November 15, 2002

C.U. Student Wins Human Rights Award

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The Tompkins County Human Rights Commission (HRC) awarded Erica Kagan ’05 the Sandy Pollack Award at a dinner last night.

According to the HRC, the award is given to “an individual or group who work to advocate and educate for basic civil and human rights of gays and lesbians within Tompkins County.”


Kagan is extremely active on the Cornell campus, serving as the LGBTQ liaison to the Student Assembly (S.A.); the co-facilitator of ZAP!; one of two students who proved instrumental in restarting Greeks United Against Homophobia; a member of the Cornell University Gay-Straight Alliance; a member of the group Lesbian, Bisexual and Questioning Women (LBQ); and a member of Ga’avah, the Jewish gay student group.

“I have meetings all night, every night of the week, and I do work when I can,” Kagan said.

In order to recognize these efforts and the work that Kagan has done during the past year, Noah Doyle ’03, S.A. president, nominated her for the award.

“I’ve known Erica for years. The work she’s done is ground breaking. She has put a new face on the LGBT community. One thing that I think is interesting about her is that she is a member of the Greek system. [Through Greeks United] she has taken a proactive approach to fighting stereotypes,” Doyle said.

For Kagan, the work she does in the LGBT community is more than just a pastime. Her involvement and work comes from decisions that are both personal and political.

“Ever since I came to Cornell, I made the decision to be visibly out to the community at large. I have a lot of support from family and friends, especially from my parents, who encourage me to remain active and involved,” she said.

Kagan’s father, a gynecologist and obstetrician on Long Island, came up for the dinner to see his daughter receive the award. It was important to both her parents that one of them be there to support her. She explained that their constant encouragement has been instrumental to her success.

She plans to continue her activism after she graduates from Cornell.

“The LGBT community is small. We need strong leaders within the community. I see a possible future occupation in LGBT activism, possibly in the field of law,” she said.

The HRC itself is an organization on State Street that provides consultation about questions of violations of the New York State anti-discrimination laws, according to their Tompkins County website.

Being recognized by such an organization “makes me feel good because I’ve been working really hard, leading a lot of groups. We’ve been seeing results within the groups. Being recognized by Tompkins County is a tremendous honor,” Kagan said.

As for the campus as a whole, Kagan said she felt there was “increasing awareness, largely due to the good work that individual groups are doing, but progress is slow. There’s more we can do, and I plan on doing it,” she said.

Archived article by Freda Ready