From the NFL to becoming the first openly gay California Supreme Court Justice

Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — From the classroom to the locker room and now, the court room.

California Supreme Court Justice Martin Jenkins has risen to greatness as the first openly gay justice on that bench.

Jenkins grew up in San Francisco’s Ingleside neighborhood, attending St. Michael’s Catholic School.

As the son of two parents who grew up in the Jim Crow south, he said he was raised to be a proud Black man. And it wasn’t until later on that he realized he’s gay.

“It certainly became evident to me in my high school years that I had attractions to the same sex,” Jenkins said.

Justice Jenkins’ path to the high court was an unconventional one, with several different stops along the way.

“I wanted to be a Muni bus driver. I just thought that was such a cool job,” he said.

There was no bus stop on his route, but there was a stop on the field.

After graduating high school, Justice Jenkins enrolled at Santa Clara University and was team captain of the football team there. His plan at that time was to graduate and become a high school teacher and a football coach – but things didn’t quite go as he planned.

“The head coach at Santa Clara University, the head coach and athletic director was a gentleman by the name of Pat Mally. And he said, I don’t think you should do that. I think you should go to law school. You have good grades, you’re team captain, you’re a leader amongst the players on this team, and I think you could make more of a contribution to your neighborhood.”

“You’re a leader amongst the players on this team, and I think you could make more of a contribution to your neighborhood.”

SCU head coach pat mally tells jenkins

After graduating in 1977, Jenkins applied to several different law schools, but as luck would have it, his career path took a short, but entirely unexpected detour — as a free agent with the Seattle Seahawks.

He only played as a defensive back for the Seahawks for a couple of preseason games before realizing being a free agent wouldn’t provide the security that a career in law would.

He took his first step off the football field and into the legal field and enrolled in USF School of Law. And he thrived there.

Jenkins graduated in 1980, receiving an award for exceptional distinction in scholarship, character and activities – catapulting himself onto an impressive path in law.

In 1989, former California Governor George Deukmejian appointed him to the judge’s bench at the Oakland Municipal Court.

From there, Jenkins continued up the judicial ranks to the Alameda County Superior Court, the California Court of Appeals, the United States District Court and finally the highest court in the state.

He is the first openly gay justice on the State Supreme Court bench… but it wasn’t until his early 60s that he came out as gay – meaning he lived most of his adult life suppressing his sexual identity.

Now at 67, the justice is living his best life with his partner, Los Angeles realtor Sydney Shand. But while his homosexuality wasn’t a public focal point, it has been the fuel for his success.

“Anyone who knows me knows my identity has been as a gay man, perhaps the greatest challenge of my life. And it has not been easy. I am not here in spite of the struggle, I’m here because of the struggle.”

Justice Martin Jenkins

When Justice Jenkins isn’t reviewing cases, he’s taking on a new challenge in music.


“We’ve talked about how I’ve done a lot of things, and mastered quite a bit – well I will not master jazz piano in this lifetime,” he said. Jenkins has been playing for three years now.

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