Trailblazing judge on the cusp of becoming his state’s first gay Black Supreme Court justice didn’t come out until his 60s

Martin Jenkins

Martin Jenkins, the man poised to become the first openly gay justice on the California Supreme Court, served on the bench for decades without coming out to most friends and colleagues.

Jenkins, 66, was appointed by governor Gavin Newsom to serve on the state’s highest court on Monday (October 5). If confirmed, he will be only the third Black man to do so, and the first ever gay justice to sit on the court.

Educated by Jesuits in college and law school, Jenkins kept his sexuality private for most of his life and only began coming out in the last five years. He fell in love with his partner, real estate broker Sydney Shand, two years ago.

“It was the first time I fell in love and was willing to go ahead and embrace that emotion and return it without sabotaging it,” he revealed during a press conference on Monday.

“I want to say today to those young people who may be watching and those who may hear about what has transpired here, I am not here in spite of the struggle, I’m here because of the struggle.”

Jenkins described his coming out experience as “invigorating” and urged others to live authentically as he is now.

“I want these young people to know that living a life of authenticity is the greatest gift you can give yourself, and if you do that, you too will find yourself in a position where people see you, they really see you for who you are.

“And I thank you, governor Newsom, for giving me this opportunity and for seeing me.”

Jenkins was asked by a reporter if he saw any irony in the fact that someone who was so private about his sexual orientation for so long would become the first openly gay justice.

“I don’t see any irony,” Jenkins replied, bristling. “My journey has been different. If someone finds irony in that, so be it. What I feel and think is that people have to come to their own resolution and self-acceptance in their own time.”

Martin Jenkins is a former NFL player for the Seattle Seahawks who later became a civil rights attorney. Before joining the Newsom administration he served as an associate justice on the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District from 2008 to 2019.

“Justice Jenkins is widely respected among lawyers and jurists, active in his Oakland community and his faith, and is a decent man to his core,” Newsom said.

“As a critical member of my senior leadership team, I’ve seen firsthand that justice Jenkins possesses brilliance and humility in equal measure. The people of California could not ask for a better jurist or kinder person to take on this important responsibility.”

Equality California executive director Rick Chavez Zbur praised Jenkins’ appointment as “a monumental step forward” for the LGBT+ community and the entire state.

“Not only is justice Jenkins exceptionally qualified and an outstanding choice for California’s highest court, but he embodies the values of our great state. Governor Newsom is setting a national example as he works to ensure California’s government reflects the diversity of the people they serve,” he said.