ABA Launches Award to Honor Champions for the Gay Community

In its inaugural Stonewall Awards, the American Bar Association recognizes members who have changed the legal landscape for the LGBT community for the better.

In a ceremony at its Midyear Meeting this week, the American Bar Association conferred its first-ever Stonewall Awards on three attorneys who have made important contributions to the movement for legal rights for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.

The riots were a very visible and public display where the LGBT community finally made it clear it wasn’t going to accept any more repression and poor treatment.

Awarded by the ABA’s six-year-old Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI Commission), the awards honor those in the legal profession “who have effected real change to remove barriers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in the legal profession and the world,” according to a statement on the ABA website.

The inaugural recipients include Mary Bonauto, a civil rights lawyer who worked on the case that legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts; Matt Nosanchuk, a U.S. Department of Justice appointee who works closely with the LGBT community; and Mia Yamamoto, a criminal defense lawyer and longtime association volunteer leader who is known for her human rights activism.

Bonauto was surprised to be honored, she told the Portland Press Herald, adding that the existence of the award “says a lot” about the ABA.

The award’s name comes from the Stonewall riots, a 1969 incident that took place at and around New York City’s Stonewall Inn. On June 28 that year, protesters rose up in response to a police raid at the bar, leading to multiple nights of riots—a spontaneous protest that eventually helped foster an organized gay rights movement that continues to this day.

“The riots were a very visible and public display where the LGBT community finally made it clear it wasn’t going to accept any more repression and poor treatment,” the SOGI Commission’s James J.S. Holmes told the ABA Journal. “The beginning of today’s equality movement ties to about the time of the riots.”

The SOGI Commission, part of the ABA’s larger diversity and inclusion efforts, works to provide best practices for law firms to promote LGBT diversity in the profession. “With assistance from the SOGI Commission,” the group’s Courtney G. Joslin wrote in its 2012 annual report [PDF], then-ABA President William Robinson “issued a powerful statement to Congress urging it to enact policies prohibiting workplace discrimination against LGBT persons. This action further solidified the ABA’s reputation as the leading American organization dedicated to defending liberty and pursuing justice.”



Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!