Susan Becker was born in Lafayette, Indiana in 1955 to parents who had both served in the military during World War II. Susan and her only sibling Donna, who is three years older, attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through their second years of college. Although she was not always comfortable with the religiosity woven throughout the curriculum, Susan remains grateful for the quality of education the schools’ provided, and their focus on creating community and helping others.
Susan began the process of coming out as a lesbian in the early 1970s, and her experiences as a part of the LGBTQ community helped shape her world view. It seemed profoundly unjust to her that people who were just trying to go about their daily lives – raise their children, get an education, hold a job, and be engaged and productive citizens -- could at every turn have doors slammed in their faces, and be condemned and rejected by leaders and members of faith and secular communities.
Susan pursued a degree in journalism at Eastern Kentucky University, a school close enough to her hometown to enable her to help care for mother, who had been battling a brain tumor for years. After graduating in 1977, she moved to Cleveland, Ohio to launch her career as a journalist. She worked as a reporter and photographer for the Chagrin Valley Times and the Solon Times, covering political and community events in a number of southeast Cleveland suburbs.
Susan decided to go to law school with the goal of obtaining a technical background for her writing, which could lead to a job with a legal publishing company. She applied to only one law school, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, and was accepted. She loved the intellectual rigor of legal analysis from the first day of law school, and became enamored with the power of law to remedy injustice.
Following graduation from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in 1983, Susan embarked on a two-year clerkship with Judge Robert B. Krupansky of the U.S. Circuit Court for the Sixth Circuit, and then worked for five years as a litigation associate at Jones Day. In 1990, Susan entered academia and spent 24 years as a law professor at her alma mater, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, retiring from that position in 2014. Over the years she taught civil procedure, remedies, pretrial practice, legal ethics and professionalism, contracts, externship supervision and customized placements, and sexual orientation, gender identity and the law.
Susan believes that educating future lawyers and mentoring new lawyers is an honor and a privilege. She received a number of awards recognizing her commitment to education, including Cleveland State University’s Women Who Make a Difference Award in 1999, the Shining Star for Education Award from the City of Cleveland and The LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland Center in 2009, and the Cleveland State University Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award in 2010. She was inducted into the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Hall of Fame in 2018.
Susan has long embraced Cleveland-Marshall’s motto “Learn Law, Live Justice.” Since first entering academia in 1990, she has maintained a modest pro bono practice, providing legal counsel to individuals and not-for-profit organizations. Her pro bono work and her academic scholarship focus primarily on attorney ethics and professionalism, and on the many forms of discrimination that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals commonly experience. She served as an expert witness in the Obergefell v. Hodges marriage equality case, extensively documenting the history of discrimination against LGBTQ Ohioans, declining to accept a fee for her work.
Susan has also “lived justice” through her long-time service as an ACLU of Ohio volunteer. For over 20 years, she has held many leadership positions, including board president (2009-2013) and general counsel (2015-present).
Susan was a founding member of the first Ohio ACLU LGBTQ Working Group at a time when many ACLU folks felt that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination were not ACLU issues. Susan helped to change hearts and minds within the ACLU and far beyond. Today, this important work is central to our organizational identity, mission and strategic plan.
Susan is integral in coordinating the ACLU of Ohio’s complex, high-profile and impactful litigation that safeguards civil liberties, advances civil rights, and promotes fundamental fairness for all Ohioans.
For instance, Ohio has no statewide law that protects LGBTQ persons from discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodations. Susan has been one of the chief volunteers, working in collaboration with Equality Ohio and the ACLU, to advance local protections at the city and county level. She has been an invaluable legal resource to many communities seeking to pass Fairness Ordinances, offering (without charge) assistance in the drafting, implementation, and interpretation of non-discrimination laws. As of 2019, in Ohio, 31 cities and 2 counties have passed inclusive, comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinances. Susan has played a key role in supporting many of these efforts, including serving as co-counsel in a federal case in which we successfully defended South Euclid against allegations that the protections of LGBTQ persons in its non-discrimination ordinance infringed on the religious rights of a Catholic school located in that city.
Susan also currently serves as vice chair of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association (CMBA) Certified Grievance Committee, an entity which investigates allegations of ethical misconduct by lawyers, and as the Public Interest Leader in Residence at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Her Leader in Residence role includes helping law students develop the skills necessary to recognize and to address important public policy, legal, and social challenges in the communities in which they live and beyond.
Susan was recognized as a Most Treasured Volunteer by the Center for Community Solutions for her years of service to the ACLU of Ohio on October 25, 2019.
Susan resides in the Cleveland area with her partner Susan, a retired educator and sports psychologist and long-time Hospice volunteer.
Watch Susan's oral history interview.