June is Pride Month: a month to celebrate and honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising. To honor Pride month, we’ve compiled a list of five LGBTQ+ lawyers who continue to pave the way for those in their footsteps.
First openly gay federal judge.
“I’m a mother. I’m an African-American. I’m a lesbian. I’m a former professor. If people assume any one of these aspects is going to predominate, it would create a problem.” – Judge Deborah Batts.
Born in Philadelphia, PA, Deborah Batts obtained her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1972. She began her law career clerking for Judge Lawrence Pierce on the Federal Court. After serving as an Assistant United States Attorney from 1979 to 1984, she began teaching law at Fordham University School of law. She was the school’s first African-American faculty member.
In 1994, former President Bill Clinton nominated Deborah Batts to a seat on the Southern District and she was sworn in that same year. Unfortunately, Deborah Batts passed away on February 3, 2020, after knee surgery complications. She is remembered as a trailblazer, a champion for justice, and a fighter for progress.
“Judge Batts was a beloved member of our community and will be greatly missed. We are grateful to her for her brilliance, passion and friendship. As the first African American woman to receive tenure and the first openly LGBTQ federal judge, she broke barriers and opened doors.” Matthew Diller, Dean of Fordham Law School.
Pamela K. Chen
First openly gay Asian-American federal judge.
Born in Chicago, IL, Pamela K. Chen graduated with a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in 1986. She started her career in private law in D.C. and later became a trial attorney in the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division at the United States Department of Justice. She later served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of New York.
In 2012, Pamela K. Chen was nominated by former President Barack Obama to serve as a United States District Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate by voice vote on March 4, 2013.
Pamela K. Chen is the first openly LGBTQ+ Asian-American person to serve on the federal bench.
First openly gay State Attorney General.
Maura Healy graduated cum laude from Harvard University in 1992 and would go on to receive her J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law in 1998. After graduating from law school, she clerked for Judge A. David Mazzone of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. She spent 7 years at a private law firm and was later hired by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley as chief of the Civil Rights Division.
During her time in the Civil Rights Division, she led the winning arguments in the country’s first lawsuit in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.
Maura Healy announced her candidacy for Massachusetts Attorney General in 2013. She won 62.5% to 37.5% and is the United States’ first openly gay State Attorney General. She was re-elected as Attorney General in 2018.
First openly gay Black member of Congress (tied with Ritchie Torres).
Mondaire Jones grew up in Spring Valley, NY, and graduated from Harvard Law School in 2013. He began working in the U.S. Department of Justice and also provided pro bono legal aid through The Legal Aid Society. He ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2020 and succeeded, becoming one of two of the first openly gay African-American members elected to the House of Representatives (along with Ritchie Torres).
Mondaire Jones came out at the age of 24 and has been named among the 50 heroes “leading the nation toward equality, acceptance, and dignity for all people,” by Queerty.
First openly gay judge to serve on the Hawaii Supreme Court.
Sabrina McKenna was born in Tokyo, Japan, but attended college in Hawaii. She obtained her J.D. from William S. Richardson School of Law. Sabrina McKenna started her career in private law and later accepted a position as an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii Law School. She was appointed as a District Court judge in 1993 and was elevated to the Circuit Courts in 1995.
McKenna was recommended by former President Barack Obama for a judicial vacancy on the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii, but did not receive the nomination. In 2011, Governor Neil Abercrombie nominated her for a seat on the Hawaii Supreme Court. Four out of five testimonies that opposed her stated that it was due to her sexual orientation.
Despite the opposition testimonies, Sabrina McKenna was sworn in to the Hawaii Supreme Court by the Hawaii Senate on March 3, 2011.
Resources for LGBTQ+ law students:
The National LGBT Bar Association’s Law School Affiliate Program (OutLaw Program)