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2022 Community Excellence Awardees

LeGaL is thrilled to present its annual Community Excellence Awards, which recognize New York LGBTQ legal professionals, across all fields of practice, for their commitment to the LGBTQ community, and for high achievement in the profession. The 2022 class of honorees includes: Chinyere Ezie, Erica Healey-Kagan, Thomas Kessler, Yetta Kurland, Jason Moff, Kyle Rapiñan, and Richard Saenz.

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Senior Staff Attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights

Chinyere Ezie (she/her) is a Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, where she advocates for racial justice, gender justice, LGBTQI+ rights, and challenges governmental abuses of power. She is also a founding member of the National Trans Bar Association, and Vice Chair of the Transgender Law Center’s Board of Directors. Chinyere is passionate about fighting for the liberation of the LGBTQI+ community, including trans people of color impacted by the discrimination-to-incarceration pipeline.

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Junior Partner, The Kurland Group

Erica Healey-Kagan (she/her) is Junior Partner at The Kurland Group, an LGBTQ-focused civil rights law firm serving the New York and Washington, D.C. metro areas. She works with a broad array of clients on issues ranging from discrimination, employment, second-parent adoptions and other family law, as well as immigration and estate planning. Erica also worked closely with LeGaL to litigate the Barbour matter, which secured the equal application of the presumption of legitimacy to same-sex marriages in New York State. 

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Associate, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

Thomas Kessler (he/him) is an associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. In addition to representing a wide variety of clients in his restructuring practice, Tom is an active participant in the Firm’s pro bono efforts. Most notably, Tom was a member of the trial team in Ferguson v. JONAH, which secured a first-of-its-kind jury verdict in a consumer fraud lawsuit against a “gay-to-straight” conversion therapy organization. When the defendants violated the court’s permanent injunction by creating a new organization to secretly offer conversion therapy referrals, Tom obtained a second injunction requiring defendants to shut down entirely, which recently was upheld on appeal.

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Founder & Senior Partner, The Kurland Group

Yetta Kurland (she/they) is a New York City-based civil rights attorney and LGBTQ+ advocate. Yetta is the founder and Senior Partner of The Kurland Group, a full-service boutique civil rights firm helping to advance civil rights while promoting queer visibility in the legal system. The firm has represented individuals, labor unions, and elected officials to help secure fair housing, equal employment opportunities, and protections for LGBTQ+ families.

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Special Counsel, Kramer Levin Naftalis Frankel LLP

Jason Moff (he/him) is a special counsel at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP. Jason has represented mainstream religious stakeholders as amici in U.S. Supreme Court marriage equality and LGBTQ rights cases, including Windsor, Perry, Obergefell, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Bostock, and Fulton; as well as two LGBTQ+ high school students denied their constitutional rights in Mississippi, including Constance McMillen (the inspiration for the Broadway musical “The Prom”). Jason also represents LGBTQ immigration rights groups in a thus far successful but ongoing lawsuit to enjoin the Trump Administration’s “Death to Asylum” rule. 

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Agency Attorney, New York City Commission on Human Rights

Kyle S. Rapiñan (they/them) is an Agency Attorney at the New York City Commission on Human Rights, where they work to enforce one of the most robust human rights laws in the country. Kyle prosecutes civil rights violations in housing, public accommodations, and employment. Most recently, Kyle worked on obtaining health care access for thousands of transgender employees and transgender minors via new self-funded health care plans. In their spare time, Kyle also helps the Sylvia Rivera Law Project change the names and update the identity documents of low-income transgender and gender non-conforming people of color.

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Senior Attorney & Criminal Justice and Police Misconduct Strategist, Lambda Legal

Richard Saenz (he/him) is a Senior Attorney and the Criminal Justice and Police Misconduct Strategist at Lambda Legal. Richard is the project manager for Protected & Served? (2022), Lambda Legal’s groundbreaking community survey on government misconduct in the criminal legal system. He has been counsel in Lambda Legal’s challenges to discriminatory policies concerning incarcerated people living with HIV, access to healthcare for transgender people, and the safety of LGBTQ+ people. Richard serves as a Board Member of the New York City Anti-Violence Project and is the Programming Chair of the LGBTQ Law Section of NYSBA.

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