Park Slope

Gay/Straight Alliance honors Justice Kahn with Lifetime Achievement Award

May 1, 2015 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Board of Directors and Board of Advisors of the Gay/Straight Alliance of the New York State Justice System at the Alliance’s fifth annual dinner-dance at the Grand Prospect Hall on Wednesday. Eagle photos by Mario Belluomo

The Gay/Straight Alliance of the New York State Court System held its fifth annual dinner-dance in front of more than 150 judges, lawyers and court employees at the Grand Prospect Hall in South Slope on Wednesday night, honoring Hon. Marcy Kahn with a Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as three others.

“I am so thrilled with what an incredible year we’re having. The support has been incredible, and next year I can see how much more it’s going to grow,” said Marc Levine, president and founder of the Alliance. “In 2003 when the Alliance started, it was hard to get people to come to meetings because they were afraid to be outed, so it’s so wonderful to see so many people here supporting us today.”

Hon. A. Gail Prudenti was the keynote speaker at the dinner-dance. In addition to presenting New York County Supreme Court Justice Kahn with the Lifetime Achievement Award, the Alliance also honored Hon. Lawrence Knipel, Hon. Frank Seddio and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.

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Justice Kahn was named Acting Justice of the New York State Supreme Court, first judicial district, in 1993 and became justice of that court in 1995. In 1987 she became the first open lesbian to be named a judge of the New York City Criminal Court. She was also the founding chair of the board of the New York LGBT Community Services Center and a founding member of the International Association of LGBT Judges.

Kahn discussed a time when openly gay lawyers might not be admitted to the bar because of their sexual orientation and credited the Alliance and similar groups for helping to change that culture.

“The Alliance has played a key role in increasing the visibility of LGBT court employees and can rightfully take credit for the scores of court employees and court judges who enthusiastically volunteered their time one stiflingly hot summer Sunday in 2011 to make history during New York’s first same-sex marriage ceremonies,” Kahn said.

Hon. Knipel was commended by the Alliance for helping to create the first non-gender specific public bathroom in the New York court system. Knipel credited Hon. Deborah Silber for the idea. “It’s such a small thing, but it really makes such a big difference in the lives of some,” Levine said.

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) was honored for helping to give voice to low-income people and people of color who are transgender, intersex or gender non-conforming.

“I’ve worked with SRLP over the years, and they’ve always been great advocates in helping people who might not otherwise be able to get help,” Daniel Schaffer said before presenting Stefanie Rivera, Juana Peralta and Xena Grandischelli with awards on behalf of SRLP.

Seddio was honored for being an early ally in the fight for equal rights of the LGBT community. He discussed growing up Catholic and how its teachings often conflicted with his own feeling of doing what was right.

“I was actually disinvited to events and took some significant flak for some of my early positions, but I didn’t care,” Seddio said. “It wasn’t about anything more than knowing that the right thing had to be done.”

“I think it’s very important that while we have made considerable strides, and we have, that we recognize that there is a continuing need for action and awareness,” Prudenti said. “I pledge my assistance, and I am totally dedicated to this organization.”

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