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Gay Calif. Supreme Court justice values struggle

California Supreme Court Associate Justice Martin Jenkins accepting his nomination October 5, 2020.
Photo: Courtesy of YouTube
California Supreme Court Associate Justice Martin Jenkins accepting his nomination October 5, 2020.

The first openly LGBTQ California Supreme Court justice is also only the third Black man ever to serve on the state's highest court. He says his struggles helped him achieve success.

On this week’s Out in the Bay, Jenkins talks about his biggest personal struggle and about the importance of being gay and Black on California’s Supreme Court and of diverse representation generally.

Life experience, says Jenkins, “can illuminate the fabric of the law as it’s being discussed” in court deliberations. “The law is about people and for people. … That kind of cross-pollination, that kind of education about the impacts of what we’re deciding is crucial.”

Jenkins, now 67, came out fairly late in life – in his fifties – after repressing his orientation for decades. When he accepted the Supreme Court nomination in October 2020, he addressed young people “struggling with their identity.” He said coming to terms with being gay had been “perhaps the greatest challenge of my life,” and went on to say that he had accomplished what he had “because of the struggle,” not in spite of it.

“Struggle brings you to grips with the reality of who you are,” he elaborated on Out in the Bay. “The lack of struggle does the opposite: it allows us to believe things about ourselves that are not anchored in reality. … When you can show up as who you are, authentically, that’s a power beyond measure.”

On this week's show, Jenkins shares highlights of his personal life and career. He grew up in San Francisco the son of a nurse and a janitor. He played football and tennis at Santa Clara University, and after graduating was in the NFL briefly, before being convinced by a coach and a college dean that he’d be a great lawyer.

In his mid-twenties, after working in the Alameda County D.A.'s office, he investigated police misconduct, KKK cross-burnings and other racial violence cases in states nationwide for the U.S. Justice Department.

Democrat and Republican governors alike later appointed Jenkins for judgeships on courts from Alameda County to federal and state courts, culminating in Gov. Gavin Newsom naming Jenkins to California’s Supreme Court, where he was sworn in Dec. 4, 2020.

Early this year, the Bay Area native moved to Los Angeles to be with the man he loves. Hear Martin Jenkins tell it himself on this week’s Out in the Bay.

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Eric Jansen is a long-time broadcaster and print journalist. A former news anchor, producer and reporter at KQED FM, San Francisco; KLIV AM, San Jose; and Minnesota Public Radio, Eric's award-winning reports have been heard on many NPR programs and PRI's Marketplace. His print work has been in The Mercury News, The Business Journal, and LGBTQ magazines Genre and The Advocate, among other publications. He co-produced the June 2007 PBS documentary Why We Sing!, about LGBTQ choruses and their role in the civil rights fight.