Judge Jonathan Karesh

jek profile

In January 2019, Jonathan Karesh became the second LGBTQ judge ever elected to be the presiding judge of the San Mateo County Superior Court. At the time, he was the only out LGBTQ presiding judge of a county Superior Court in California.

He is one of three LGBTQ judges on the San Mateo County bench, having been appointed by Governor Gray Davis in 2001.

It would seem that Karesh’s career as a judge was decided long before he started law school at Berkeley. After all, his father Joseph Karesh was elected a San Francisco Superior Court judge the year he was born, and his earliest memories are of father-son bonding time spent going to watch his father’s trials. “We would also go to the courthouse on the weekends and then go to lunch after and just have a really nice time,” he recalled.

When Karesh was just 10 years old, he volunteered for his father’s friends’ campaigns for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. At that time, he thought he might want to be a congressman.

It was a mock trial he was a part of in an eighth-grade social studies class that steered him towards a law career. Karesh loved playing the role of an attorney. That same year, he placed second in a speech competition, which further cemented his confidence. “I was terrible at sports, but I could speak and speak persuasively.”

After law school, Karesh spent his twenties and thirties as a deputy district attorney. At the time, he was heavily involved in the Democratic Central Committee and Democratic candidate campaigns. Those connections served him well when he applied to be a judge at age 38 and was able to have prominent community leaders write letters of recommendation to Governor Davis.

Now that Karesh has served as a judge since 2001, he has no desire to run for office. “I love my job too much, and besides, politicians have to fundraise and campaign, which I don’t want to do.”

These days, Karesh presides over criminal trials. He tries serious felony cases, which include trials for attempted murder, kidnapping, and sexual assault.

For the last ten years, Karesh has also mentored LGBTQ law students through the Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom (BALIF). His most recent mentee was a young man who recovered from substance abuse to go on to work with criminal defendants with similar histories. In 2018, he received BALIF’s Mentor of the Year award. That same year, the San Mateo
County Trial Lawyers Association presented him with their Judge of the Year award.

In 2011, Karesh filmed an It Gets Better video with the BALIF team. “It’s important for young people to know you can be in this profession and being gay is not a hindrance at all.”

Karesh came out at work in 2006 because he did not want to put up a wall between his personal and work life. He did so thanks to some advice from California’s first out lesbian judge, Rosemary Pfeiffer, who was outed by the press in the early 90s after attending a gay rights event.

“It was exhausting to maintain that wall, to keep things from my friends on the bench,” he explained. “I think it’s very important to be out at work.”

Karesh has never had an issue as a gay man at work. In fact, the day he came out by sending an email to a dozen people connected with court system, colleagues flooded his inbox with congratulatory emails.

Rich Gordon was serving on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors at the time. The Board Chambers and the Court Rooms were in the same building, and Gordon remembers there was an immediate buzz in the hallways and the elevators when Karesh made his announcement. “The buzz was positive and supportive,” said Gordon. “I had known Jon prior to his appointment as a judge due to his political work in our county. His coming out filled me with pride.”

“Jon is an outstanding human being and an outstanding judge,” reflected Gordon. “His integrity, his dedication, and his commitment to the rule of law make him an outstanding role model for those LGBTQ attorneys who stand on his shoulders.”

Around five years ago Karesh had a full-circle moment of getting then giving advice when a young district attorney came to him with questions about coming out.

Karesh himself did not come out until later in life. With a lesbian older sister, who came out in 1977, he felt pressure to be straight. He spent years in denial, only starting to date men in his early thirties and coming out to himself fully in his late thirties. Karesh came out to his mother shortly thereafter, at age 41. He never got the chance to come out to his father Joseph, who passed in 1996.

jek family wedding
Judge Karesh officiating the marriage of his sister Barbara Karesh (right) and sister-in-law Joy Accosta (left).

In 2008, his personal and work lives collided when Karesh had the immense privilege of officiating his sister Barbara’s wedding. “It was the most moving experience of my life.”

Barbara’s real wedding took place many years before on a beach in Pacifica with a Unitarian minister when she and her partner first got together in 1979. It was the small 2008 ceremony that married the two in the eyes of the law.

As for his own love life, Karesh got engaged back in September while on a cruise to Canada. His partner Steven is retired from the semiconductor industry, and in two and a half years, Jon will be eligible to join him in retirement so that the two can spend the rest of their lives together.
Jon, Barbara, his sister-in-law, and his fiance are all very close friends

Karesh is “pretty sure” he will retire in 2025, but if he’s anything like his father, he’ll change his mind. Joseph Karesh worked until he was eighty-seven years old, becoming the oldest working judge in the state at the time.

Outside the courtroom, Karesh has two passions when it comes to musical groups. He loves folk music, particularly the Kingston Trio. For the past 16 summers, he has gone to Scottsdale, Arizona, to attend the Kingston Trio Fantasy Camp, where twice he won the Camper of the Year award. He plays music with his colleagues in a band called The Folking Judges.

His other favorite band is Phish, whom he has seen perform 57 times in nine different states. He flew to New York this past New Year to see them play at Madison Square Garden.

Karesh is also active in his Episcopal church, which has welcomed him and Steven with open arms.

Cindy Weintraub

cindy weintraub profile

Silicon Valley/San Francisco LGBTQ Employee Resource Group Alliance founder Cindy Weintraub moved to Santa Clara from her hometown of Brooklyn, New York in 1979, seeking a place where she and her girlfriend could live together without fear of reprisal.

At the time, Cindy didn’t know anyone in California. She had a few referrals from her former boss at TelePrompTer Corp. in Manhattan. It was the height of the tech boom in Silicon Valley, and everyone was trying to move to San Jose. Cindy and her college sweetheart lived in a Santa Clara Motel 6 until she was able to get a job in the budding cable industry.

Working in the entertainment industry came with many perks. Cindy attended the MTV awards, met Cher and Madonna, saw Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg perform in Comedy Relief specials, and dined with the stars in Los Angeles, but her girlfriend never accompanied her. Even in California, thousands of miles from her parents, Cindy remained in the closet.

One day in 1986, her girlfriend of 10 years packed up all of her things and left. A few months before, she had encouraged Cindy to join the women’s group at the Billy DeFrank Center, and Cindy is forever grateful she did. “I was very depressed, being so isolated. Nobody knew I was gay, so I couldn’t say anything about my girlfriend. It was a terrible time for me.”

The night her girlfriend left, Cindy went out to the clubs and met up with a woman she knew from the Billy DeFrank group. Cindy told her what had happened and how she was still not out.

The woman said, “I will come over on Thursday and bring my guitar and some wine and you can talk to me.”

“That Thursday was the first night I was able to sleep in a week,” Cindy recalled.

She credits the Billy DeFrank Center and the community she found there with saving her life.

“I always felt that if there was a way I could help the Billy DeFrank Center, I would.”

In the late 90s, Cindy was recruited to work for Cisco, who later asked her to start their local Pride Employee Resource Group. Cindy had never officially come out at work, but she figured some Cisco employees must have seen her at a recent Billy DeFrank gala.

She and five gay men in the company joined her on the Cisco Pride ERG leadership team, and in 2008, Cindy got her chance to give back to the organization that had saved her all those years ago.

That year, the San Jose Mercury News reported that the Billy DeFrank Center was going to close due to a lack of funds. At the time, the Center was the only symbol of gay life in Silicon Valley.

Determined to keep the doors open, Cindy’s group and other local tech company LGBT ERGs joined forces and hosted a movie fundraiser at a screening of MILK. With the generous support of the gay-owned Hobee’s Restaurants, the event raised $7,000 to keep the Billy DeFrank Center afloat.

That fundraiser marked the first annual Silicon Valley/San Francisco LGBTQ ERG Alliance event, which has since included 8 more Hollywood movies, Hamilton in drag, a COVID-friendly drive-in movie night, and an incredible 12th Anniversary variety show featuring stars from Opera San Jose, Bay Area Symphony, SF Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, and drag countertenor and MC. By 2022, the Alliance had raised close to $250,000 to ensure the health and vitality of the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ+ Community Center for years to come.

Outside of the annual fundraiser, the Alliance’s ERGs, now representing over fifty blue chip, tech, and cutting-edge companies, have produced over 150 LGBTQ educational and uplifting programs for their members.  During their monthly meetings, progressive LGBTQ employee policies are shared so that other members can leverage them to drive more inclusive environments.  The Alliance also influences political change. In 2014, the group was instrumental in fighting the anti-trans public restroom bills in North Carolina.

After the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) got 80 business leaders to sign a letter to the governor saying they would refuse to do business in North Carolina if the bill passed, Cindy and the Alliance team reviewed the letter to see who was missing. At the time, Cindy was working at HP and CEO Meg Whitman had not signed that letter. Cindy encouraged other Alliance members to speak to their companies if their leaders weren’t on the list. She called the head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to tell them it was critical that Whitman sign on behalf of HP. Within 24 hours, Cindy heard back that HP had joined the other executives on the list.

The bills were overturned, demonstrating the power of Fortune 500 companies and their Pride ERG groups.

Most, if not all of the companies in the Alliance are international, so their impact extends far beyond the Bay Area.

Despite her position as founder and executive director of the Silicon Valley/San Francisco LGBTQ ERG Alliance, Cindy has never officially come out at work. In fact, she hasn’t explicitly come out to many people.

“The times I told people one-on-one, that was the end of our friendship. Maybe it wasn’t as accepted at the time, or maybe I just don’t know the right people.”

Even when her mother and father visited her and her girlfriend from New York, they weren’t aware of Cindy’s relationship. It took an intense therapeutic experience at a seminar called The Landmark Forum for Cindy to finally come out to her parents.

The Forum was all about “getting honest with yourself and getting rid of the facade you live under.” In one exercise at the event, participants were asked to write to the most special person in their life and tell them about their experience at The Forum.

Cindy wrote to her dad and came out, telling him, “I want to be closer to you, and I don’t want to be lying to you anymore.”

In her letter, she wrote that she would call him that weekend, as she did every week.

When Cindy called that Saturday, the phone rang on and on before going to voicemail.

She called back the following day. Her mother picked up and asked about the weather.

Cindy was baffled. “Did you get my letter?” she asked.

Her mother passed the phone to her father, and as Cindy says, “That was the beginning of a beautiful, life-changing relationship. A real and authentic relationship.”

At first, Cindy’s parents were accepting to a degree, but then her father “totally fell in love” with her girlfriend. “She became another daughter to him and a favorite one — an integral part of the family.”

Currently, Cindy and the Alliance is working with HRC to determine how the organization can best support transgender people facing the rash of 2022 discriminatory bills in Texas and Florida legislatures. The goal is to continue encouraging their companies to use their economic power to support LGBTQ+ communities domestically and abroad.

“We want to get past just having a float in a once-a-year Pride parade. That’s great for, I don’t know…showing up in the media, but you need to have a greater, more serious impact and you can only do that in political circles when you present a large and united front.”

Dani Castro

dani castro

Dani Castro, MA, MFT started doing drag in San Jose and throughout the greater Bay Area at the age of thirteen with her father’s support. He snuck her into bars, where she realized she could “not only perform and empower herself” but also feel seen and accepted for the first time. “I wanted everyone to have that experience, but everyone around me was dropping dead from AIDS complications.”

Dani’s own father is an AIDS survivor. She poured every tip she made from her local performances into saving his life and the lives of others around her. She later joined the Imperial Royal Lion Monarchy and was Lady in Waiting for the Absolute Empress Patrice 23 and Absolute Emperor 23 Eddie Tavares of The Court of Glitz and Glamor.

As a trans adolescent, drag was all Dani had because the word “transgender” did not exist at the time. She had to turn to medical journals to try to piece together what she was experiencing. When Dani called the Billy DeFrank Center for help, they told her they didn’t have any resources for “transsexuals” but would write down her information. When activist Miss Major Griffin-Gracy came to speak at the Center, the staff passed Dani’s number onto her. Dani received a life-changing call from Miss Major when she was sixteen. Miss Major told her, “Honey, you’re not alone,” and recommended a book called My Story, a memoir by trailblazing trans model Caroline Cossey.

At the time, the psychology field recommended that transgender women like Dani live as cisgender women and “erase their pasts.” 

“We burned pictures of us as children and we had ceremonies where we would do the strangest things in the name of transitioning.”

Dani’s own therapist walked her through a metaphorical “burial” for her penis. “It was so demeaning,” Dani recalled. “Honestly the system hasn’t progressed much, and we are still forced to jump through hoops to prove our identities to medical professionals. In my opinion that’s transphobia that’s infiltrated the medical industrial complex.”

“It was very complicated to make my way into blossoming into being myself. The struggle to exist was and still is very real.”

Dani, like many trans people in Santa Clara County, survived by engaging in the community whether or not she felt welcome. She volunteered on top of working full-time and set up the now-defunct TransPowerment program, primarily for transgender women of color and their partners. The 2002 murder of trans teen Gwen Araujo in Newark, California served as a wakeup call for much of her activism. Araujo was brutally killed at age 17 after men she had been intimate with discovered she was transgender. In one trial, a defendant used the “trans panic defense,” which was later banned along with other panic defenses in California courts in 2014. Dani recounted to her father David Castro Sr. as she watched the news horrified, “That could have and should have been me so many times. I have to do something to stop people from murdering and hurting us.”

Dani credits her work and survival to her “transcestors,” including the women of the Stonewall and Compton Cafeteria riots, and the Bay Area women she calls her “‘moms” like JoAnne Keatley originally a social worker for the Health Trust and Absolute Sovereign Dowager Empress Tiffany Woods of the TransVision healthcare clinic in Fremont. Of Woods, Dani said, “She looked out for me when the drag queens didn’t accept me.” Her father’s unconditional love and support were paramount as she navigated a transphobic world that didn’t want her alive – much less, empowered.

Dani noted that the DeFrank center didn’t recognize Transgender Day of Remembrance as part of their regular programming and her friend Shelly Prevost paid out of her own pocket to host the event. “It wouldn’t exist without her, but they made us pay in our own center!” The center later gave in to demands following a protest outside the DeFrank center lead by Dani. From that point forward the DeFrank center commemorates and honors all the lives lost to transphobic hate on November 20th as was intended by its founder Gwen Smith.

Today, Dani feels progress for transgender visibility, rights, and resources in Santa Clara County are not proportionate to the amount of advocacy trans people have initiated including the amount of trauma they have survived. “We laid the path for all of the queer community with literally our lives, blood, sweat, and tears, not just us, and for us to be at the bottom of the barrel today…we deserve far better.”

Most recently, Dani has been conducting a transgender needs assessment for the Office of LGBTQ+ Affairs. Through her surveys, she discovered many trans people are leaving Santa Clara County to get services in San Francisco, Fremont, and other parts of Alameda County because of the lack of resources and the transphobia experienced within existing organizations. There is currently only one clinic serving the trans population in Santa Clara County. “It’s a shame. We can and should do better here!”

Her hope is that the local LGBTQ+ youth will continue to recognize the work of their trans ancestors like Felicia Flames Elizondo, Therese Wannocott, Noriel Tejero, Claudia Medina, Jennifer Rodriguez and countless others to continue working for trans equality and parity here in Santa Clara County. 

“I want transgender, nonbinary, intersex, and gender-expansive youth to know we are gifted, we are powerful, and we are here in this universe to spread love and understanding because we literally exist on a different level of consciousness from other people. We exist beyond the gender binary. That’s a gift that comes with a great responsibility, and all you have to do is live your life authentically.” 

She hopes her pioneering legacy will help the Santa Clara County LGBTQ+ community move forward, together.

“Don’t ever, ever forget Dani Castro was here and Like Grandma Major said, ‘I’m still fucking here’. Even when I am gone, I’ll be here and you have my power and spirit to use in the work that you do.”

Judge Shawna Schwarz


In the fourth of a series, read about Santa Clara County’s first out lesbian judge, Judge Shawna Schwarz.

Although Judge Shawna Schwarz made history as the first out lesbian judge in Santa Clara County in 2006, her LGBTQ+ identity has been fairly irrelevant in her legal career. “The bench has been very welcoming,” she said. The only time her identity really comes into play is when people confuse her for fellow judges Julie Emede and Jacqueline Arroyo (both lesbians), even though the three look nothing alike.

“For example, once Judge Emede got a thank-you note from one of our colleagues for something that I did,” Schwarz stated. The three laugh about the mixups and tease their colleagues rather than take offense.

Not long after coming out at age 27, Schwarz met her partner of 31 years, Sandy Berry, who works in commercial real estate. As was the case with some same-sex couples, the two got married at the last hours of November 4, 2008, the day Proposition 8 passed and restricted marriage to opposite-sex couples. Worried the window to get married would close, earlier in the day they had arranged to have a judge friend officiate their wedding that evening. As they and their friends stood in front of the television to watch the election results, which included the victory of Barack Obama, they said their “I do’s.” Later, the brides took over a neighbor’s election party to celebrate their union.

Learning about Judge Schwarz’s childhood, one would think she was always on a path to working with children. Born in Cleveland, Ohio to a military family, Schwarz was the second of four daughters. Her two younger sisters were originally her cousins but were adopted into the family after her mother’s twin sister lost her life to domestic violence. In the eighth grade, Schwarz wrote that she wanted to be either a pediatrician, basketball player, or child psychologist.

When the Stanford graduate got to law school at Santa Clara University, she discovered her real calling through the process of elimination. “I took a property class and I thought, nope, that’s not for me. I took a contracts class and I thought, well, I’m not going be doing that. Then I took Children and the Law and I thought, oh my gosh, I could totally do this. This is what lights my fire; this is what I want to do.”

The instructor for the law class ran the Legal Advocates for Children and Youth (LACY) program, where Schwarz subsequently landed an internship and later a job upon graduation. She spent seven years as the directing attorney at LACY before applying to be a commissioner for the superior court in juvenile dependency in December 2001. The county superior court appoints a small number of commissioners, who have all the same responsibilities and authority of a judge except for the title.

After four years, the presiding judge of the dependency court, Len Edwards, encouraged her to apply for a judgeship, which she did. Subsequently, then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed her in May 2006. “My nephews always wanted to know, did I actually meet the Terminator?” she laughed. “I did not. He had his appointment secretary take care of that sort of thing.”

In Schwarz’s daily work as a juvenile dependency court judge, she interacts with LGBTQ+ youth in the foster care system. (In California, juveniles go through a dependency court separate from the adult court.) She has observed that sexual orientation isn’t the big deal it used to be; now, gender identity is front and center. “I’ve seen a real increase in the number of our transgender youth. Before every hearing, I will make sure to ask the lawyer which pronouns to use. The lawyers will let me know, and I will make a note so that I can be correct with the kid. If I make a mistake, I apologize.”

Schwarz has seen how fluid young people are these days. “They’re not going to be offended if I say to a boy, do you have a boyfriend? Or ask a girl if she has a girlfriend. I’ve seen a real increase in the number of our transgender youth. I don’t know if that’s because there are more of them or because they’re more comfortable identifying that way.”

Family rejection is one of the main factors leading to homelessness for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth, but in Santa Clara County, that isn’t the primary reason LGBTQ+ youth end up in foster care. Schwarz believes more often than not, parents lose custody due to substance abuse, mental illness, or domestic violence.

As far as Schwarz knows, once in a foster placement, queer youth rarely encounter a lack of acceptance. “To be fair, it’s entirely possible that some foster placements fail because of homophobia or transphobia. I may not know. I only know what’s in the court report in front of me.”

Schwarz feels immensely privileged to be able to work in dependency court, even though the system is often maligned. “We take kids away, we terminate parental rights, and that doesn’t make us very popular, but the people who work in this system, they really want to help families and kids. The attorneys who work here aren’t making a lot of money; they’re doing it because it’s a calling and they’re passionate about it.”

In Santa Clara County, providing foster homes for young people is especially challenging. Housing prices often keep local foster youth from remaining in stable placements with access to top-tier county services. “We don’t have enough foster homes or we have situations where we have relatives who would like to take the kids in, but they don’t have room in their houses.”

For those compelled to step up, Schwarz recommends working with Child Advocates of Silicon Valley, which is run by her queer colleague Fred Ferrer. “If you can’t be a foster parent, be a court-appointed special advocate. You’ve heard the expression: Not everybody can be a foster parent, but everybody can help a foster child. It is so true.”

Schwarz believes that some people who work in the field of juvenile dependency have a family situation that led them there. She confided that she has a relative with a mental health issue, and feels she has a deeper understanding of mental health issues from having soembody who’s been impacted by that. “When I’m in court talking to kids whose parents have mental health issues, I feel like I can connect with them and understand some of what they’ve been going through,” she said.

Schwarz feels fortunate to work in Santa Clara County. She does a lot of teaching throughout the state and often hears from other judges how awesome the court is here. She gives much credit to Judge Edwards, who was a leader in the field of dependency law. She also feels lucky to have worked with Judge Katherine Lucero, who recently was appointed by Governor Newsom to be Director of Youth and Community Restoration at the California Health and Human Services Agency.

At the end of talking about her work in the courtroom, Schwarz wanted to be sure to add that the Social Service Agency in Santa Clara County is one of the best in the state. “We have better services here than most other counties,” she said. “Although we are far from perfect, our Department is always striving to do a better job. But even with good services, it’s better for the kids long term if we can keep them at home or keep them with their relatives.”

Judge Randy Rice

Rice Hon. Randolf J. 83712

A reflection by Ann Ravel,

I first met Randy Rice when I was a sophomore at Willow Glen High School and he was a junior. We met because he was friends with my brother, Paul, who was in the same class as Randy.

Soon Randy was a staple at our house. My parents loved him, as did I, and he became a member of the family and was always there for bridge with my parents and brother, dinners, and parties.  Randy was a brilliant student, and also the warmest, most charming, thoughtful and considerate person I had ever met.  Throughout his life he was kind and humble, which made him a very well respected jurist.

When in high school, Randy served for two years on the school Judicial Council, and was elected as the Supreme Court Justice of the Judicial Council.  This foreshadowed his future. 

After high school, Randy graduated from UC Santa Cruz, and then attended the Episcopal Divinity School of the Pacific. He was ordained as a priest in 1973, served as a curate of the Calvary Church in Santa Cruz, was Vicar of Christ Church in San Francisco, Canon of Trinity Cathedral, San Jose, and Chancellor of the Diocese of El Camino Real.

Randy would go on to  graduate from UC Hastings College of the Law.  After graduating from law school, he became a partner at Pillsbury, Madison and Sutro in San Francisco, and was a founding partner at Genesis Law Group in 1996, which in 1998 merged with Skjerven Merrill Law firm.

In 1999 Governor Wilson appointed him as Judge of the Superior Court in Santa Clara County.  He had all the qualities needed in a judge: he was empathetic, fair, a judicious analyst of the law, and he believed that his calling was to serve the people of this County.

Randy was the first only “out” LGBTQ Judge in the County. When he was able to do so, he married his partner and husband Nikolaus Merrell. 

Unfortunately, Randy suffered a fall while trimming a tree at his home in 2004. The fall resulted in a severe head injury, which was really debilitating.  But true to Randy’s commitment to public service, he remained on the bench until January of 2008, when he retired on disability.  He and his husband moved to Costa Rica.  He died there in September, 2019, from complications from his fall. He is survived by sons, daughters, and grandchildren. 

Though he had a limited time on the bench, Randy was an outstanding Judge due to his compassion for people, his selflessness, and his legal acumen. Randy was an exceptional and unusual person, and unique in many ways on the bench in Santa Clara County.

Judge Jessica Delgado

Delgado 2022 profile

In the third of a series, read about Santa Clara County’s newest LGBTQ member of the bench, Judge Jessica Delgado.

One of six LGBTQ+ judges in Santa Clara County, Jessica Delgado draws from her experience of being on her own at a young age and her intersectional identity as a queer Latina to handle cases with a nuanced and empathetic perspective.

Outed in high school in central Texas in the mid-eighties and rendered homeless, Delgado said she came into her queerness the only way that existed back then: through bars and soccer teams. In 1991, she and her girlfriend at the time decided they wanted to move to a place where they could be safe and out. They chose Santa Cruz.

With the encouragement of teacher and mentor Sam Marian, Delgado eventually went to Berkeley to study law after completing her bachelor’s degree through Cabrillo College and UC Santa Cruz.
Although Delgado swore she would never be in criminal defense, she became a public defender in Monterey County. In 2001, she joined Santa Clara County, where she worked as a deputy public defender for twenty years.

Former Santa Clara County Public Defender and now State Appellate Court Justice Mary Greenwood had told her that it is always important to re-examine your career, so in 2019 she thought it was time to think about a new thing. “I was deeply invested in public service, so being a judge seemed like another way in which I could continue to serve the community,” Delgado said.

As fate would have it, it was Governor Gavin Newsom who appointed her a judge in April 2021. Though they have never met, Delgado and Newsom have a connection that made his appointment of her that much more meaningful. When Newsom was mayor of San Francisco, he defiantly allowed gay marriages on February 12, 2004. It happened to be a court holiday, so she and her partner, along with other lesbian couples, rushed around and drove up to San Francisco to get married.

“Newsom’s action had a tremendous impact on us personally,” she said, “because we felt a sense of hope that our family finally might be recognized.”

Delgado’s marriage, along with all the others, was ruled invalid by the California Supreme Court, but Newsom’s bold move had given her hope. She and Diana, a public defender, have remained domestic partners and have a 16-year-old son.

Delgado felt it was very rewarding to have Newsom evaluate her as a judicial candidate. “To be fully out from the very beginning of the application process all the way through the interview—I felt like a whole person in the process,” she said. “I felt like all of the parts of me and all of the work that I had done over the years was all valued in a way I don’t think any official process had ever felt before. It was special for me to have someone appoint me who had given my family dignity.”
In her work as an out Latina judge, Delgado witnesses the impact of representation on a daily basis. “Just my being up there and who I am means something to the people who are in front of me. I see it all of the time. I see it in the Latinx community when I pronounce someone’s name correctly.”

Despite the neutrality required of judges, joining the bench has been an extremely personal process for Delgado.

“It’s a sacred relationship you have with the public. You should really be asked challenging questions about who you are and who you will be in that position. It’s like an autopsy of the soul, while you’re still awake and alive.”
The experiences of her youth-built resilience and a strong work ethic, and at the same time, gave her high expectations for herself and everyone around her. Delgado has had to learn to manage those expectations when sentencing young people in her courtroom.

“I remember what it was like to be that age and be completely on your own, and there’s a way in which bringing that perspective and that empathy is very powerful from now sitting in this position of deciding what is your sentence going to be, what discretion might I exercise? How can I include this context?”
Delgado brings that same understanding when it comes to racial equity and LGBTQ issues in the system, but she wasn’t always out at work. During her first ten years as a public defender, she worried her identity might harm a client’s case.

Although it has been over a decade since then, the landscape is still far from ideal. “It’s still a very heteronormative criminal justice system and justice system at large.”
Delgado also said she sees students of color struggle with the same challenges she faced as a law student almost thirty years ago.

Delgado works to foster inclusivity by using her intersectional identity to bridge worlds. “I like to bring a little queerness to the table when I’m in the Latinx world. And I like to bring a little bit of a discussion of race and equity when I’m in the LGBTQ world. I try to remind both of those groups that trans women of color should be our priority. They are the most vulnerable in our community and I believe that to be true in Santa Clara County as well.”

In the courtroom, Delgado announces her pronouns and uses gender-neutral phrasing in standard scripts. Outside of court, she has a special focus on mentoring transgender applicants. Currently, there is only one trans judge on the bench in California, and Delgado wants that to change.

“I have my own work to do around being affirming to my trans brothers and sisters. We have to have the capacity to have empathy and compassion for people who are different to be a good ally.”