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Details | State of Illinois Office of the Illinois Courts

Celebrating Pride Month with Judge Roberts

6/24/2024

This June, we’re celebrating Pride Month by recognizing diverse voices in the judiciary. The following features Cook County Circuit Judge Mary Colleen Roberts and her reflections on her career, diversity on the bench, and more.

What motivated you to pursue law, and eventually become a judge?

Financial independence. I saw a law career as a path where I could live my life as the person I was without the need to be in a traditional heterosexual relationship for financial security. In 1983, when I accepted the fact that I am a Lesbian I believed that I was in a world which didn’t allow two women to be married. (However, I found I was wrong and have been happily non married/ married with children for 33 years.)

I recognized I would have to be self-reliant for financial security for the rest of my life. I also wanted a career that would keep me intellectual stimulated. The law is ever changing and because of that I felt it would satisfy my intellectual curiosity.

As to becoming a judge, during my years practicing law I came to believe I had developed a significant amount of skills that would serve me well on the Bench. I believed I had something to offer. Also, at the time, there were too few people who identified as LGBTQ on the Bench. I thought it was important for members of the LGBTQ community to see someone like them on the Bench. Since coming out I have not hidden the fact that I am a Lesbian. Living my life honestly and working with my colleagues on the bench has been my way of helping to dispense with implicit biases others may have of LGBTQ people.

When you reflect on your career, what accomplishments stand out to you?

Founding the Alliance of Illinois Judges in 2009 with other LGBTQ judges. We formed the statewide organization as an alliance with the goal of bringing all judges together regardless of if they were of the LGBTQ community. This year we will celebrate 15 years of reaching out and strengthening our alliances throughout the Illinois Judiciary.

What challenges did you face throughout your career, and how did you overcome them?

When a colleague expressed some very concerning homophobic views to me I was able to talk with my Chief Judge about the incident. He was responsive and put in place an action plan to address the offending judge’s remarks. It was a troubling time but I found support from my colleagues on the Bench, both straight and gay.

Why is diversity important on the bench?

Diversity brings honesty to the Bench.

How do you celebrate pride and what does it mean to you?

I love Pride Month. If I can go to the Parade I do, and I if I can walk in the Parade I do. Once I was in Rome with my wife and kids and we walked in the Rome Pride Parade for a bit. It was exhilarating and fun.

What are your thoughts on equality for the LGBTQ+ community and LGBTQ+ issues in the law?

I am troubled by the negative hate filled political discourse targeting members of the LGBTQ community. It is becoming more and more pervasive in the United States. To me that is frightening.

Throughout your life, what role models have you looked up to and what have you learned from them?

Judge Sebastian Patti (Ret) has been a role model and mentor to me since 1996. He was the first LGBTQ person elected to the Circuit Court of Cook County. That happened in 1996. Up until his election, no out gay or lesbian person had ever been elected to the Bench in Illinois. l worked as his Hearing Officer in Juvenile Court. He was kind and encouraged me to explore my interest in becoming a judge. What I learned from Judge Patti is how to be patient with the process. In that I mean he was very deliberative in resolving all the aspects of the cases before him, giving time for all sides of an issue to reveal itself. In doing so, the people may not have liked his decisions but they did leave knowing they were heard.