Profiles in Scholarship

Suzanne B. Goldberg

Liberty and Justice

Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg has a long history of facing up to discrimination and driving for change

By Joy Y. Wang

Summer 2011

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As a 9-year-old, Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg desperately wanted to play Little League baseball in her hometown of White Plains, N.Y. Teams in the area only accepted boys at the time, but that didn’t stop the intrepid fourth grader from signing up. “I didn’t have to litigate, which a lot of girls did in the 1970s,” says Goldberg, who became the first girl to play on a White Plains Little League team, “but it was a formative experience and fostered independence.” She also adds with a wide grin that “being a decent baseball player” probably helped her secure a spot on the team.

In the years since playing center field in Westchester, Goldberg has crafted a career as one of the country’s leading experts in gender and sexuality law. The LeGaL Foundation, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender law organization in greater New York, recently honored her with a Community Vision award in recognition of her service to the LGBT community. “I am interested in barriers to equality based on many aspects of identity, including the barriers that prevent sexual orientation from being treated as a benign variation among people,” says Goldberg. She joined the faculty in 2006 and currently serves as a director of the Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law and as head of its Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic.

Goldberg’s office in Jerome Greene Hall is less than 30 miles from her childhood home, but the path that led her to Morningside Heights has taken her around the world. After graduating with honors from Brown University, she was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to study at the National University of Singapore. While abroad, Goldberg authored a major paper on how Singapore’s affirmative action policy—which sought to integrate more women into the workforce—conflicted with the government’s failure to provide childcare options. She also rowed for the university’s dragon boat team and, on a lark, learned to throw the javelin, winning a silver medal in a regional competition.

After returning to the United States, Goldberg earned her law degree with honors at Harvard and clerked for Justice Marie Garibaldi ’59 at the New Jersey Supreme Court. She spent the next decade as a senior attorney with Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. “I always wanted to use law as a means for achieving social justice,” Goldberg says.

During her time at Lambda, Goldberg served as co-counsel on two landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases: Romer v. Evans, which invalidated a Colorado constitutional amendment that blocked LGBT individuals from receiving anti-discrimination protection, and Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down that state’s anti-sodomy law. Soon after, Goldberg chose to turn to academia. “After 10 years of full-time practice, I wanted an opportunity to step back and reflect more deeply and critically on a broader set of issues,” she says.

As part of the Law School faculty, Goldberg has honed her skills as an instructor, and she earned the Willis L.M. Reese Prize for Excellence in Teaching in 2009. “That meant a lot to me,” she recalls. “I really love engaging with students about their ideas and giving them a chance to get their sea legs as lawyers-to-be.”

In between teaching classes and leading the Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic, Goldberg has amassed an impressive body of work addressing inequities in the law. Earlier this year, The Yale Law Journal published her article “Discrimination by Comparison.”

“My aim is to find new ways to challenge and undermine discrimination,” says Goldberg, who often writes late into the night, after her two children are asleep. “One other aim—perhaps even harder to achieve—is to find more than 24 hours in the day to write about it all.”

Illustration by Stephen Gardner

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