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

This week in marriage equality: Republicans are all over the place

Marriage-Equality-Bumper-Sticker-(7423)A Republican Senate candidate in Oregon supports marriage equality, Georgia’s Republican attorney general wants to avoid it while Indiana’s Attorney General wants it figured out already.

OREGON:

Oregon Republican Senate Candidate Monica Wehby released a TV ad declaring her support for marriage equality. She is the only Republican Senate candidate this cycle to declare her support for marriage equality. She is running against the pro-LGBT equality incumbent Sen. Jeff Merkley (D). Should she be elected to the Senate, she would join four other Republicans senators in supporting marriage equality. The incumbent has consistently lead Wehby in the polls. Watch the video here.

GEORGIA:

Down south, Georgia’s Attorney General Sam Olen has asked that Inniss v. Aderhold, which challenges Georgia’s ban on marriage equality, be dismissed. Lambda Legal, which brought the suit, responded in a brief: “Our democracy functions and prevails because we promise liberty and equality for all. Our judiciary exists to enforce that promise. Plaintiffs turn to this Court to vindicate their families’ rights to liberty and equality.” Read the whole response here.

INDIANA:

Indiana’s Attorney General Greg Zoeller is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the state’s marriage equality ban, Baskin v. Bogan, also filed by Lambda Legal.“Only the highest court in the country can provide the secure relief that same-sex couples and their children need, and it’s extremely important that these families are able to count on the protections of marriage as soon as possible,” said Paul Castillo, Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal.

—  James Russell

University of Houston student Senate introduces bill to help trans community

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 12.19.48 PMStudents at the University of Houston are considering a bill to help transgender students and staff better identify themselves as their gender identity on campus.

The bill, the Josephine Tittsworth Act, was introduced by the student Senate Wednesday and calls upon the university to “fulfill its existing nondiscrimination policy (of the UH Student Handbook)” in regards to LGBT students, the student newspaper The Daily Cougar reports.

The bill seeks to acknowledge that “gender expression is the external characteristics presented by an individual such as masculine or feminine features displayed in mannerisms, speech, social environments or attire,” and to formally acknowledge “the terms, gender identity and gender expression represented trans, transgender and gender-nonconforming students, faculty and staff” on all University documentation.

It would allow students to have their preferred name on rosters and other university documents.

“Honestly, this is a freedom of speech issue. It allows people to choose which box to check. Over the past few weeks, people had unfortunately misinterpreted (the bill). This bill is about respect and tolerance on this campus,” newly elected student body President Charles Haston told the paper.

The bill comes a few months after the student government at the University of Houston-Downtown approved gender-neutral restrooms.

UH students at the meeting Wednesday explained the bill would help address students who go by a name associated with their gender identity only to be outed as trans when the professor calls roll, revealing their legal name.

The bill cites “high rates of harassment, physical violence and sexual assaults” as a result of failing to acknowledge trans and gender-nonconforming identities.

“This bill will translate into people being open with their identity,” said Tanzeem Chowdhury, former undergraduate-at-large senator.

“I think it would create a safer campus. Currently, UH is the second-most diverse campus in the nation. We’re always making progress in acceptance, and this would be a strong move forward — it would create a safer campus not only for members of the LGBT community, but for the entire student body.”

A town hall meeting to discuss the act will be at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

—  Dallasvoice

Sadler wins Democratic Senate nomination

Paul Sadler, left, and Grady Yarbrough

Former State Rep. Paul Sadler easily defeated retired educator Grady Yarbrough for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.

Sadler will face Ted Cruz who won the Republican nomination this evening.

Sadler supports marriage equality.

The last Democrat elected to the Senate in Texas was Lloyd Bentsen in 1988.

In another Democratic race, Linda Mrosko won the nomination for U.S. House District 5. She faces incumbent Rep. Jeb Hensarling.

—  David Taffet

Cruz declared winner in Republican Senate runoff

Ted Cruz, left, and David Dewhurst

Ted Cruz was declared the winner early in the evening in his race for the Republican nomination for Senator. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was expected to win until Cruz overtook him in the polls during the last week.

Cruz is the former Texas Solicitor General. He is expected to face Paul Sadler in the November election.

In other races, Tincy Miller won the Republican nomination for State Board of Education. She defeated incumbent George Clayton in the primary after he was outed last fall. Clayton plans a write-in candidacy.

For state railroad commissioner, Christi Craddick defeated Warren Chisum who made a name for himself in the legislature as one of the House’s most homophobic representatives.

—  David Taffet

Leppert least anti-gay of GOP Senate hopefuls?

Tom Leppert at gay Pride in 2007

Last month we reported that GOP Senate hopeful Craig James, the former SMU football star, stated during an Eagle Forum debate at the Dallas Country Club that he believes being gay is a choice.

“I think it’s a choice, I do,” James said. “You have to make that choice, absolutely.” (Watch video of James’ comments here.)

Peggy Fikac at the San Antonio Express-News reports that James — who happens to be a member of Prestonwood Baptist Church, otherwise known as “Six Flags Over Jesus” — later repeated his claim that being gay is a choice during a candidate forum in Austin.

Fikac decided to follow up with James and other Texas Senate candidates to get more detail about their views on the issue.

She reports that former solicitor general Ted Cruz believes that “engaging in homosexual conduct is a choice,” while Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is “persuaded that the gay lifestyle is a choice.”

Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, who’s been under attack by the other GOP candidates for appearing at gay Pride as mayor, told Fikac: “I think it’s likely a combination of factors and these may differ by individual, but I’m not going to hold myself up as an expert.”

It’s pretty sad to think that Leppert, a member of the notoriously anti-gay First Baptist Church of Dallas who threw the community under the bus when he stepped down as mayor to run for Senate, is arguably emerging as the most progressive on LGBT issues among the major candidates in the GOP field. Of course, given that Leppert’s website states he opposes all forms of relationship recognition for same-sex couples, including civil unions, this isn’t saying very much at all.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Tom Leppert’s GOP Senate rivals again attack him for appearing at gay Pride in Dallas

Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert walks alongside the city float at gay Pride in 2009.

Republican Senate hopeful Tom Leppert again came under fire today for his decision to appear in two gay Pride parades while mayor of Dallas.

Leppert was attacked by fellow candidates Ted Cruz, Craig James and Lela Pittenger during a debate luncheon hosted by the right-wing Eagle Forum at the Dallas Country Club.

The exchange featured some strong anti-gay language, with James saying he believes homosexuality is a choice and Pittenger comparing the Pride parade to an orgy. It began when the debate moderator, John C. Goodman, president and CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis, noted that Cruz had attacked Leppert for appearing at gay Pride during a recent candidate forum in Fort Worth.

Goodman then asked Cruz, “Do you have something against gay people?”

“I have something against gay marriage,” Cruz responded. “I don’t support gay marriage. I think there is an onslaught right now in this country to tear down traditional marriage, and I don’t think it’s right.”

—  John Wright

BREAKING: Senate Judiciary Committee approves Respect for Marriage Act

Sen. Dianne Feinstein

The Senate Judiciary Committee today voted 10-8 to approve the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation pushed by supporters of marriage equality that would, in effect, repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA is the measure passed by Congress and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton in 1996 that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, even those performed in jurisdictions that does give them legal recognition.

Despite that sign of apparent progress, DOMA repeal is still a very long way from reality. According to FoxNews.com, the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., acknowledged that the votes are not there to get the Respect for Marriage Act passed by the full Senate. And in the House, ruled by Republicans that have insisted on defending DOMA in the courts despite President Barack Obama’s directive to the Justice Department against defending it, the measure likely wouldn’t even get a hearing.

Read more in Friday’s issue of Dallas Voice.

—  admin

East coast victories for LGBT candidates

While we’re waiting here in Houston for the results of today’s municipal elections the Victory Fund reports of victories for LGBT candidates on the East coast where polls closed an hour earlier than Texas.

State Del. Adam Ebbin (D-District 30) was elected to Virginia’s state Senate today, making him the Commonwealth’s first openly gay senator.

“I am honored by the trust the voters have showed in me,”  Ebbin said in a statement. “During the campaign, I listened to the voters’ concerns and will work on behalf of the values we all share: improving our public schools, expanding our transit system and cleaning up Virginia’s environment. I will make sure their voices are heard…”

“Alex Morse, a 22-year-old graduate of Brown University, has just been elected mayor of Holyoke, Mass., a city of nearly 40,000 residents near Springfield…”

“Zach Adamson has won his race for city council in Indianapolis, giving the city its first openly LGBT city council member.”

“An incumbent on the Largo, Fla., City Commission who attacked her openly gay opponent over his sexual orientation has lost her reelection bid to him tonight. Michael Smith defeated Mary Gray Black, who has a history of anti-gay and anti-trans activism on the commission.”

—  admin

What’s Shakin’ – Siriano at Galleria, Voter turnout continues to lag

Christian Siriano

Christian Siriano

1. As previously reported by Houstini, Project Runway Season 5 winner Christian Siriano’s coming to the Houston Galleria Payless Shoe store today to show off his expanded Payless collection, including an assortment of shoes and handbags. Siriano will be available for photos with his “fierce” -ly loyal fans. The posing and pouting kick off at 5 pm at the Galleria, 5061 Westheimer Road.

2. Voter turnout continues to be paltry. So far 40,189 people have voted, only 71% of the 55,152 who had voted by this point during the 2009 municipal elections.  Early voting continues through November 4.  Election day is Nov 8. A list of all early voting locations and sample ballots  are available at harrisvotes.org.

3. Yesterday Rep. Todd Akin, R – MO, who successfully introduced an amendment to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act earlier this year which would prohibit same-sex marriages from being performed on U.S. military bases, delivered a letter to the Senate calling on them to pass similar legislation.  The letter was signed by 86 members of the 435 member House, including 7 Texans, all Republicans: Mike Conaway, Francisco Canseco, Louie Gohmert, Ralph Hall, Sam Johnson, Michael McCaul and Randy Nuegebauer.

—  admin