I was a witness to history today.
Tracy Thorne-Begland was sworn in today as a Judge in the General District Court of the City of Richmond.
Soon such an event will not be historic. Indeed, the next judge sworn in who shares one particular characteristic with Tracy will not make history in the same way, He (or she)will simply be reported by the media as the second openly gay judge.
But on Friday, March 1, in the City Council Chambers several hundred people–judges, legislators, city council members, the Mayor, members of the bar, friends, and family–gathered to celebrate and watch history in the making.
There were a few firsts in the event itself, in addition to Tracy.
- The Hon. Bevil Dean, Clerk of the Circuit Court, told me that this was the first time ever that an investiture of a judge was held in the City Hall. Usually these affairs are held in a courtroom, but they are all too small. They had to move to accommodate the crowd!
- After Judge Thorne-Begland was sworn in and he shook hands with the judge who led him through the oath and shook hands with legislators who helped him gain the appointment–most notably Delegates Manoli Loupassi and Jennifer McClellan and Senator Donald McEachin–he turned and kissed Michael Thorne-Begland, his husband of 20 years. . . right square on the lips. Two men may have kissed in the council chambers before, but this time no officer of the court could rise to object nor could any police officer say a word. It was the sweetest of moments.
- And then the Hon. Tracy Thorne-Begland addressed the court and the audience. I doubt there have been many such occasions anywhere in the country–and I know there have been none in Virginia–in which the new judge spoke of “the elephant in the room,” namely the fact that there were, and are, people who believe he is not qualified for such an office because he and Michael have been married (in their eyes) for 20 years and are raising two adorable children (who were present, and looking very proud of their dad).
There are so many advances these days for LGBT people, in our country and all around the world. Many people think they happen everywhere but Virginia.
Today, we advanced, too.
Of course, I thank God most of all for this, and Manoli and Jennifer and my dear friend Donald, and the managing partners of the five largest Richmond law firms who spoke up on his behalf, and the Circuit Judges who appointed Tracy to an interim term so some of the naysayers could see that all the negative fuss was wrong-headed and silly, and Tracy’s mom (and Michael’s too, who went to bat for her son-in-law) and a lot of other good people (I like to think that People of Faith for Equality in Virginia helped a little, too).
But the person I most thank is the judge himself.
He is a man of character and intelligence and determination and bravery. He was brave flying fighter planes and he is brave sticking his neck out to serve. He serves his country today just a importantly as he did flying in the skies to keep us safe.
And he knows that in order for change to happen, good people have to do things.
That reminds me of one other delicious moment. Michael quoted his children, whom he said talked about the controversy, as it ebbed and flowed over the past eight months. One time, looking at the newspaper talking about their dad, they said, “Gay lawyer, gay prosecutor, gay judge, blah, blah, blah, how boring!”
In case you did not know it, that is where we are headed. And we have the Hon. Tracy Thorne-Begland to thank for helping us get a step closer.
Thank you, Your Honor. And may God continue to bless you and your honorable court.