SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Times may have changed for Judge Victoria Kolakowski, but the memories remain fresh in her mind.
Kolakowski was elected by voters to the state Superior Court in Alameda County in 2010, becoming the first elected transgender judge presiding over a court in the United States.
Recently, she recalled for KPIX 5 her memories of taking part in the annual SAn Francisco Pride Parade.
“Back 20 years ago, I would march in the parade two or three times,” she said. “I’d get to the end and I would hop on Muni, go back to the back and walk again with another group.”
Kolakowski recalls fondly her first visit to San Francisco back in 1990.
“I came in, and I saw the rainbow flags all up and down Market Street,” she told KPIX 5. “And I cried.”
It was a long way from Louisiana where she had just graduated from law school. In 1989, during his third year at LSU Law School, she spent Spring Break living her truth as a woman and decided never to go back.
“I said, that’s it,” Kolakowski recalled. “No more. I’m never gonna be him again…And so I showed up on a Monday morning in a dress at school.”
But it did not go over well. Kolakowski said she was shunned by her classmates and prevented from using either the men’s or women’s restroom. Instead, she was given a key to the chancellor’s private bathroom.
“No matter where I was on campus, I was supposed to use one bathroom,” she told KPIX 5.
Now, she says with a smile, she doesn’t have that problem.
“I have my own bathroom, which is one of the things – one of the perks about this job is that I get my own,” she said.
But the road to coming out in 1989 and becoming an elected judge has been a long one. Once she graduated from law school, no one would hire her.
“There were times when I felt that nobody would ever love me,” she said. “That I would never be in a serious relationship with anybody, I would never have a real job. No one would employ me. And I felt like giving up so many times.”
She credits her family and friends with helping her get through those years. But the doubters still remain.
“There’s still a feeling – and many people still vehemently argue this – that we’re delusional,” she said. “And that we have some mental health problems.”
Her advice to other transgender individuals is to not try to go it alone.
“We can create for ourselves a group of people around us that are our own family,” she said. “And I really think it’s important for people to not isolate themselves.”
She believes that what makes events like Pride weekend so important.
“I think for a lot of people who are coming from other places, just that ability to be around so many folk who are experiencing this, and some of them for the first time, it’s really amazing and powerful,” she said. “And something that, for those of us who have been round for decades – we often forget.”