By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
DETROIT – When 25 seniors at Detroit’s Restoration Towers complex gathered to listen to a political forum, it was the ice cream and cookies that really had their attention. Everyone listened politely and a few asked questions of the first two speakers, a man representing Court of Appeals candidate Diane Marie Hathaway and Ron March, an independent candidate for the state House’s 9th District.
But when 36th District court Judge Rudy Serra took his turn to speak on Sept. 28, cookies and ice cream took a back seat to his politics.
Courtesy gave way to active curiosity as Serra addressed his belief in fairness and talked about his commitment to civil rights. For his part, despite having been on the bench all morning, Serra spoke energetically, pacing a small space on the floor to be sure he made eye contact with as many members of his audience as possible.
“Judge me by the value of my character, not the color of my skin,” Serra said to nodding heads in the mostly-black audience. Before taking questions, Serra made time to urge his audience to vote “No” on Proposal 2, which would ban affirmative action in Michigan.
It was just another day on the job for Serra, who said he can’t even count the total of campaign appearances he’s made.
Unlike the other sitting justices, Serra has had to campaign, and campaign hard. Because Serra, Michigan’s first and only openly gay judge, is the only sitting 36th District judge facing opposition this November.
Not that his constituents seem to care about his orientation. According to Serra, the only person who has brought it up was one of his primary opponents. During the primary, Serra said, Brenda Sanders claimed, “she had a personal problem with me because I’m gay.”
“Her assertion that I promote homosexuality from the bench was based on the fact that I exist and I’m on the bench,” Serra said.
Serra has fully committed to this campaign because he loves the job.
Appointed to the bench in 2004 by Governor Jennifer Granholm, Serra said that being a judge allows him to make a direct, personal difference in people’s lives.
“For example, young people with curfew violations who get sentenced to complete their high school diploma. Or come back with a passing report card. Or enroll in college. So you can make that kind of really dramatic difference,” he said.
In addition, Serra sees his campaign as a test both of the city’s commitment to diversity and as a precedent for future LGBT judicial appointees.
“I think it would send a horrible message about the city of Detroit for an individual to get fired because of characteristics like their race or their color or their sexual orientation,” he said.
“Moreover, I think that the next time an individual comes along who is a qualified LGBT person, … it would be very easy for a governor to justify not appointing them simply by saying, ‘Look, you can’t even win an election in the city of Detroit when you’ve got an incumbent.'”
Setting a positive precedent by re-electing him isn’t the only reason the LGBT community should support his campaign. According to Serra, “The 36th District Court is the third busiest court in the country. Anyone who drives in Detroit, works in Detroit or comes here for any reason has a reason to be concerned about who gets to be judge on that court.” And while he doesn’t deal directly with LGBT community issues as a jurist, Serra said that he and the other district judges do deal with issues of religious freedom and freedom of expression.
“For example, during Pride celebrations sometimes authorities will try to harass and suppress gay people by giving tickets for disorderly conduct because the music’s too loud, things like that,” he said. “Because the issues we deal with are universal, they affect everybody, so they do affect our community as well.”
Find OUT more
For more about Judge Rudy Serra, see “Governor appoints openly-gay judge to 36th District Court” online at www.pridesource.com.
For more about Serra’s campaign visit http://www.rudyserra.com