Sherry Pethers



1) Birthdate:


2) Birthplace:

Bardstown, Kentucky

3) Date you first mark as getting together with your partner Clair Jean Carty:

August 1, 1995

4) City/state where you live currently:

Chicago, Illinois. We also have a log cabin in Laona, Wisconsin, which we had built. Having a place "up north" is a dream come true, and it's made all the sweeter because soon after we closed on the deal another lesbian couple (from Milwaukee) bought the land across the creek from us. So, we have officially "invaded" the nearby small town. How times have changed.

5) Education:

Anderson College, Indiana (BA)
Indiana University (MA)
IIT/Chicago-Kent (JD law degree )

6) Careers:

Judge, Circuit Court of Cook County. I was a newspaper reporter for many years before going to law school; worked as a journalist for several small papers, including the Anderson Herald (Indiana) and the Ottawa Daily Times (Illiinois).

After law school, I did a clerkship with the Hon. Benjamin K. Miller, who was then chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court (1991-1992).

Later I practiced law with the Chicago firm of Swanson, Martin & Bell, where I was a partner before being elected to the bench in 2004.

7) Did you serve in the U.S. military?


8) How do you describe your sexuality and your gender?

Lesbian, largely of the ol' "butch/femme" variety; the terms are too general, politically incorrect, and don't always apply, but Clair and I have no objections to their use to describe us.

9) Do you have children and/or grandchildren?


10) If you are GLBT, please describe when you first “knew”:

Too hard to describe. In hindsight, I probably knew when I was 12; in real time, I didn't let myself "know" until I was about 26, after I'd been in rather long-term sexual relationships with two different women.

11) Who did you first “come out” to and when?

I officially first "came out" to my parents when I was about 27. This was after I decided not to kill myself first. As I was telling them, my Dad got up out of his chair and came over to me. I actually "ducked" (hid my head), because I thought he was going to hit me or something. He saw that frightened look on my face and started to cry. We both did. In fact, he was coming over to hug me.

12) Did you have mentors in the Chicago GLBT community?

They weren't really mentors ( they didn't even know me), but Gail Morse, Nancy Katz, and John Ehrlich were role models. They demonstrated that it was very possible to be openly lesbian or gay and survive (and even prosper) in the legal community.

13) Involvement in organizations (GLBT and/or mainstream):

Gerber/Hart Library & Archives: Builders Society, and director of academic and educational programming, 2005-2007.

Donor to too many LGBT, environmental, legal, poverty, and political organizations to list. Although Clair and I have both worked in political campaigns, as well as doing extensive pro bono and volunteer work, we have primarily been "checkbook activists” for some time now. It does take all kinds.

14) What were the key issues faced in the GLBT community when you first came out?

How to live (literally) "out," as in how to keep your friends, your family, your faith, your job.

15) What issues do you see as key in the GLBT community today?

Marriage/civil unions ( i.e., equal rights).

16) How would you describe the “diversity” within the Chicago GLBT community?

Today, for me, it's almost all about class differences – economics (money or the lack thereof) and education (or the lack thereof). Yes, race, gender, and sexual orientation matter, but in our capitalistic system, class rules. Having money and education in this society can cure a lot of ills; being without either means a bitter world of trouble.

Personally, I've seen a bit of both sides: I grew up fairly poor; no one in my family (immediate or extended) had ever attended college, let alone entered a profession. In the end, I became a partner in a major Chicago law firm. Sometimes, even now, I feel as if I'm an imposter when I attend "high end" functions with my colleagues. The same thing happens, but in a kind of reverse, when family members back home wonder if I've become "stuck up."

For better or worse, many of the "movers and shakers" in the LGBT community are of the monied and educated variety.

17) If you consider yourself a “political” activist, how do you define this?

I'm a judge, which means I've essentially taken a vow not to be a "political activist." That's changing somewhat, with the U.S. Supreme Court (believe it or not) ruling that we didn't sign away all of our First Amendment rights when we took the bench. Still, it's a trade-off, and overt issue crusades and partisanship, in particular, are out of the question.

18) Describe what you feel your personal legacy is to the Chicago GLBT community.

I'm not sure I have any "personal legacy," but I'm humbled by the opportunity to be even a small part of our collective legacy. We're here, and some of us are actually in charge.

19) This project is also about “defining moments.” Please discuss some of those in your life.

I've had several, any one of which would take too long to describe, even summarily. (Hey, they were life-changing events.) One, perhaps the most powerful, had nothing to do with my sexuality. It involved a canoeing trip with my Dad and brother when I was 17. For various reasons, it started out as a fly-in fishing trip in the Canadian wilderness, but then turned first into an adventure and then into an all-out struggle for survival. I learned quite a bit about what's important in life, and what's not. And I learned that lessons learned the hard way usually stick with you.

20) Additional comments and memories.

It was very moving to pass by the newly opened Center on Halsted while riding with the other lesbian and gay judges in the 2007 Pride Parade. The Center is, literally, a concrete example of how much we have to be proud of, what we have accomplished, and where we're going in the future.

I think something vital is missing, however. The Gerber/Hart Library & Archives should be a part of the Center, and I believe everyone knows it (whether or not they admit it). I'm told there are many reasons this did not happen. And it seems clear that the folks running the Center don't want the library there, and, for their part, the folks running the library don't want to be there, either.

For all that the Center represents, it is an undeniable fact that we do not exist without our history. Without what came before, there would be no Center. Gerber/Hart documents our progress and the personal sacrifices that were made to achieve it. Our community should take a good look at what it means that the library is in a run-down building on Granville. To me, it means that "turf wars" and egos have carried the day. The Center is supposed to be a source of pride, but it is shameful that the library and archives isn't there.

Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community, the book is edited by Tracy Baim and features the contributions of more than 20 prominent historians and journalists. It is published by Surrey Books, an Agate imprint, and is hard cover, 224 pages, 4-color, with nearly 400 photos.
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