ABA names recipients of 2019 Stonewall Award honoring LGBT advancements in the legal profession

Three longstanding LGBT legal activists will be honored by the American Bar Association Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity with its seventh annual Stonewall Award during a ceremony on Jan. 26, 2019, 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.

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 Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in 2007 to leading the successful effort to pass a resolution supporting same-sex marriage in the ABA House of Delegates in 2014. He has chaired numerous ABA entities, including the Commission on Disability Rights and the Commission on Immigration, served in the House of Delegates for many years and on the Board of Governors. He also 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. He was senior vice president and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress from 2003-09. Prior to that, he spent a decade working for members of Congress on Capitol Hill, and before then practiced international law with Jones Day in Washington, D.C.

In recognition of his contributions to LGBT rights, Agrast received the Dan Bradley Award from the National LGBT Bar, the Distinguished National Service Award from the LGBT Bar Association of the District of Columbia and the Civil Rights Hero Award from the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice.

A native of Cleveland, he graduated summa cum laude from Case Western Reserve University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He pursued his post-graduate studies as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, and received his J.D. from Yale Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the Yale Journal of International Law. Agrast is a member of the Supreme Court Bar and is admitted to practice in Ohio and the District of Columbia.

"Mark has been a steady leader with a calm and effective demeanor for our LGBTQ community, for several decades championing our causes when it was not popular to do so and when it was very lonely at times to be so outspoken for the protection and advancement of our rights," said Victor M. Marquez, chair of the ABA SOGI Commission. "He is a true visionary leader who has accomplished so much for us, and we are indebted to him for his many years of service both within the ABA and in the community as whole."

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 healthcare.

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. The amici included veterans, medical professionals and stay-at-home parents who had challenged the constitutionality of marriage bans of same-sex couples imposed by the 15 states in which they resided.

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.

Eaton has been recognized for her pro bono service by the Legal Aid Society with their Pro Bono Publico Award six times. She was selected by the New York Law Journal as a 2015 honoree for its "Lawyers Who Lead by Example" award in the pro bono category, received the Thurgood Marshall Award from the Federal Bar Council, was named Outstanding Pro Bono Volunteer by the New York State Bar Association and was given the Attorneys And Advocates Award by the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.

A graduate of Columbia Law School, she began her career at Cravath, Swaine & Moore before joining Willkie in 2002.

"Mary has been a true champion and has gone beyond the call of duty to ensure that the rights of many of the most vulnerable members of our community whose rights and freedoms were compromised had an attorney who fought to protect them," said Marquez. "Her effective and precedent-setting advocacy is to be applauded. We need more lawyers like Mary to step out of their comfort zone in private practice and champion our causes."

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. Prior to working at DOJ, McGowan worked in the Office of the General Counsel at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, as a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (where she worked on Schroer v. Billington, a seminal transgender rights case) and as an associate at Jenner & Block in Washington, D.C. McGowan has a B.A. from the University of Virginia and received her J.D. from Harvard Law School.

"Sharon has been an amazing leader carrying the torch of justice and equality for our LGBTQ community for decades, and through her impactful work has broken down many barriers for us and continues to fight the good fight every day to ensure that our individual rights and freedoms are protected through the rule of law," said Marquez. "We should feel safer knowing that she is representing us on the national stage as one of our community's attorneys."

"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," concluded Marquez. "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."

Published: Wed, Oct 24, 2018