Wednesday, August 05, 2015

S.D. Fla. celebrates LGBT achievement

From left to right: Judge Hunt, Judge Olson, and Judge Gayles
Last Wednesday, prosecutors, public defenders, private lawyers, and law clerks packed into the media room of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to listen to District Judge Darrin Gayles, Magistrate Judge Patrick Hunt, and Bankruptcy Judge John Olson—gay men—talk about their experiences becoming and serving as federal judges. The panel discussion Road to the Bench, produced jointly by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Public Defender’s Office, was, U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said in his opening remarks, “historic” (not, he said, to laughs, to show that the two offices could successfully work together). It was historic, he said, in light of this year’s legal and social progress. AUSA Karen Gilbert, who moderated, agreed, saying that she never thought she’d see in her lifetime three out federal judges discuss their experiences in a panel discussion.
Each judge began by discussing his journey to the bench. For Judge Gayles, a former AUSA, the first time he could be Darrin Gayles “without reservation” was when Governor Bush appointed him to serve as a state-court judge. It was “liberating to a great extent,” he said. “I can be who I am and it will not hold me back professionally.” As a judge, he said he has “felt responsible” to be out and open, and to serve as an example.
Judge Hunt’s experience was different because becoming a magistrate judge “wasn’t in the public,” Judge Hunt, a former AFPD, said. For Judge Hunt, who has two gay older brothers, being gay was the “most natural thing in the world.” The “bottom line,” he concluded about his process of becoming a judge, is that “no one cared and it didn’t make a difference. Here I am.”
Judge Olson didn’t start in public service. Judge Olson, who was once married to a woman and has two children, practiced law for many years as a bankruptcy lawyer. “Only after I was on the bench did I come to grips with my reality,” Judge Olson said. So he asked himself, “How do I live my life now in a way that’s faithful to myself and others?” To do that, Judge Olson came out “as noisily as I could”: by sending out a “frank” Christmas letter designed to take advantage of the bankruptcy bar’s “really effective gossip network,” he said, to laughs. “I outed myself as effectively as I could.”
The judges felt that they have largely been accepted and treated equally. No one has questioned Judge Hunt’s impartiality. Judge Olson said he “never felt anything but good things from his colleagues.” When, as a new district judge, Judge Gayles and his partner traveled to the Supreme Court to meet the justices, Justice Scalia said to his partner, “Nice to meet you. Welcome to the Supreme Court.”
The discussion—which lasted over an hour—was informative, inspirational, and, at times, really funny (Judge Olson and Gilbert joked about the pressure to have “fabulous” chambers; Gilbert said that Ferrer, because he’s a great dancer, is sometimes mistaken as being gay). But the judges recalled a difficult not-to-distant past, and said that many challenges lie ahead. Judge Hunt recalled when he was an AFPD having to explain to judges the difference between HIV and AIDS, and how that affected when defendants must be sentenced. It is “absolutely frightening” what is happening in other parts of the world, Judge Olson said, where being gay is “a dangerous thing.” Suicide is a serious problem among young gay people, he continued, and it may be worse for transgender youth. “We as a society have to do more to help,” he said.
But the judges were overwhelmingly positive about the future. “Our being in these positions makes it easier for those coming after us,” Judge Gayles said. Judge Hunt is “very optimistic. Now we can name names, whether it is an African American president or a gay judge. To actually be able to name names is important.” To Judge Olson, “being aggressively out helps solidify change. To make it a normal part of life.”
Special thanks to AUSA Robert Watson for suggesting that the Blog cover this fantastic event.
"Keep calm and support LGBT"


South Florida Lawyers said...

Congrats on formally joining the blog Brian!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reporting of this inspirational panel discussion. Us members of the state bar had no knowledge of this get together. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Cute little cupcakes. The feds get all the nice perks!