Transgender Trial Judge Makes History


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On January 4, 2011, moments before making history at a special en banc session of the Superior Court of California by taking an oath of office to be the first openly transgender trial judge in the country, Victoria Kolakowski (who underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1991) spoke exclusively with dot429 in her dressing room at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center. Kolakowski expressed her excitement and humility: “It’s been very hard as a transgender person. We’re a community that’s chronically under- and unemployed and I’ve encountered that sort of discrimination in the past, but we’re making so much more progress now. In terms of my career, I think part of it is hard work and perseverance, and part of it is good luck.”


Kolakowski’s parents and wife Cynthia Laird were her primary guests of honor at the ceremony. California State Senator Ellen Corbett introduced Victoria as “a friend, a colleague, a trailblazer,” commenting on the social impact of her enrobement, “as we celebrate this new decade we mark our own start and our own first….We all know the tremendous hurdles that [Victoria] and the transgender community have overcome.”


Equality California’s Geoff Kors’ remarks compared Kolakowski’s running and winning to Harvey Milk’s 1977 victory when he ran for the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco. “It’s that shattering of the glass ceiling…I think about Harvey Milk and the things he really stood for–those are qualities that are so evident in Vicky.”


While Kolakowski’s primary purpose is to serve the County of Alameda as a trial judge, she made a point to acknowledge the history she is creating and even expressed that tonight served as her version of “It Gets Better.” Underneath her newly acquired judge’s robe, Kolakowski wore a butterfly pin that was given to her by Sylvia Guerrero, mother of transgender teen Gwen Araujo murdered in Alameda County eight years ago.


On November 2, Kolakowski beat out prosecutor John Creighton 51 to 48, making her the first openly transgender trial judge in the United States. “I ran a campaign based on my qualifications and experience. The people elected me. It’s an extraordinary moment for the transgender and LGBT community.”

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