Equality and justice for all: Judge John Arrowood is a North Carolina trailblazer.


Byline: Bill Cresenzo

North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge John Arrowood was first appointed to the bench in 2007. He lost subsequent races but was re-appointed in 2017, and in November he was elected to a full term on the bench, becoming the first openly LGBTQ person in North Carolina's history voted to statewide office.

Arrowood recently sat down with Lawyers Weekly reporter Bill Cresenzo in his chambers to discuss his experiences being an openly gay attorney and appellate judge. The following is a transcript of that conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity.

What is it like being a pioneer in North Carolina?

There hasn't been another openly LGBTQ person win a statewide election in North Carolina or in the south. I am happy that it will allow young lawyers to feel confident that they can bring their entire self to their work without worrying that it will inhibit their ability to pursue the dreams that they might have in the public sector.

How has the legal profession evolved since you began practicing?

In the 1980s I didn't know any gay lawyers practicing. When I came out to my firm in 1995, I didn't know of any other gay equity partner in any major firm in the city of Charlotte at that time. At the time, [many] gay lawyers were practicing in the areas that were related to the gay community. I never practiced in that area.

In the major cities in particular there are opportunities for LGBTQ lawyers to practice in whatever setting they want. And in fact many firms are seeking diversity. It is much easier now for LGBTQ lawyers to be accepted in practices, especially in the urban areas. I haven't practiced as an openly gay person in rural areas, so I don't know what that's like.

Did you face discrimination when you came out to your colleagues?

I don't believe so. I was in a firm known as being liberal at the time, and the comment from one of the partners was, "This is different, but we will deal with it."

What led you to come out?

In 1994, I had sought a seat on the Court of Appeals because there was a vacancy. I was one of three finalists that Gov. [Jim] Hunt interviewed, including Sydnor Thompson. When Gov. Hunt told me he wasn't going to appoint me, it was something like, "You are young, and this is the Sydnor's last shot." By that time, I had started to be active in the gay community and active in the fight against AIDS, but I was not "out-out." I worried that someone would out me. I wanted to make that decision myself. I made...

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