On August 17, 2014, Pride Law Fund awarded Judge Mary Morgan with the Trailblazer Award, honoring her thirty-year career on the California bench and her courageous efforts to advance the rights of the LGBT community. The sold-out event, a San Francisco Bay boat cruise aboard the historic U.S.S. Potomac, raised money for Pride Law Fund’s Tom Steel Fellowship, a grant awarded to a new lawyer each year to fund an innovative LGBT civil rights project.
Judge Morgan became the first out lesbian judge in the world when nominated by Governor Brown in 1981. During her thirty year career on the bench, she pioneered judicial education on LGBT issues, HIV, domestic violence, sexual abuse and the rights of women. While presiding over San Francisco’s Behavioral Health Court, she developed a model for the just treatment of mentally-ill defendants, which has served as a model across the country.
“I am very proud to receive this award from Pride Law Fund,” Judge Morgan said. “PLF funds the next generation of LGBT leaders, and I am pleased to support their important work. They are carrying forth Tom Steel’s legacy in a powerful way.”
The Steel Fellowship is named after Tom Steel, a prominent attorney and advocate for LGBT and progressive causes. Steel co-founded BALIF, defended LGBT victims of police brutality, organized lawyers in the fight against discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS, and mentored many LGBT lawyers throughout the city. Judge Morgan worked with Tom Steel early on in their careers.
The Tom Steel Fellowship was established by his partner Milton Estes and others following his death due to AIDS in 1998. In a thoughtful speech to event attendees, Judge Morgan described her efforts, and the efforts of advocates like Mr. Steel, Roberta Achtenberg, Donna Hitchens and Nancy Davis, to forge new paths through the “wild country” of discrimination faced by the LGBT community historically. To her listeners, she emphasized the importance of harnessing the power of community in effecting change over the long-term.
“Judge Morgan is an inspiring pioneer and a role model for LGBT lawyers and activists. Her work has touched the lives of so many LGBT people and members of marginalized communities,” said Pride Law Fund Co-Chair Daniel Redman. “We were thrilled to honor her and her work.”
Looking forward, Pride Law Fund has selected Daniel Faessler, Esq. as its 2014-2015 Tom Steel Fellow for his proposed Transgender Poverty Project, to be housed within the Transgender Law Center. Daniel will be establishing the first fully bilingual transgender legal clinic in the country. PLF provided the funding that established the Transgender Law Center with its first Tom Steel Fellowship, awarded in 2001.
“I am honored and humbled to follow in the footsteps of LGBT leaders like Judge Morgan and Tom Steel, I am hopeful that my project can serve our most vulnerable community members, particularly transgender people of color and non-English speakers,” said Daniel Faessler.
Tamara Zakim, Co-Chair of the Pride Law Fund Board of Directors, said, “Tom Steel, Judge Morgan, and Daniel Faessler show the past, present, and future of LGBT activism. Pride Law Fund is proud to continue the legacy of Tom Steel, honor the achievements of leaders like Judge Morgan, and support new leaders like Daniel.”
Now in its 35th year, Pride Law Fund awards fellowships to new lawyers who build innovative civil rights projects on behalf of the LGBT and HIV communities at non-profit organizations across the country in order to promote LGBT and HIV community rights.