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February 06, 2023

ABA honors recipients of Stonewall Award

Referring to her status at the second Black woman president of the ABA, Deborah Enix-Ross said, “There will be a time, hopefully very soon, when we can stop that kind of counting.”

She was welcoming attendees to the Stonewall Award ceremony on Feb. 4 at the ABA Midyear Meeting in New Orleans. The award recognizes lawyers who have considerably advanced lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in the legal profession and successfully championed LGBT legal causes.

2023 Stonewall Award honorees (left to right) Judge Pamela K. Chen, Ellie Krug and Jennifer C. Pizer

2023 Stonewall Award honorees (left to right) Judge Pamela K. Chen, Ellie Krug and Jennifer C. Pizer

Transgender activist, author and lawyer Ellie Krug recounted how she had been recruited to run for one of four open positions on the school board in her “red/purple county” in Minnesota last year. The only lawyer among the 12 candidates, she had been volunteering at local middle and high schools speaking to the gay/straight alliances.

“I tell them that they matter and that they have a right to be who they are,” she said.

Although Krug expected to be attacked as a transgender woman, her campaign was gaining traction until a few weeks before the election, when videos on Facebook characterized her as someone “who wants your kids to read pornography” and portrayed her as a “groomer.”

The lawyer, who transitioned genders in 2009 at the age of 52, felt all was lost until that same day she received a call telling her she was to receive a Stonewall Award.

“It was as if the universe was shouting at me, ‘Hold tight, Ellie. Stay the course,’” she said.

On Election Day, Krug was shocked to receive the third highest number of votes. Now she is one of seven or eight trans school board members in the country and (she thinks) the only lawyer.

Krug said receiving the award will help when she speaks in smaller cities and rural areas, because “this is where the work has to be done now.”

“It matters that our work can be seen,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, the chief legal officer of Lambda Legal, in accepting her award.

“Our honest visibility is the best rebuttal to the disinformation and knee-jerk ignorance that has been driving frenzies ─ and I mean frenzies ─ of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in so many states,” said the leader of Lambda Legal’s nationwide team of 44 legal professionals who litigate impact cases, develop legislation and partner with lawmakers and community advocates to advance nondiscrimination protections. Pizer added that almost 300 bills have been proposed “and it’s only Feb. 4.”

Judge Pamela K. Chen of the Eastern District of New York accepted her award by telephone after testing positive for COVID-19 that afternoon.

“I was not someone on the front lines fighting for LGBTQ rights,” the first openly LGBTQ+ Asian-American person to serve on the federal bench acknowledged, but that now as a judge she tries to “pay it forward.”

Chen does that as the board chair of the Sonia & Celina Sotomayor Judicial Internship Program, a pipeline organization that places high school, college and law school students from diverse and underserved communities in judicial internships in state and federal courts in New York City, and as a mentor through the Henry Hank Fellowship, a judicial internship program specifically for LGBTQ law students.

Being a mentor, she said, is “something we can all do, in small ways and big ways.”

The Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity sponsors the Stonewall Award. You can read more about the commission’s work in the ABA Impact Report 2022.