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First openly gay judge on Florida State Court is reading 'The Messenger' and 'The Red and the Black'

Robert W. Lee
Published Jun. 6

Lee, of the Broward County Florida Circuit Court, was the first openly gay person appointed to the Florida State Court bench in 1997. The 58-year-old grew up in Jacksonville and received his law degree from the University of Florida. He has lived in Fort Lauderdale since 1985. Along with a number of awards for his work in law, including the Chief Justice Award for Judicial Excellence, in 2017 Lee received the Volunteer of the Year Award from the Stonewall National Museum and Archives, the largest LGBT circulating library in the United States. In 2000, as chairman of the Broward County Canvassing Board, Lee presided over the historic 2000 presidential election recount in Broward County. On June 12, he will share his view of LGBTQ legal history in Florida at the Gulfport Public Library. The program, "Welcome to Florida: LGBT Attorneys Need Not Apply," will begin at 7 p.m. For information, visit mygulfport.us/lgbtq-resources.

What's on your nightstand?

One I am reading is The Messenger, a book written in the 1960s by Charles Wright. It deals with racism. James Baldwin talked about him, actually. I thought it would be interesting. I also have a two-volume set that is a history of the U.S. It is written for a British audience. It is interesting to get a different perspective of how the world perceives us. And then I have The Red and the Black by Stendhal. I usually don't like to read novels. I'm more academic.

Were there books that provided support as you made your way as an openly gay lawyer and judge?

The truth is, I continue to read. But one writer I think of is Dermot Meagher. He was a gay judge in Massachusetts. He is retired, but he wrote a book about his experiences. I remember thinking how different Massachusetts is from Florida.

You mentioned James Baldwin, a civil rights activist. Who else would you recommend when it comes to civil rights?

Actually, I knew who James Baldwin was, but I don't think I read anything by him until I started volunteering at the Stonewall. We were working on a project on the Harlem Renaissance and the LGBT undertones of that. Giovanni's Room was the first thing I read. I would recommend a book by someone who used to work down here at the Sun-Sentinel, Carlos Harrison's The Ghosts of Hero Street. It is about a community (in Illinois) that sent the largest percentage of Mexican-Americans into World War II and Korea and how they were treated.

All these years later, who do you think covered the 2000 election best?

I think I received every book that was written about it, but I believe it was Jake Tapper's book (Down and Dirty). It was the most accurate by far of what happened. Jake's was a realistic depiction.

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