Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Court's in Session: The Country's First Transgender Judge Was Always a Rabble Rouser

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Court's in Session: The Country's First Transgender Judge Was Always a Rabble Rouser

Article excerpt

AS THE NATION was celebrating its bicentennial, Phyllis Frye, 28, was celebrating becoming a woman. It wasn't easy being out as transgender in 1976, even with a supportive wife. "Three years [into] our marriage she said, 'You are going nuts trying to be the man that you are not. You need to be yourself."'

Her Texas neighbors weren't as forgiving. They slashed her tires and egged her house. She couldn't get a job, even after getting her law degree. The discrimination turned Frye into an activist. She joined Ray Hill and Lucia Valeska in helping to organize the 1979 March on Washington. Valeska, a feminist who established one of the nation's first women studies programs, had just taken over as a co-director of the National Gay Task Force. (Valeska, who was forced out of NGTF in 1982, passed away in 2014.)

Frye downplays her role, saying she was just "pissed that transgender was not included at all in any of the publicity."

"Judge Frye is being modest about her role in the march," counters Hill. "Her 'trans advocacy' would give birth to a movement and she used the march organizing as a means of [achieving] that. The state of our collective movement in 1979 was one of uneven development of its component parts. Gay men were not taking the evolution of political potential seriously. The lesbian movement was more politically advanced thanks to the women's music tours and The Ladder. The trans movement did not exist, except for Phyllis' advocacy."

Frye's contributions to the trans movement continued. Among her many accomplishments are the six annual International Conferences on Transgender Law and Employment Policy that she organized, hosted, and provided grassroots training for beginning in 1992. Eventually, Frye established a practice in criminal defense. "By 2010,1 had become senior partner of my firm with lawyers who were either LGBT or supportive. …

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