2018 Trailblazer Awardee Matthew A. Coles


Matthew A. Coles is a member of the faculty at the University of California Hastings College of the Law. He has been involved in the LGBT civil rights movement since before he graduated from law school, when, as a legal advisor to Supervisor Harvey Milk, he drafted what became San Francisco’s sexual orientation nondiscrimination ordinance in San Francisco.

At the start of his legal career, Coles hung out a shingle on Castro Street for ten years, specializing in civil rights, including LGBT rights, race discrimination, and sex discrimination. At the same time, he worked together with friends to start Gay Rights Advocates, the first public interest law firm devoted to gay rights in the West. In 1987, he joined the ACLU of Northern California. From 1995 to 2010, Coles was the Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and AIDS Project. In his fifteen years in that role, he helped transform the nation’s laws on LGBT rights. He retired from the ACLU in 2016 as the Deputy National Legal Director and Director of the ACLU's Equality Center, focused on racial justice, voting rights, immigrants’ rights, and justice for people living with disabilities.

Coles is probably best known in the LGBT movement and among civil libertarians for insisting that changing public attitudes is as important as changing the law, and to that end, for designing litigation and legislative efforts built around powerful personal stories.

Coles wrote and helped lead the campaigns to pass many gay rights laws, including the first comprehensive law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in California (San Francisco, 1978), California's law barring employment discrimination based on sexual orientation statewide (1992), the nation's first domestic partnership law (Berkeley, 1985), and the first domestic partnership law to allow couples to register their relationships (San Francisco, 1982 and 1990). Based on his experience, in 1996, he wrote Try This at Home! A Do-It- Yourself Guide to Winning Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, a practical guide on how to pass nondiscrimination and domestic partnership laws.

Coles was one of the three lead lawyers on the successful challenge to Colorado's Amendment 2, Romer v. Evans, which culminated in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down the amendment, and established the principle that the government cannot disadvantage lesbians and gay men solely because of hostility. He was also the lead attorney in important AIDS cases involving health care workers and prisoners, and was one of the two lead attorneys in a comprehensive challenge to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and to Florida’s law banning adoption by gay people. He has taught at Hastings College of the Law and Berkeley Law, both part of the University of California, and at Stanford University and New York University. Coles is a board member and former board chair of the Guttmacher Institute.

He graduated cum laude from Yale University in 1973 and from Hastings College of the Law in

2017 Trailblazer Awardee Lisa Cisneros

Lisa Cisneros directs California Rural Legal Assistance’s LGBT Program, dedicated to legal advocacy on behalf of rural, low-income lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in California.  Lisa helped launch the program in 2007 with support from Pride Law Fund's Tom Steel Fellowship.  CRLA and the National Center for Lesbian Rights both co-sponsored the fellowship to provide direct legal assistance to low-income LGBT people in rural California.  Over time the program expanded to train legal services providers nationwide, and work in collaboration with rural community groups, as well as state and national organizations to improve conditions for LGBT people outside of major metropolitan areas.  Lisa directed the program from 2007 to 2010, and returned to the program in late 2014.  Her work has been covered by National Public Radio and NBCout, and featured at a recent White House convening on rural LGBT issues.  Lisa’s professional experience also includes a federal judicial clerkship and complex civil litigation at a nationally recognized plaintiffs’ firm.  Currently her advocacy focuses on employment discrimination, school climate reform and immigration relief for LGBT individuals and their families, as well as leadership development.  In 2015 and 2016 Lisa was selected to Super Lawyers’ Rising Stars list.  She currently serves as the Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

2016 Trailblazer Awardee Professor Russell Robinson

UC Berkeley Law Professor Russell Robinson is the Pride Law Fund’s 2016 Trailblazer Award winner for his work as a pioneer and leader in the LGBTQ movement. The nonprofit will honor Robinson during an award ceremony and fundraising cruise in the San Francisco Bay on August 14.

Robinson’s research and teaching interests include antidiscrimination law, race and sexuality, law and psychology, constitutional law and media and entertainment law. His scholarship has highlighted the abuses LGBTQ people face in incarceration, and more. In Masculinity as Prison: Sexual Identity, Race, and Incarceration, Robinson has helped shape the conversation about the arbitrary and discriminatory processes for incarcerated LGBTQ people to access protective spaces within jails and prisons.

Read more about Professor Russell Robinson at BerkeleyLaw.

2015 Trailblazer Awardee Shannon Minter

“I am honored to receive this award from Pride Law Fund,” Mr. Minter said.  “PLF’s support for the next generation of LGBTQ lawyers and leaders is inspirational to me and absolutely vital to the LGBTQ rights movement.”

On July 12, 2015, the Pride Law Fund (PLF) will honor Shannon Minter, Legal Director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, with its Trailblazer Award at its annual boat cruise.   For over thirty-five years, PLF has awarded grants to new lawyers and law students pursuing LGBTQ advocacy projects. The cruise will take place aboard FDR’s presidential yacht, the U.S.S. Potomac (also known as the “Floating White House”).

Since 1993, Mr. Minter has been a tireless advocate at NCLR, one of the country’s leading LGBTQ legal organizations. Mr. Minter argued before the California Supreme Court in the landmark California case that held that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry. He has litigated on behalf of LGBTQ rights before courts across the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court. President Obama recently appointed Mr. Minter to the Commission on White House Fellowships, making him one of the highest-ranking openly transgender officials in the United States.

Read more at NCLR.