DEBBIE

My Father was a major in the segregated army in WW II. He put his life on the line defending his country and his country treated him very poorly.  Truman was a hero when with one stroke of his pen he desegregated the troops. My Father felt strongly that he has the right to ‘live’ in the country that he defended.  He was aware of an opportunity to get his M.D. and he took it.   All his life, he felt the need and the responsibility to look after others.  

I don’t think it took ‘courage’ to do what you call, ‘so many firsts’.

For me it was the natural thing to do.  My twin and I wound up going to different colleges as we both got into our first choices. I loved Radcliffe immediately.  Then I went straight to Harvard Law.

I hated Harvard Law School.  It was mostly filled with nerdy, brilliant, white men that looked at the law as a three-dimensional chess game or puzzle and didn’t get it that the law as it effected real people.  I hated the way some of the professors tried to intimidate students.  One of my professors told me that I should clerk for a federal judge. I applied. The Judge choose other clerks but she passed my application on to Judge Lawrence W. Pierce. He choose me and I clerked for him. 

When I taught at Fordham Law, I told each class at the beginning of the semester, to tell me in advance if she was not prepared. It’s more important to get the person to the right place, not to start out right.  

After law school, I was very traditional.  I fell in love with a man.  We married and had 2 kids.  Then we separated in 1987 and divorced in ’88.

After my divorce, I realized that the people I enjoyed spending time with and had emotional attachment to and passion for were women. It wasn’t a courageous decision, it was “That’s what I want, that’s what I feel”.  I didn’t do anything but recognize my identity and act on it. 

I was appointed by President Clinton to be the first openly gay Article III judge.  After I was appointed, I was asked to do a lot of speaking engagements – from LGBT groups at law schools and other groups all over the country. I said it was other people, who were opening up the way for others, that should be cheered.  

I find that there is always something valuable in what people say, even in the way they are saying it.  I don’t like being mean or a bully or throwing my weight around.  In my courtroom, I try to do what is fair.

This is an excerpt from a comprehensive interview.