BREAKING: Senate confirms first openly gay man as federal district judge in Texas

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U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Robert Pitman to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, making him the first openly gay federal district court judge in Texas, according to reports by LGBTQNation.com.

The Western District court had been vacant for six years. The vote to confirm Pitman came late Tuesday evening, Dec. 16.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who has never been a friend of the LGBT community, is getting credit for Pitman being confirmed — but not because Cruz suddenly had a change of heart on LGBT issues.

In an effort to force a vote on what he called President Obama’s “illegal executive amnesty” for immigrants, Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, on Friday, Dec. 12,  scuttled a bipartisan agreement that would have prevented weekend votes in the Senate. The ban on weekend votes would have meant the Senate would have run out of time before being able to vote on confirming more than a dozen of the president’s judicial and executive nominees, including Pitman, who likely would not have been confirmed if they had been forced to wait until next year when the GOP will control the Senate.

But when Cruz and Lee sidelined the agreement, that opened the door for current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to call the Senate back into session on Saturday and get those votes through.

Pitman, a former magistrate judge in Austin, had led the San Antonio-based federal prosecuting office since 2011 when he became the first openly gay U.S. attorney in Texas. He had also served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the same district from 1990 to 2003.

—  Tammye Nash

Please: No more ‘us vs. them’

justiceLast night (Monday, Nov. 24), officials announced that the grand jury had decided not to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson on any criminal charges in connection with the August shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. As expected, protests, riots and looting exploded in the streets of Ferguson and elsewhere in response.

And of course, the Internet exploded, too. Journalists on location in Ferguson and at the sites of other protests were Tweeting minute-by-minute updates. News outlets were posting articles examining the issue from every angle and op-ed pieces from all sides. And on social media sites like Facebook everybody with access to the Internet was posting their own personal opinions. Television news was also swamped with stories.

And with every word I heard or read, I felt myself growing a little more sick to my stomach. I am sick to think that another young man has died needlessly. I am sick to think a police officer will carry the weight of that death for the rest of his life. I am sick to think that some people think stealing from the Family Dollar Store or setting a car sales lot on fire is an appropriate or helpful way to respond to injustice. I am sick to think that others believe the protestors are all a bunch of thugs who need to just get over themselves.

And I am sick to death of the whole idea of “us vs. them” and all the hyperbole and name-calling.

Not every police officer is a jack-booted, power-hungry racist Nazi in disguise, just waiting for a chance to hurt or kill somebody they don’t like. But neither is every cop one of the good guys. There are very good cops, and there are very bad cops.

And not every person — regardless of gender or color — who ends up hurt or killed in a confrontation with police was some sweet saint just minding their own business and unfairly targeted by the brutish cops. But neither were all of them “thugs” who “deserved what they got.”

And you know what else I am tired of hearing? I’m tired of hearing that the protesters and rioters and looters — and those are very distinct groups, because not all of the protesters are violent and none of those taking advantage of the unrest to loot are protesters — are “hurting their own cause.” What is “their own cause”? Civil rights? Equality? Justice? Well you know what, none of those things are “their cause.” Those things should ALL be OUR cause. We should ALL be dedicated to making sure that every person is treated equally and that justice prevails (justice, not necessarily the law, since we all know of some unjust laws) in every situation.

Justice should be the end goal for everyone. But I don’t believe we will ever reach that goal as long as we continue in our “us vs. them” mentality: Blacks vs. Whites. Cops vs. Thugs. Rich vs. Poor. Native vs. Alien. Gay vs. Straight.

In the LGBT community, every October we celebrate National Coming Out Day, because we know that even though “society” may hate us as a group — the faceless “them” — it is much harder for an individual to hate another individual once they get to know each other. We know that people who know an openly gay person — as  a relative, a friend, a coworker, etc. — are less likely to oppose equality for LGBT people as a whole.

The same principle holds true in every facet of life and society, I think: It is harder to hate a group of people for being different from you when you actually know someone in that group.

In other words, we have to start looking at people as individuals, not as part of some larger group. Michael Brown not just a black teenager. Darren Wilson is not just a white cop.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we don’t have racial problems in America. We most certainly do. “Walking while black,” “driving while brown” — that most definitely happens. Yes, there are bad cops. We cannot ignore that. But neither can we find a way to fix the problems, to reach our goal of justice unless we put aside the “us vs. them” way of doing things and start to see each other as individuals and each situation as unique.

They say that Justice is blind. Maybe it is. But if we truly expect to find Justice, then we have to start looking with our own eyes wide open, seeing all sides and not just our own.

—  Tammye Nash

Was Ty Herndon really brave? I say yes

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Ty Herndon and Chely Wright

So, Ty Herndon came out as a gay man this week. Some folks quickly applauded him for being so brave. Others said ya know, maybe he wasn’t so brave after all. I mean, he was already a star. He already had his hit songs. And there are already any number of other performers — singers, actors, etc. — who have come out. We already know you aren’t automatically killing your career by coming out.

Except that Ty Herndon is a country-western singer. That’s a little different. Sure, Chely Wright came out a few years ago, you might point out, and she’s a country-western singer. True. But how often have you seen her name at the top of the charts since she came out?

(C&W singer Billy Gilman came out Thursday, too, a few hours after Herndon, citing Herndon as his inspiration.)

I like country-western music. I always liked Chely Wright’s music, and I always liked Ty Herndon’s music. I hope that both of them see a resurgence in their careers soon, with LGBTs buying their music in a show of support if nothing else and with non-LGBT fans of C&W buying their music because it is just good music and the sexual orientation of the singers doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.

I’m LGBT and I am a C&W music fan. So I am gonna buy Ty Herndon’s new album for both reasons – to show support and because I like his new song, “Lies I Told Myself.” I like the video, below, too.

So here’s to you, Ty Herndon. You may not have been the first performer to come out, or even the first professional C&W singer. But I still think it took some courage. It always does, no matter who you are. I can’t say there won’t be some folks who condemn you for being gay, including some in our own tribe who might say you’re just looking for publicity. But count me among those who applaud you for being honest, who applaud you as a good entertainer, and who welcome you into the light.

(And by the way Chely Wright, if you’re listening, I’ll buy your new music, too.)

—  Tammye Nash

Welcome to the family Ty

In honor of Ty Herndon having come out, let me share this video of one of my favorites of his songs. We should all be living in the moment.

—  Tammye Nash

Country singer Ty Herndon comes out as gay

Country singer Ty Herndon came out as gay in an exclusive interview with Entertainment Tonight.

Watch a segment of the video below.

—  James Russell

Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth top Texas cities in HRC Municipal Equality Index

MEI-2014-map-650x375The Human Rights Campaign released its third annual Municipal Equality Index today (Wednesday, Nov. 12) assessing LGBT equality in 353 cities across the nation, including 22 in Texas, according to a press release from HRC.

The MEI, the only nationwide rating system of LGBT inclusion in municipal law and policy, assesses cities on a one to 100 scale.

The average score for the 22 Texas cities is 28 out of 100 points, far below the national average of 59. Only Austin achieved a perfect 100 score. Dallas came in second with 91 points and Fort Worth third with 83 points.

San Antonio, El Paso and Houston earned scores of 72, 52 and 54 respectively, the only other cities to score more than 50 points.

Other surveyed Texas cities included Amarillo: 14,  Brownsville: 20, Corpus Christi: 16, Killeen: 10, Laredo: 2, Lubbock: 0, McAllen: 0, Pasadena: 10, Waco: 24.

The MEI rates cities based on 47 criteria falling under six broad categories: Non-discrimination laws, relationship recognition, employment policies, including transgender-inclusive insurance coverage, contracting non-discrimination requirements, and other policies relating to equal treatment of LGBT city employees, inclusiveness of city services, fair law enforcement practices and leadership on matters of equality.

Check out the full list here and this week’s edition of the Voice for comments from local leaders.

—  James Russell

Dallas Police ask for help in identifying suspect in Oak Lawn burglary

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Suspect in Oak Lawn-area burglary

 

Dallas Police have asked for the public’s help in identifying a suspect that may have been involved in a Nov. 1 burglary in the 4000 block of Bowser Ave., in Oak Lawn.

The suspect is a black male, about 20 years old, 5-11, 180 pounds. Police said he was seen at the location of the residential burglary on Bowser and was then seen fleeing the scene in a green, 1997-99 Buick LeSabre with damage to the front end and driver’s side. Within 45 minutes of the burglary, the suspect used a credit card stolen in the Oak Lawn-area burglary at a store in the 9700 block of Webb Chapel.

The video below shows the suspect using the stolen credit card.

Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Philip Strodtman at 214-670-6047.

—  Tammye Nash

God hates LGBT people so God made Ebola

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Leroy Ponpon is an outspoken LGBT advocate in Liberia.

As if life weren’t already a living hell for Liberia’s LGBT population, Reuters reports that LGBT people are being blamed for the country’s Ebola outbreak that has killed around 5,000 people so far.

LGBT advocate Leroy Ponpon said “gays have been harassed, physically attacked and a few have had their cars smashed by people blaming them for the haemorrhagic fever, after religious leaders in Liberia said Ebola was a punishment from God for homosexuality.

Since church ministers declared Ebola was a plague sent by God to punish sodomy in Liberia, the violence towards gays has escalated. They’re even asking for the death penalty. We’re living in fear,” Ponpon said.

Liberia wasn’t exactly viewed as a sanctuary for LGBT people. ”Voluntary sodomy” is a first-degree misdemeanor with a penalty of up to one year in jail, according to the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).

But Francois Patuel, Amnesty International’s representative in West Africa, was unaware of similar incidents in other Ebola-stricken countries in the region.

—  James Russell

Texas Voter ID law ruled unconstitutional. Here’s a breakdown on its impact.

vote-buttonA federal district judge on Friday, Oct. 10, struck down Texas’ voter photo identification law, just 10 days before early voting in the state is to begin.

In her 140-plus-page decision, federal Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos called the law “a poll tax” and “discriminatory”  against African-Americans and Hispanics.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately appealed the decision, urging the Fifth Circuit to “resolve this matter quickly to avoid voter confusion in the upcoming election,” said Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for the AG’s office.

Explaining his appeal, Abbott said he believed the sudden ruling could confuse voters and burden election administrators. “Voters need certainty when they go to the polls and having this decision come out just 10 days before early voting begins injects uncertainty so I’m asking a court of appeals to decide this before early voting begins a week from Monday,” he told KXAN.

In the meantime, the law’s opponents praised the decision.

“Now we must redouble our efforts to restore the Voting Rights Act and to ensure that every LGBTQ voter gets the opportunity to vote at the upcoming election,” said the Rev. Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of National LGBTQ Task Force.

Texas state. Sen. Wendy Davis, who is running against Abbott for governor, blasted Abbott’s appeal. “This is great news for democracy. I call on Attorney General Greg Abbott to drop his defense of a law that a court has now called a ‘poll tax’ and ‘discriminatory’ against African-Americans and Hispanics.”

U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, agreed. “Abbott should do what’s best for all Texans instead of pushing his discriminatory political agenda that would disenfranchise eligible voters.”

While the judge believes the law discriminates against African-Americans and Hispanics, the ruling impacts the transgender community as well.

According to the Williams Institute, a LGBT policy think tank, of the 25,000 eligible transgender voters in Texas, around 6,800, or 27%, do not have updated voter ID records.

Should the ruling be upheld, said Nell Gaither of the Trans Pride Initiative, “It makes it easier for transpeople to vote.” But she added that the transgender community still faces barriers most other voters do not.

Texas does not have a statewide law accommodating people who have transitioned from one gender to another; voters or would-be voters must rely on their county laws.

Chad Dunn, an attorney who represented the plaintiffs, told the Lone Star Project he believes Abbott will appeal to the Fifth Circuit and likely ask for the U.S. Supreme Court’s final say.

“To my knowledge, a law found to be intentionally discriminatory, after a full trial on the merits, has never been allowed to remain in effect,” Dunn said.

—  James Russell

‘Rocky Horror’ review review: Mary L. Clark responds

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Yesterday afternoon (Tuesday, Sept. 23), Dallas Voice’s executive editor of life+style, Arnold Wayne Jones, posted this blog criticizing this review, by Mary L. Clark, associate critic for John Garcia’s The Column, of Dallas Theater Center‘s current production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Arnold’s blog obviously generated a lot of discussion. It has, as I write this, been “tweeted” nine times and “shared” or “liked” on Facebook 401 times. I was out of the office taking photos of Gay World Series opening day games, so I missed the uproar. But I heard about it this morning.

In my email was a response from Mary L. Clark. I read that, then I started reading Arnold’s review of the DTC production and then his post criticizing Mary Clark’s review. Then I got a call from John Garcia. I don’t think he was satisfied with my response because I didn’t agree to delete Arnold’s blog about Mary Clark’s review. What I am going to do, though, is post Mary Clark’s email here on our blog — find it below — and give folks the chance to see what she had to say. I think that’s fair.

And also in the interest of fairness, let me say these two things: I believe that some of the language to which Arnold objected has been changed in Mary Clark’s review posted online at The Column. And John Garcia stressed that some of the language to which Arnold objected — including the word “lifestyle”—  were, in fact, direct quotes from the production’s director, Joel Ferrell, that Mary Clark found in an interview with him elsewhere.

On a personal note, let me say this: I would not EVER presume to critique a theatrical performance or a movie or a restaurant or a theater/movie/restaurant critic. I would totally suck at that. I mean, I loved Sharknado and potato chips and some beef jerky from the corner convenience store are my idea of fine dining. So I don’t feel comfortable criticizing either Mary Clark’s review of the show, Arnold Wayne Jones’ review of the show or of Mary Clark’s review, nor do I feel qualified to comment on John Garcia’s complaint that it is unheard of for one critic to so publicly criticize another’s work.

Here is Mary L. Clark’s response:

Hey Arnold, I got home late yesterday evening and had a call concerning your commentary on DallasVoice.com and the comments posted afterward. Was surprised to say the least and thought it a good idea to go over some things.

First, I didn’t know you read any of The Column’s reviews, so thank you for reading mine. Yes, I am a true Mrs. Malaprop — I did mean “free love” — thanks for the correction.

As for culling from Wikipedia, well not really, but facts are facts. I read several articles on The Rocky Horror Show and, as you read our reviews, you’ve certainly noticed they often include the history of a play or musical as our readers appreciate some background on a piece.

That you didn’t like my writing style, I can’t help you there. We all have our own opinions and I thank you for yours. You wrote your review on the basis of being a gay man and I wrote mine on the basis of not seeing any labels at all.

Apologies to Foe Destroyer — I have a friend named Zoe, and even after proofing three times, the word just went by me. Even you made the same error Arnold, and that’s all it was, a human error.

But now, to the real reason you wrote your commentary, my using the words “lifestyle” and “choice”.

I can see where you would think I meant being gay is a choice. Of course it’s not.

No, the word “choice” refers to being open to one’s beliefs, sexuality, or anything. The word lifestyle is defined as “the habits, attitudes, tastes, moral standards, etc. that together constitute the mode of living of an individual or group”.

To choose to live your life openly as a gay person is a lifestyle, and that is how I used it. Throughout my adult life I’ve heard many friends and others who are gay talk of it being their lifestyle. I cannot be sorry, as that means that I was at fault. I can, however, apologize if my choice of the words offended you.

The information I got on Joel Ferrell’s vision and choices in directing the musical came from an interview in another magazine where he says, “… we’re going to work to confuse you on gender identity as much and in as many ways as we possibly can”.

Me saying, “I never thought about gender equality when seeing Rocky Horror” means just that. In the 20+ times I’ve watched the film, never once did I view it as a banner for homosexuality. I saw it as a crazy, fun movie about people who weren’t afraid to be who they wanted to be and reveled in their differences. Early college days and being in theatre is a great time to learn about that!

Arnold, you forgot to include that my statement “don’t be worried you are going to be pro-gay rallied or asked to make any choices other than to have a really good time” came AFTER I wrote about the film, and now musical, not offending me, and that we see wilder things on TV, in video games and in magazines. But after my description of the characters, the costumes, and some of the scenes, I did not want our readers to think DTC is rallying around homosexuality any more than they are rallying around heterosexuality . . . and isn’t that the point after all, and what Ferrell was after, to blur the lines?

And here is a good place to note that only you used the phrase “catch gay”. I found it interesting that so many of people that commented jumped on the same phrase, the phrase only you used.

I’m not upset about your commentary. Thank god for free speech. What made me sad, though, were comments made by several people I met after the musical. I’m disappointed that my true self and my beliefs were not reflected in all the fun we were having talking about the show, the clothes everyone was wearing, and the audience reactions. That they met me, hopefully formed some opinion of me, but then made inaccurate decisions about me based on your commentary is truly the saddest part of it all. Oh, what the power of speech can do indeed.

Regards to all,

Mary L Clark

(And yes, Kent Boyer, I worked for Dallas Voice, mainly writing theatre reviews and one huge feature article on being a production assistant for the JFK film while here. So that would be around 1988 – 1990.)

—  Tammye Nash