January 11, 2024

Wesley R. Powell, Co-Chair of Willkie’s Antitrust Practice Group and the firm’s Pro Bono Practice Group, has been recognized with New York State Bar Association’s 2024 LGBTQ+ Vanguard Award for his leadership in advancing equality for the LGBTQ+ community.

Wes was honored for his longstanding commitment to social justice and record of success in landmark cases for LGBTQ+ rights. NYSBA highlighted his recent pro bono efforts to expand access to gender-affirming healthcare around the country. Wes led a Willkie team in Lange v. Houston County that, working alongside the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, won a historic ruling in Georgia federal court that held that employers who refuse to cover gender-affirming care violate federal law.

NYSBA also highlighted Wes’s success leading a federal class action with the ACLU that challenged a coverage exclusion for transition-related medical care in Arizona’s state university system. After five years of litigation, Toomey v. Arizona culminated in a class settlement that permanently prohibits the state of Arizona from excluding gender-affirming care from its employee health plan. These cases build on Wes’s work with The Legal Aid Society and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project in a groundbreaking case, Cruz v. Zucker, that in 2016 established the right of low-income transgender New Yorkers to Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming healthcare.

NYSBA also noted Wes’s extensive pro bono work on behalf of asylum seekers and his decades of civic leadership, including his role on the board of the NYC AIDS Memorial and his longtime support for the Hetrick-Martin Institute, a leading provider of services to at-risk LGBTQ+ youth and home of the Harvey Milk High School in New York City.

Wes will be honored at an award ceremony in New York on January 18, 2024.

Read about the LGBTQ+ Vanguard Award here.