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January 28, 2019

Three LGBT trailblazers receive Stonewall Award

Three longstanding LGBT legal activists were honored by the American Bar Association Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) with its seventh annual Stonewall Award during a ceremony Jan. 26 at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Las Vegas.

Named after the New York City Stonewall Inn police raid and riot of June 28, 1969, which was a turning point in the gay rights movement, the award recognizes lawyers who have considerably advanced lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in the legal profession and successfully championed LGBT legal causes.

Watch video of the Stonewall Award recipients’ acceptance speeches:

The 2019 award recipients:  

Mark Agrast, executive vice president and executive director of the American Society of International Law, has a long history of working to advance the rights of LGBT persons. Within the ABA, his efforts range from helping to start the association’s Committee on the Rights of Gay People in 1983, spearheading a move to amend the ABA Constitution in 1992 to provide that the LGBT Bar is an affiliated organization, establishing the ABA Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in 2007, and leading the successful effort to pass a resolution supporting same-sex marriage in the House of Delegates in 2014. In addition, he cofounded the LGBT Bar Association of Washington, D.C. Long a leader in the World Justice Project, Agrast played a key role in designing and implementing its Rule of Law Index. From 2009-14, he was deputy assistant attorney general in the office of legislative affairs at the U.S. Department of Justice. A native of Cleveland, Agrast graduated from Case Western Reserve University. He pursued his post-graduate studies as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, and received his J.D. from Yale Law School.

Mary Eaton, a partner at Willkie, Farr & Gallagher LLP in New York, has combined her litigation practice with extensive pro bono work on behalf of LGBT clients. She led a team of lawyers who sued the New York State Department of Health on behalf of a class of transgender Medicaid recipients and successfully forced the department in 2016 to change a regulation that barred Medicaid coverage for transgender-related health care. In addition, Eaton drafted an amicus curie brief on behalf of 92 plaintiffs represented by Willkie attorneys in the U.S. Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges case. In 2017, Willkie lawyers led by Eaton filed an amicus brief before the Supreme Court on behalf of various national education groups in Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., challenging a Virginia public school district’s policy prohibiting transgender students from using the restroom conforming to their gender identity. A graduate of Columbia Law School, she began her career as a litigator at Cravath, Swaine & Moore before joining Willkie in 2002.

Sharon McGowan is chief strategy officer and legal director at Lambda Legal, the oldest and largest LGBT legal group in the country, where she heads up a team of nearly three dozen lawyers. Before that, she served as deputy director of appellate litigation at the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, where she developed the arguments that led the United States to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act, as well as the arguments put forth on the merits in the Windsor and Obergefell cases. In addition, she served as counsel for the United States as amicus in G.G. v. Gloucester Co., where the Fourth Circuit upheld the finding that requiring a transgender student to use a restroom that corresponds with their biological sex violates Title IX. McGowan has a B.A. from the University of Virginia and received her J.D. from Harvard Law School.

“Our three Stonewall honorees, Sharon, Mary and Mark, share many attributes in common, including being fierce advocates and warriors, effective attorneys and selfless in their fight for justice and equality for individuals and families of our LGBTQ,” said Victor M. Marquez, chair of the ABA SOGI Commission. “They continue to lead by example and do so with a kind, compassionate, calm and ever-so-effective fashion through zealous advocacy. Their leadership is exemplary, inspiring and contagious. They are among the best amongst us. Individually and collectively, they have made our nation a more just and inclusive society, and for that we honor and salute them!”  

The ABA Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity leads the ABA’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and full and equal participation by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the ABA, the legal profession and society. Created in 2007, the commission seeks to secure equal treatment in the ABA, the legal profession and the justice system without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.