My father was a major in the segregated army during World War II. He put his life on the line defending his country, and his country treated him very poorly. President Truman became a hero when, with one stroke of his pen, he desegregated the troops. My father felt strongly that he had the right to live in the country he defended. He was aware of an opportunity to earn his medical degree and he took it. All his life, he felt the need to look after others .
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 School.
I hated Harvard Law. It was mostly filled with nerdy, brilliant, white men who saw the law as a three-dimensional chess game or puzzle and didn’t get that the law affected 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 chose me, and I clerked for him.
When I taught at Fordham Law, I would tell students at the beginning of the semester to tell me in advance if they were not prepared. It’s more important to get students to the right place, not for them to start out right.
After law school, I led a very traditional life. I fell in love with a man. We married and had two kids. Then we divorced .
After my divorce, I realized that the people I enjoyed spending time with and felt an emotional attachment to and passion for were women. It wasn’t a courageous decision. 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, including LGBT groups at law schools all over the country. I said it was other people who were opening up the way for others, who should be cheered.
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.