Women’s Law Center to Honor Contributors to Women’s Rights

by Francine Krumholz
Over its 33-year history, the center has been motivated by the vision of a just and equitable legal system. Each year, it recognizes demonstrated courage and willingness to take risks to protect and promote women’s legal rights.
Every year the Women’s Law Center honors community leaders for their contributions to women’s rights, family law and access to justice in Maryland at our annual meeting and awards ceremony.

This year we’re presenting awards to two people and a group who support the WLC’s vision of a just and equitable legal system—and demonstrated courage and willingness to take risks to protect and promote women’s legal rights. The envelope, please:

As a long time staff attorney and deputy director of the Legal Aid Bureau, Rhonda Lipkin has been a tireless advocate for access to justice for low-income Marylanders. Among Lipkin’s many accomplishments is her advocacy for reform of the foster care system, which has helped to insure that children who are unable to remain with their birth families are protected and nurtured. Last summer, Lipkin moved to the Public Justice Center as a full-time monitor to make sure Dept. of Social Services officials abide by a long-standing consent decree that sets standards of care for foster children.

Judith Vaughan-Prather has directed the Montgomery County Commission for Women for over 26 years. Her quiet stewardship guided the commission through tremendous expansion and diversification. Today the commission is an influential and well-respected organization that is involved in activities that address inequalities facing women: pay equity, sexual harassment, and work and family issues. The commission also sponsors a women’s counseling and career center. Vaughan-Prather has consistently been the voice for women not only in Montgomery, but all over the state. She empowers women not only through the commission, but also through her creative and innovative ideas that she turns into reality.

The plaintiffs in the Deane & Polyak v. Conaway lawsuit are using their personal experiences of discrimination to fight for legal protections not only for themselves but for other gay and lesbian couples and families. Their petition for the right to marry is ultimately a call to the judicial and legislative systems to protect all families and children.

The lead plaintiffs, Lisa Polyak and Gita Deane, have been a couple for 24 years and raised two daughters together. Deane, a native of India, at one point faced deportation—a problem that would not have occurred had the couple been able to marry. Deane, fortunately, received a work sponsorship and was granted full US citizenship in 1994. But the couple wants marriage rights to further protect their relationship and children from other harms, and to ensure that in the future no loving couples will face being torn apart because of political borders.

All of the award recipients have labored to conceive and promote legal reforms that are necessary to ensure a more just society. Their commitment to protecting and strengthening the well being of families cannot be questioned. They not only have demonstrated patience and perseverance, but also have had the courage to take bold action when necessary to preserve individual rights. Through their professional efforts and personal sacrifices, they have exhibited a deep commitment to public service and to issues that affect the rights of women and families.

Each award recipient demonstrates a steadfast commitment to creating a community free of legal inequities. Their contributions to that cause support the mission of the Women’s Law Center.

During its 33-year history, the Women’s Law Center has undertaken individual and systemic advocacy, often in concert with the work of the award recipients. The awards ceremony will be held Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 6 p.m. at the Wyndham Baltimore Inner Harbor Hotel. For more information, call (410) 321-8761 or go to wlcmd.org.

Francine Krumholz is president of the Women’s Law Center.

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This story was published on October 12, 2005.