Breaking barriers: Debbie Dudis, first out trans prosecutor in Brooklyn shares her journey

July 6, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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In a poignant and powerful celebration of LGBTQ Pride Month, the Kings County District Attorney’s Office held an event on June 27th at the Hana House in Downtown Brooklyn. The event featured a colorful drag show by Inita D, recognition of the Stonewall Gives Initiative, and a stirring keynote address by Senior ADA Debbie Dudis, the first out trans prosecutor in Brooklyn.

Debbie Dudis, in her eloquent and heartfelt speech, shared her personal journey of struggle, acceptance, and triumph as a trans woman in the legal profession, moving many attendees to both tears and applause.

Senior ADA Debbie Dudis, a beacon of courage and change, shares her inspiring journey as the first out trans prosecutor in Brooklyn.

“I am totally blown away by the last year and what this office has become to me. Stuff I have achieved I wouldn’t have dreamed of 10 years ago,” began Dudis, illustrating the profound transformation she has experienced. “In the last month, I marched behind the DA in the Pride march in Brooklyn, on the office’s website I am a featured employee, right now I’m speaking to a bunch of people in one of the biggest DA’s office in the United States.”

The event featured a drag show by Inita D, the Miss Stonewall 2023 runner-up.

Dudis’ path to her current role, however, has been far from smooth. She opened up about her early experiences as a trans woman, sharing painful memories of feeling like an outsider, being misunderstood, and the fear and trepidation she faced in her professional and personal life.

“Back in the 60s when I was Frank, people like me were considered freaks,” Dudis recalled. “When my mother when she first heard what I was doing, her response was not why? Not understanding. Nothing like that. It was how could you do this to me. I was in sixth grade and that’s the love I got. So I knew to shut up and bury it.”

She described the loneliness and isolation she felt, her struggle to find acceptance even within the LGBTQ community, and the immense pressure she faced to conform to societal norms. She also shared the horrifying story of a friend who was stabbed to death, with police showing little concern for the crime.

Dudis’ professional life also presented significant hurdles, with concerns about acceptance and inclusivity playing heavily on her mind. “One of the biggest trepidations I had was work. Things have changed, but not that long ago, yes Stonewall happened, but trans people were not really accepted even in the gay community where we were kind of the ugly sisters of the family.”

From left: Max Fidler, Joe Alexis, Robert Gaines, and Adela Cojab.

Despite the challenges, Dudis decided to live her truth. “One of the things I decided a couple of years ago was, ‘Ok, you’re living your life to make other people happy, you’re doing things because that’s what they expect of you, and if they knew what you really are, what would they think of you? Some people will accept you, some will totally reject you, they’ll want nothing to do with you, you sicken them. Do you want to risk that?’ At that point in my life, yes, I did.”

Her coming-out journey at work was full of uncertainty and anxiety, but the incredible show of support from her colleagues left her deeply moved. She shared, “When I got to the office, on my door was a sign that someone had put there, ‘Welcome Debbie, from your dysfunctional family in the investigations division.’ I looked at it, went into my office, closed the door and cried. I was totally floored by the reception I got.”

This event underlines the office’s commitment to equality and inclusivity, with District Attorney Eric Gonzalez stating, “I want to thank you all for making our office a truly inclusive and welcoming place for our community. As part of my mission as DA, part of the effort in keeping the community safe includes promoting community trust in our office and these events are critical to making sure that everyone feels like they’ll be treated with respect, their lives matter, and if they work here they will be treated fairly.”

District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.
The event featured a drag show by Inita D, the Miss Stonewall 2023 runner-up.

Tragically, Dudis also recounted a harrowing incident that took place a day after her successful coming out at work when she was attacked by a drunken fireman in a restaurant. But even in that horrifying experience, she found a ray of hope when bystanders intervened to protect her.

“24 hours later, I was faced down in a restaurant with a fireman at my back, cursing at me, trying to kill me,” she shared. “As shitty as that story was, when this guy was on my back in the restaurant, he was immediately ripped off of my back. I didn’t know because I had a concussion, but it turned out that the customers pulled him off of my back.”

The Pride Month celebration not only honored individuals like Dudis but also underscored the office’s commitment to ensuring a legal system that recognizes dignity, humanity, and equality as cornerstones of justice.

From left: Emmanuel DeJesus, Michael Zebrowski, Inita D, Eric Gonzalez, and Jill Harris.

The event was attended by numerous dignitaries and officials, including Samantha Perlstein, Emmanuel DeJesus, Jill Harris, and Stephanie R. Gayle, a board member for the Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative.

The celebration left an indelible mark on all attendees, with ADA Michael Zebrowski reminding everyone that, “Pride is a time to reflect on the ongoing struggles of the community and to honor the organizations and individuals who continue to fight for our equality.”


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