When Alameda County Superior Court Judge Victoria Kolakowski first told her mother that she was transgender – at a time when the term was far less stated nor understood – she pleaded, “Don’t tell Dad.”
Mom promptly told Dad, and the concerned parents responded by rushing their child to the emergency room of a hospital in an apparent search for a cure.
This was one of several difficult stories that Kolakowski — the first openly transgender person to serve as a trial judge in California — told with inspiration and often with humor on Tuesday at the Chevron Richmond Refinery, which held its annual PRIDE Network celebration in conjunction with June Pride Month.
The Refinery’s employee-led PRIDE Network, which works to inform and ensure an all-inclusive workplace, held a luau-themed luncheon for hundreds of employees in the Refinery cafeteria.
The entertaining Kolakowski recalled her past struggles as an openly transgender professional and offered context to a very current controversy: restroom policies involving transgender people.
As a law school student, when Kolakowski dared to wear a dress to class, her fellow students reacted by stopping to speak with her. The school’s administration, however, had words.
“They were very concerned because they didn’t want me using the men’s room, and they didn’t want me using the lady’s room,” Kolakowski said. “They gave me the key to the Chancellor’s bathroom.”
Having access to just a single bathroom on the entire campus was rather inconvenient, she said.
But while it seemed Kolakowski’s decision to be her true self in public had negative effects, a special thing happened. She ended up having her best semester grade-wise in law school.
“I was being honest about who I was,” Kolakowski said. “And because of that I could focus my energy on the important stuff. The stuff I was trying to do, my work. When we spend time trying to hide who we are, that takes away energy from the other things in our lives.”
Kolakowski’s career continued to be a mixture of struggle and success due to her identity. She said it wasn’t easy getting a job. But her message about being true to herself so that she could focus on her goals resonates, particularly now that she’s worked her way up to the position of judge.
Chevron Refinery employees listened intently to Kolakowski’s talk. Michael Driver (pictured above), who runs Chevron’s PRIDE (Promote Respect, Inclusion & Dignity) employee network, says efforts to unite employees and forward information and resources about LGBT issues continues to promote a positive workplace for everyone.
“Since 2004, Chevron has won 100-percent on a survey as best places to work for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender employees,” Driver said. “That’s a credit to the PRIDE Network for working on a corporate level to make sure Chevron is a great place for everyone to work.”