California residents officially elected Victoria Kolakowski to fill a spot in the state’s Superior Court, making her the nation’s first openly transgender trial judge.
According to Alameda County officials Kolakowski received almost 46% of the vote in her June 8 election, and consequently won the November 2 run-off election against her opponent, Deputy District Attorney John Creighton, by about 10,000 votes with a 51% majority, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Her campaign platform included professional diversity and change, while Creighton’s was based on his experience as a prosecutor. Kolakowski has over 20 years of legal experience and a particularly extensive background in civil matters. She most recently worked for the California Public Utilities Commission as an administrative law judge.
Although judicial races often do not attract much attention, hers gained nationwide coverage due to its potential historical significance. Still, Kolakowski clarifies that her gender identity was not the factor behind her win. “If you look at the election coverage from the San Francisco Chronicle and the Oakland Tribune, it makes it sound like I ran as the transgender candidate in the race. That is not why people voted for me and not why people didn’t vote for me,” she told the Bay Area Reporter. “People made their decisions based on who they thought had the best experience and was the best fit for the job.”
Kolakowski came out as transgender in 1989, and is married to Bay Area Reporter editor Cynthia Laird. “Her election shatters a glass ceiling,” said Geoff Kors of Equality California. Indeed, Kolakowski recalled a time where her gender identity almost prevented her from becoming a lawyer—her application for the Louisiana State Bar Association was rejected after she had identified herself as transgender. “I was initially denied because they said I was not of a sound mind,” she said. She had to appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court before she could take the bar exam.
Kolakowski’s victory also comes just days before the Transgender Day of Remembrance. TDOR commemorates the memory of those murdered by anti-transgender hate, and seeks to increase awareness of transgender women and men in mainstream society. Kolakowski's position as the first transgender trial judge in the country undoubtedly contributes to the visibility of transgender people everywhere, and serves as an inspiration as we approach this day.
GLAAD celebrates Victoria Kolakowski’s important victory, and will continue to monitor media coverage of her story.