(San Francisco, California, October 16, 2009) — The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) today announced that the Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club will honor NCLR Immigration Project Director Noemi Calonje with their Legal Services Award, which is presented to individuals who build and protect the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community. Calonje will be presented with the award at the Club’s annual awards ceremony on Wednesday, October 21 at 6:00 pm at the Infusion Lounge in San Francisco.
“So much important legal work is done every year, but even in this context, Noemi’s 15 years of work on behalf of LGBTQ immigrants, particularly the most vulnerable immigrants of color, stands out,” said Susan Belinda Christian and Charles Sheehan, Co-Chairs of the Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club. “While Noemi is not a lawyer, she has contributed significantly to the development of asylum law and has literally used the law to save people’s lives. This is amazing work.”
Calonje was born and raised in Managua, Nicaragua. At the age of 14, her family immigrated to the United States due to the unstable political climate in her country of origin. Her family applied for political asylum in 1982, and it was granted ten years later. Calonje joined NCLR in 1994 and has continuously dedicated herself to assist and support the LGBTQ immigrant community.
As the Director of NCLR’s Immigration Project, Calonje represents NCLR at conferences and workshops nationwide and acts as NCLR’s liaison to the broader immigration rights community. She coordinates regular legal clinics and works with a wide network of pro bono counsel to assist asylum-seekers who face the possibility of deportation to their countries of origin, where they would suffer violence and persecution. The demand for assistance from NCLR’s Immigration Project is steady and unrelenting, and NCLR currently represents clients in asylum claims from Bosnia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Saudi Arabia, and Uganda.
“Noemi is a fierce advocate for the rights of LGBTQ immigrants, some of the most invisible members of our community,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “Only a handful of years ago, the U.S. immigration authorities had never granted asylum based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Noemi’s careful and meticulous work on behalf of our clients helped to change that. These victories are some of NCLR’s proudest moments— not only because each asylum case won strengthens sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes within immigration law—but even more importantly, because they often mean a person’s life has been saved.”
In addition to directing NCLR’s immigration and asylum program, Calonje is also a volunteer interpreter for the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights. She earned a B.A. in Spanish and a B.S. in psychology from the University of California at Davis, and completed her Paralegal and Court Interpreter certifications and graduated from San Francisco State University with High Honors.
For tickets and a complete list of honorees, please visit
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.