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The Pride Law Fund, a San Francisco-based group devoted to gay civil rights, has created a year-long fellowship to further its work. It will be seeking applicants from law schools throughout the country beginning this fall. Named the Tom Steel Post-Graduate Fellowship, the first grant will be awarded next year for a new lawyer to work on a project of his or her choosing that furthers gay rights. “We hope this fellow will be a person who will embrace an issue that will benefit our community and have an impact throughout the country,” said attorney Kelly Dermody, co-chairwoman of the pride fund. The fellowship is named after a founding member of the Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom and a formidable litigator of First Amendment and civil rights cases. Steel died two years ago of AIDS-related causes. Dermody, a Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein partner, said the endowment goal for the fellowship is $500,000. She said following a fund-raiser last week $225,000 has been raised, with the remainder expected within the next year. Dermody emceed the fund-raiser at a Castro District restaurant in San Francisco. Attending and lending their financial and moral support for the fellowship were U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker and San Francisco Superior Court Judge Kevin McCarthy. A keynote address was delivered by Rep. William Lippert of the Vermont House of Representatives. He was the sponsor and prime mover behind the passage of that state’s “civil union” gay marriage bill that the Vermont Supreme Court upheld. Lippert said although the battle was won, there were casualties. Five House members who voted for the bill have subsequently been defeated at primary elections. David Lowe, an associate at Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & True and a spokesman for the pride fund, said the selection committee will look for someone who exemplifies Tom Steel’s zeal for gay rights. “Tom was a pioneering lawyer in gay civil rights,” Lowe said. “That’s the kind of spirit we hope to inspire in the fellowships.” Dermody and Lowe say the initial yearly stipend for the fellowship will be about $25,000, which they hope to supplement with grants from nonprofit groups and foundations that also have an interest in working for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. For example, they hope that a nonprofit or a law firm would pick up the health insurance costs for the fellow. The preferred applicant is a third-year law student, who will have passed the bar by next fall and is eager to take on a unique project that requires dedication. “There are law students who want to do the work,” Dermody said, “but they can’t get the funding. We are losing a generation of advocates.” She said Steel fellows will eventually “fill the gaps” and ensure that the community’s legal needs are identified and met. Persons interested in the fellowship can contact Dermodyor Lowe.

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