A positive step for transgender visibility was taken in November, when two openly transgender people became judges in two states. California voters elected Judge Victoria Kolakowski to the Alameda County Superior Court on November 2, making her the first openly transgender trial judge in the United States. Shortly thereafter, on November 17, Houston Mayor Annise Parker appointed Phyllis Frye as an associate municipal court judge.
Judge Kolakowski has 21 years of experience in the legal profession, and insists that her gender identity was irrelevant to her campaign. Quoted in the Bay Area Reporter, she says, “That is not why people voted for me and not why people didn’t vote for me.”
Kolakowski had a successful career as private lawyer and a corporate attorney despite the prejudice that threatened to derail her goals entirely as a law student. According to the Daily News, the Louisiana State Bar Association initially rejected her application, claiming she was “not of sound mind” – a reaction to Kolakowski listing herself as transsexual. She had to appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court, who ruled in her favor.
Phyllis Frye has been fighting for transgender equality for decades. Daniel Williams of Legislative Queery writes:
The significance of the moment was not lost on Mayor Parker who fought back tears as she welcomed the appointees to the council dais. Council member Sue Lovell who, along with Parker and Frye, fought for years as a citizen to improve the lives of queer Houstonians, beamed as she spoke of how far the three of them have come. Several council members specifically thanked Frye for her willingness to serve.
These judicial appointments don’t come without controversy, considering how transgender identity is mainly ignored or derided by mainstream American culture. It’s important that transgender people gain visibility and inclusion in every aspect of life in the U.S., and achievements by members of this much-excluded community deserve to be publicized and celebrated. We congratulate both women on their victories!