill, Mark continued his public service in a variety of roles. From 2003 to 2009, he was a senior vice president and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, one of our nation’s most important and influential progressive think tanks. From 2009 to 2014, after the election of President Obama, Mark served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legislative Affairs in the Department of Justice. In 2014, he became executive director and executive vice president of the American Society of International Law, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, educational organization whose members include scholars, practicing lawyers, judges, and diplomats in over 100 countries.

One of the hallmarks of Mark’s career has been an acute sensitivity to the importance of building and strengthening progressive institutions. He is a longtime member of the ABA House of Delegates and served on the Board of Governors and its Executive Committee. He served as Chair of the Program and Planning Committee of the Board, where he designed and chaired the ABA’s Enterprise Fund, an initiative to fund innovative collaborative projects within the Association.

He is a former Chair of the Commission on Disability Rights, the Commission on Immigration, and the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities. He is also a member of the Board of Governors of the Washington Foreign Law Society and a leader in the World Justice Project, where he has played a key role in designing and implementing its Rule of Law Index, which measures the extent to which countries adhere to the rule of law.

These accomplishments have left a lasting mark, both on the legal profession in the United States and on the growing acceptance of human rights as a universal standard of accountability through- out the world. Within the ABA in particular, Mark has been a tireless champion of promoting the highest ideals of service, inclusion, equity, and professional responsibility.

He was Chair of President Greco’s Commission on the  Renaissance of Idealism in the Legal Profession and served on President Hubbard’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services. He was a member of the Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity and currently serves on the Council of the Section of International Law.  

Last but not least, it is no exaggeration to say that without Mark’s leadership, many of the most important institutions that support the inclusion and equality of LGBT people in politics and law would not exist. Mark co-founded the Lesbian and Gay Congressional Staff Association and the LGBT Bar Association of DC, and was an early leader of the National LGBT Bar. Within the ABA, he was instrumental in creating the Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, for which he served as Special Advisor. These accomplishments are extraordianary and reflect a keen awareness that the best way to secure lasting change for LGBT people is to build organizations and institutions that can sustain future generations and provide them with a foundation for continued advocacy and change.

It is fitting that the SOGI Commission now honors Mark  for his foresight and vision with its Stonewall Award. Like the brave individuals who fought back at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1968, Mark has fought hard to give LGBT lawyers and community members not only a history, but a future. In bestowing Mark with this award, we intend not only to thank him for his years of service, but to renew our own commitment to the legacy of courage and commitment he embodies and to the ideals he so faithfully serves.

Shannon Minter

SOGI Commissioner

Shannon Minter is the Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), one of the nation’s leading advocacy organizations for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.. Please note, The Equalizer’s editors may have changed the varying sexual orientation and gender identity acronyms to “LGBTQ2” for consistency.