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Deborah Batts, America’s first openly gay federal judge, dies aged 72

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Deborah Batts, has passed away aged 72.

The first openly gay federal judge in US history, Deborah Batts, has passed away aged 72.

Batts made history in 1994, when she was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve on the District Court for the Southern District of New York – becoming the first out LGBT+ person to hold a federal judgeship.

She spent 26 years serving on the court, and presided over many high-profile cases.

Tributes paid to ‘trailblazing’ lesbian judge Deborah Batts

It was confirmed on Tuesday that Batts has passed away aged 72. She is survived by her wife, Dr Gwen Zornberg, and her children, James and Alexandra McCown.

The court’s Chief Judge Colleen McMahon said in a statement: “Deborah Batts was a trailblazer in every respect: an openly gay African-American woman who became a United States District Judge after a distinguished career as a federal prosecutor and law professor.

“It will be difficult to replace her. Our hearts are broken at her premature passing.”

Deborah Batts is survived by her wife, Dr Gwen Zornberg,

Deborah Batts is survived by her wife, Dr Gwen Zornberg,

Sharon McGowan, Legal Director and Chief Strategy Officer at pro-LGBT+ law firm Lambda Legal hailed Batts as “an inspiration to so many in the legal world.”

She said: “Judge Batts will forever be known not only as the first openly LGBT federal judge, but also as the embodiment of the highest standards of professional excellence.

“Judge Batts’ nomination by President Clinton to the federal bench in 1994 was a watershed moment for openly LGBT people in the legal profession.”

McGowan added: “Judge Batts lived an extraordinary life and leaves a remarkable legacy. She was a trailblazer as an openly LGBT judge, but she was also a mother, a lawyer, a prosecutor, and someone who inspired generations of law students.

“All of these aspects of her identity were what made Judge Batts the incredible person that she was.

“We honor her memory by strengthening our commitment to diversity within our judicial system, and in the legal profession as a whole.”

LGBT+ people still lack representation

It was 17 years from Batts’ appointment until another LGBT+ judge was appointed to serve on a federal court – with President Obama attempting to redress the balance by appointing nine out judges to district courts, and one to a federal appeals court.

However, there is still a lack of LGBT+ representation at the top of the profession.

40 US states have never appointed an out LGBT+ judge to their highest court, while no out LGBT+ person has ever served on the US Supreme Court.

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