Proud Innovation – Learn from LGBTQ+ innovators | Speaker biographies

Proud innovation: Learn from LGBTQ+ inventors. June 29, 1-3:30 pm ET

Braxton T. Fleming
CEO, Stealth Bros. & Co.

Braxton T. Fleming (he/him) is a licensed practical nurse. He is also the CEO and Founder of Stealth Bros. and Co., a luxury Dopp Kit supply company that provides travel and at-home personal storage for hormone replacement therapy and other medical necessities; he started in 2017 from his room to create a way to become a part of the transgender community and help raise money for his own top surgery. Stealth Bros. and Co. continues to grow and serve the transgender and allied communities. He even offers a surgery fund for those in the LGBTQ+ community in need, and his company is a proud Certified LGBT Business Enterprise of NGLCC. By sharing his experiences, Braxton hopes to inspire other trans people on their journeys and to fill a gap in representation of trans people of color.

Peter N. Fowler
Senior Counsel for Enforcement, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Peter N. Fowler is a Senior Counsel for Enforcement in the Office of Policy and International Affairs at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Since joining the USPTO in 1995 as an attorney-advisor in the Office of Legislative and International Affairs, he has served in a number of positions in the agency, including Senior Counsel for Enforcement, Regional IP Attaché for Southeast Asia, Chief of Staff, Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary and Director, and two stints as Acting Deputy Administrator for External Affairs. He has regularly served as a technical advisor to the U.S. Trade Representative on trade negotiations, including the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

Mr. Fowler is admitted to the bar in California, where he practiced law for a decade in San Francisco prior to joining the USPTO. He is a member of the advisory boards of the Golden Gate University School of Law IP and Privacy Law Center, San Francisco Silent Film Festival, and UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Region. He has taught at several universities and, from 1988-1995, taught AIDS and the Law, the first ABA-accredited law school course of its kind. He has either authored or co-authored law review articles on such topics as the history of intellectual property in ASEAN, copyright and trade issues, legal history of U.S. immigration laws and gay men, and both a law review article and the chapter on adult adoption as a legal tool for LGBTQ+ individuals in the 1985 landmark legal treatise, “Sexual Orientation and the Law,” by Roberta Achtenberg.

In his life before the USPTO, Mr. Fowler was one of the founding members of the Stonewall Law Caucus at Golden Gate University, served on the boards of directors of Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom (BALIF), and the San Francisco Bay Area Lesbian and Gay Bar Association, including a term as Co-Chair. From 1983-1989, he was elected to the Board of the National Gay Task Force (now National LGBTQ Task Force), serving as Co-Chair from 1985-1989. During his time on the NGLTF board, he was a proponent of both renaming the organization and relocating its offices from New York to Washington, D.C., and he participated and marched as one of its representatives at the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in October 1987.

Mr. Fowler was one of the founders of the National LGBT Bar Association and served as principal organizer of its first Lavender Law® Conference in San Francisco in 1988. From 1985-1995, he served as President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Educational Foundation for Individual Rights (now Pride Law Fund), which funds scholarships for LGBTQ+ law students and supports the advocacy work of other lesbian and gay legal organizations. In 1992, he was one of the founders and legal counsel for the Lavender Law Project, the first openly LGBTQ+ federal political action committee, which produced and distributed the campaign video, “Out for the Count,” to encourage voter registration in the LGBTQ+ community. Over the years, he has served on the board or as legal counsel for such organizations as the Gay Games, Gay Asian Pacific Alliance, SF Project Inform, and Frameline, the corporate organizer of the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (now Frameline Festival), serving as its Interim Executive Director from 1993-1994.

Mr. Fowler received his B.A. in Political Science from John Carroll University, M.A. in Education from University of Alabama, and M.A. in Political Science from Ball State University. He did post-graduate work in education at Indiana Wesleyan University and received his J.D. from Golden Gate University School of Law, where he wrote for the Golden Gate University Law Review.

Jay D. Keasling, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, Department of Bioengineering, University of California, Berkeley

Jay Keasling is the Philomathia Professor of Alternative Energy at the University of California, Berkeley in the Departments of Bioengineering and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, senior faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Chief Executive Officer of the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI). Dr. Keasling’s research focuses on the metabolic engineering of microorganisms for degradation of environmental contaminants or for environmentally friendly synthesis of drugs, chemicals, and fuels. Keasling received a B.S. in Chemistry and Biology from the University of Nebraska, M.S. and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan, and did post-doctoral research in biochemistry at Stanford University. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Inventors.

Sabrina Kent

Senior Vice President, Corporate Relations, National LGBT Chamber of Commerce

As Senior Vice President at the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), Sabrina Kent (she/her/hers) serves as a member of NGLCC’s Executive Leadership and oversees the NGLCC TGNC Inclusion Task Force. Kent works with the organization’s Supplier Diversity Initiative and is the liaison to the NGLCC Board of Directors. Kent was recognized by Business Equality Magazine as a 2019 Top 40 LGBT Leader Under 40 and in 2020 by Crain’s New York Business in its Notable LGTBQ Leaders and Executives list. Kent serves on the Board of Directors of Q Street.

Gavriel Legynd
CEO, VisioneerIT

Gavriel Legynd is CEO of VisioneerIT, a firm specializing in Technology, Marketing and Digital Security. With 20 years in the technology industry, Gavriel built VisioneerIT with the goal of expanding client brand awareness while drastically optimizing business efficiencies and reducing risks. Gavriel currently serves as an Executive Board member of the Disability Law Center of Virginia and Co-Chair of the NGLCC Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Inclusion Taskforce. He has been a mentor for the American Marketing Association and served as Vice President for the African American Marketing Association.  Mr. Legynd attended George Mason University for his Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism, Capital College for his Master’s Degree in Network Security, Nova Southeastern for his Ph.D. in Computer Science, and Oakbrook College of Law. He is a passionate advocate for the transgender community, Jews of Color, and those with disabilities. 

Amita Mehta
Founder, Amita Mehta Possible (AMP) Consulting

Amita Mehta is a passionate and dynamic business strategist with more than 25 years of experience at premier brands, including Fulton Bank, JPMorgan Chase, and Prudential Financial.  After thriving as a trailblazer in financial services, she left corporate America to launch her own business.

She leverages her business acumen and unique perspective as a refugee and lesbian to help individuals from all industries navigate the complexities of job search, guiding them to develop sound strategies, formulate actionable plans, and achieve a path toward career satisfaction.

She also consults with organizations to build outcome-based solutions with a focus on cultivating inclusive leadership cultures that integrate employee engagement as part of a unified business strategy. Among her customers and collaborators are corporations, NGOs, and academic, cultural, and philanthropic institutions.   

Mehta is often invited to speak at organizations and events about authentic leadership and the power of emotional intelligence. As an LGBTQ+ advocate, she serves on the national board of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and the Stonewall Community Foundation.

Safi Mojidi
Director of Strategic Partnerships, TransTech

Safi Mojidi has over 13 years of cybersecurity consulting experience specializing in cloud security and has supported clients such as NASA and the Office of the Vice President. Mojidi gives back to his community by serving as a member of the TransTech Community Advisory Board. As a member of the Community Advisory Board for TransTech Social (TTS), Mojidi’s responsibilities include forming strategic partnerships for education, training, and employment opportunities with organizations who support the TTS mission. Besides his professional and social justice activities, he is an adjunct professor who is also pursuing a doctorate in cybersecurity. As a doctoral student and cybersecurity researcher, he is passionate about exploring privacy and preserving technologies utilized by racial/ethnic minorities with a limited understanding of data privacy.

Mojidi believes that everyone, especially those from underrepresented demographics, should have an equal opportunity to enjoy the types of economic freedom and employment stability that a career in cybersecurity can provide. Unfortunately, the cybersecurity field is an industry plagued by an alarming lack of representation for black LGBTQ+ individuals. In response to both the lack of diversity and the shortage of qualified cybersecurity practitioners, he founded and serves as the Executive Director of Hacking the Workforce (HtW). HtW's mission is to advocate for the advancement and nontoxic inclusion of black LGBTQ+ individuals into the cybersecurity workforce. What sets HtW apart from other mentor-based organizations is the programing created for the whole person. HTW partners with other LGBTQ+ companies and providers to include mental health, wellness, and financial literacy services.

HtW provides much-needed mental health and wellness services and financial literacy training for black members of the LGBTQ+ community whose lives can change dramatically once they enter the cybersecurity industry. The mental health offerings aim to provide the tools to combat imposter syndrome and enable Folx to overcome the personal, social, and emotional challenges of being an underrepresented minority in cybersecurity. HtW mentees will learn the basics of money management; these tools help lay a foundation for building healthy relationships with their finances, avoiding practices that may lead to lifelong money struggles, and introducing to mechanisms needed to create generational wealth. The program has been operating since early 2020, but will be officially launching with a new cohort in late 2021.

Frederick Steckler
Chief Administrative Officer, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Fred Steckler is the Chief Administrative Officer for the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). He is responsible for the delivery of all administrative service support functions for USPTO, including human capital strategy, human resource management, telework policy and programs, facilities management, safety and security, transportation, asset and records management.

Mr. Steckler joined USPTO from the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, where he served as an Executive Advisor in the Organization and Strategy Team's Human Capital and Learning Practice. Prior to Booz Allen, he was the Director of Account Development and Management for the Government Consulting Services Unit of Watson Wyatt Worldwide. Before Watson Wyatt, Mr. Steckler served as the General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration and Deputy Chief Information Officer at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In addition to HUD, he has held consulting and business operations positions with IBM and Coopers & Lybrand. Mr. Steckler also served as the Executive Director of Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry, a non-profit community service organization in Northern Virginia.

Mr. Steckler began his career as a shipboard officer in the U.S. Navy and was a member of the commissioning crew of the USS Vandegrift (FFG-48). He later served as Second Company Officer and then Executive Assistant to The Commandant of Midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy.

Mr. Steckler received a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Duke University and a Master of Business Administration from The George Washington University.

Dirk Trauner, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Chemistry and Neuroscience, New York University  

Dirk Trauner was born and raised in Linz, Austria, studied biology and chemistry at the University of Vienna, and received his Master’s Degree in Chemistry from the Free University, Berlin. He then pursued a Ph.D. in Chemistry under the direction of Professor Johann Mulzer, with whom he moved to the University of Frankfurt and then back to Vienna. Subsequently, he became a postdoctoral fellow with Professor Samuel J. Danishefsky at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. After two years in New York City, Trauner joined the Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, where he rose through the ranks to become an Associate Professor of Chemistry and a member of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. In the summer of 2008, he moved to the University of Munich, where he served as a Professor of Chemical Biology and Chemical Genetics. In March of 2017, he returned to the U.S. to become the Janice Cutler Chair of Chemistry at New York University. He also holds a position as an Adjunct Professor of Neuroscience at the NYU Langone Medical School. He is a member of the Leopoldina Academy of Sciences and the Austrian Academia of Sciences, and a recipient of the Otto Bayer Award, the Emil Fischer Medal, and a Sloan Fellowship. The broad objective of Trauner’s research is to demonstrate the awesome power of chemical synthesis and to use it toward the precision control of biological pathways.

Sean Whelan, Ph.D.
Chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and the Marvin A. Brennecke Distinguished Professor, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

Sean Whelan received his B.Sc. degree in Microbiology and Biochemistry from the University of Birmingham and a Ph.D. in Molecular Virology from the University of Reading. Following postdoctoral training at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, he started his own laboratory at Harvard Medical School (HMS) where he was promoted to Professor in 2011. At HMS, Whelan was Head of the Program in Virology and Director of an NIH-funded center on emerging virus entry mechanisms. In 2020, he joined Washington University in Saint Louis.

He is a member of the American Academy of Microbiology, an Editor of Fields Virology, Virology, and PLoS Pathogens and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Virology. He pioneered reverse genetic approaches to manipulate the genome of vesicular stomatitis virus—this work led to the field domesticating the virus as a vaccine vector and oncolytic agent, and one licensed human vaccine against Ebola has been developed using this technology. Whelan’s group used this genetic system to develop biosafety level 2 reporter viruses against 80 viral pathogens, including several biosafety level 3 and 4 emerging viruses. Using those viruses, his laboratory identified the cellular receptors for Ebola, Lassa, and Lujo viruses and for the endogenous human retrovirus, HERV-K. Whelan’s group also pioneered structural studies of the replication machinery of non-segmented negative-strand RNA viruses using negative-stain electron microscopy and electron cryromicrosopy—where he solved the atomic structures of vesicular stomatitis virus and rabies virus polymerases. Most recently Whelan’s group has built upon the VSV platform approach developing a BSL2 reporter of SARS-CoV-2 entry and neutralization by antibodies and receptors. Whelan’s group has advanced this VSV-SARS-CoV-2 vector as a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 demonstrating efficacy in mouse models of disease with the Diamond laboratory, and advanced testing of this vaccine in non-human primates.

Sean Wilkerson
Innovation Development Program Manager, Office of Innovation Outreach, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Sean Wilkerson works in the Office of Innovation Outreach at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), creating intellectual property (IP) awareness programs and managing outreach services to independent inventors, small businesses, entrepreneurs, makers, and universities. Mr. Wilkerson previously worked as an outreach coordinator for the programs leading up to the opening of the USPTO’s Silicon Valley and Texas Regional Offices. He also spent a year as part of the New York engagement team that developed the 2015 Future of Urban Innovation Startups Summit in coordination with Columbia University and the USPTO.

From 2011–2013, he served as the program manager of the inaugural Select USA Summit, developing the program, structure, and outreach efforts of a U.S. government-wide program housed in the International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce. As an education program analyst in the Global Intellectual Property Academy from 2008–2011, he managed international programs focused on providing IP training related to enforcement of patents, trademarks, and copyrights and the U.S. patent and trademark system. Prior to working for the federal government, he served as the Director of Events for the National Association of Homebuilders in Washington, D.C. and as the Ideas Exchange Manager for Accenture in Reston, Virginia.