Coming out helps lessen others' fears, says U.S. Attorney Durkan
Jenny Durkan, U.S. attorney for Western Washington, spoke Monday at a Justice Department gathering about being the nation's first openly gay federal prosecutor.
Seattle Times Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — When Jenny Durkan started her job as the U.S. attorney for Western Washington last October, the Seattle defense attorney became the nation's first openly gay federal prosecutor.
It took a mere 221 years.
In one of her few public appearances on the topic, Durkan spoke Monday at a Department of Justice's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month ceremony. In her keynote speech, Durkan noted that Congress created the U.S. Attorneys Offices in 1789.
The elapse of time until her appointment, Durkan said, made it not only pathbreaking but well overdue.
"I stand before you as the first openly gay U.S. attorney," a smiling Durkan told the audience of more than 200 Justice Department employees and others.
Durkan said coming out as gays and lesbians professionally takes courage, but she said it helps to reduce others' fear and ignorance with "the reality of our humanity."
Durkan, 52, and her longtime partner have two boys. In the past, Durkan has been reticent to talk publicly about her sexuality.
After the event, Durkan, who said she came out as a lesbian in her 20s, called her appointment "an important barrier to break." Since Durkan, two other openly gay U.S. attorneys — Anne Tompkins for Western North Carolina and Laura Duffy for the Southern District of California — have won confirmation.
Durkan noted that all three are lesbians and exhorted, "Guys, you need to step up."
The event featured a poster board with the photos of 22 high-ranking Justice Department officials who have come out as gays and lesbians.
Durkan praised Attorney General Eric Holder for making enforcement of civil rights a priority. That includes enforcing the new Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The law, which President Obama signed in October, protects gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from bias-motivated violence. Holder said it was the first explicit reference to gender identity in the 225-year history of the U.S. Code.
The Justice Department in April also concluded that the Violence Against Women Act applies to same-sex partners.
The second keynote speaker, U.S. Marshal for Minnesota Sharon Lubinski, spoke about grappling with her sexuality. Lubinski is the first openly gay U.S. marshal.
Growing up in a small Wisconsin town, Lubinski said, she knew she was "different than the other girls."
As an adult, Lubinski said, she told only a few people she was gay. While working as a Minneapolis police sergeant, Lubinski remained closeted even as she helped solve the 1991 murders of two gay men by another gay man.
After wrestling with guilt and shame, Lubinski told her police chief in 1993 that she was a lesbian. Her decision made news in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
"It's so much more efficient to come out in the front page of a newspaper," Lubinski said to laughter.
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