Trans man wins first round in divorce battle

Judge declines to void marriage between Robertson, Scott in case that could set precedent, but wife’s lawyer downplays significance

Trans

WINNING ROUND 1 | Attorney Eric Gormly, right, says Judge Lori Chrisman Hockett’s decision to deny a motion to void the marriage between trans man James Allan Scott, left, and his wife Rebecca Louise Robertson is, as far as he knows, “the first time any Texas court has ruled that a transsexual man who marries a biological woman is in a legitimate marriage.” (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

When Rebecca Louise Robertson and James Allan Scott married in Dallas in 1998, Robertson was well aware and fully supportive of Scott’s status as a transgender man, court records indicate.

But when the couple split up after 12 years in 2010, Robertson sought to have their marriage declared void — based on the fact that Scott was born a biological female, and Texas law prohibits same-sex marriage.

Last week, a Dallas County district judge rejected Robertson’s motion for a summary judgment in the case, declining to void the marriage and allowing the matter to proceed as a divorce.

Attorney Eric Gormly, who represents Scott, said if the judge had declared the marriage void, it would have prevented his client, who’s physically disabled, from obtaining a fair division of the couple’s property.

Gormly, who specializes in LGBT law, called the ruling from Judge Lori Chrisman Hockett a significant victory for transgender equality in Texas.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time any Texas court has ruled that a transsexual man who marries a biological woman is in a legitimate marriage,” Gormly said.

Unsettled law

The issue of transgender marriage has made headlines in Texas of late, thanks in large part to the case of Nikki Araguz.

Araguz, a transgender woman, is waging a high-profile fight to receive death benefits from her late husband, Thomas Araguz III, a volunteer firefighter who was killed in the line of duty last year.

In May, a district judge in Wharton County ruled against Nikki Araguz. The judge granted summary judgment to Thomas Araguz’s family, which filed a lawsuit alleging that the couple’s 2008 marriage is void because Nikki Araguz was born a man.

Nikki Araguz has appealed the decision, and LGBT advocates believe Hockett’s ruling in the Dallas case could help the transgender widow’s cause.

In both cases, motions seeking to have the marriages declared void relied heavily on a San Antonio appeals court’s 1999 ruling in Littleton v. Prange, which found that gender is determined at birth and cannot be changed.

However, critics argue that the Littleton decision is unconstitutional and isn’t binding in other parts of Texas.

In response to the Araguz case, a bill was introduced in the Texas Legislature this year to ban transgender marriage. The bill would have removed proof of a sex change from the list of documents that can be used to obtain marriage licenses. Strongly opposed by LGBT advocates, it cleared a Senate committee but never made it to the floor.

Meanwhile, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who recently intervened in two same-sex divorce cases to try to block them, has thus far stayed out of the fray over transgender marriage.

After a transgender woman and a cisgender woman applied for a marriage license in 2010, the El Paso County clerk requested a ruling from Abbott about whether to grant it. But Abbott opted not to weigh in, with his office saying it would instead wait for court rulings in the Araguz case. The couple was later able to marry in San Antonio, where the county clerk went by Littleton v. Prange.

A spokesman for Abbott’s office didn’t return a phone call seeking comment this week about Hockett’s ruling in the Dallas case. But Gormly said he’d welcome the challenge if Abbott chooses to intervene.

“Bring it on,” Gormly said. “Let him give it his best shot. … I’ve got to think that Greg Abbott has more important issues to deal with.”

Attorney Thomas A. Nicol, a divorce specialist who represents Robertson, said he’s already notified the AG’s office about Hockett’s ruling.

“I think certainly the attorney general, if it wants, can certainly jump in and say they have standing because it appears the statute is not being followed,” Nicol said.

He called Hockett’s ruling “disappointing” but downplayed its significance.

Nicol said for his motion to be denied, Gormly needed to show only that one material fact was in dispute. Hockett provided no explanation in her one-page ruling dated Nov. 21, and Nicol said he now expects the judge to fully address the transgender marriage issue at trial.

“It’s hardly groundbreaking,” Nicols said of Hockett’s denial of summary judgment, which cannot be appealed. “It’s a non-event except for these two litigants, so I’m a little bit surprised that press releases were issued at this stage of the game, because nothing’s happened yet.”

From house-husband to activist

This coming weekend, the 57-year-old Scott will move out of a five-bedroom, 3,200-square foot house in Cedar Hill — and into a small rental cottage. Scott is being evicted after the house, which the couple built together in 2001, went into foreclosure.

Scott, who’s disabled from scoliosis, said he was a faithful “house husband” — he did the grocery shopping, took care of the dogs and provided emotional support — while Robertson worked as a radiologist at the Dallas VA Medical Center. “The only thing I didn’t do was cook,” Scott said.

Scott and Gormly allege that in July 2010, Robertson opened a personal bank account and cut him off from the couple’s funds.

“After 12 years of marriage, she basically was trying to shove him overboard without a life jacket and sail off with her new boyfriend,” Gormly said.

After Robertson filed to declare the marriage void in September 2010, Scott filed a counter petition for divorce in February. In June, Robertson filed her motion for summary judgment.

Gormly said the divorce likely would have been final six months ago if it hadn’t been for the transgender marriage issue. Instead, both parties have racked up tens of thousands of dollars worth of legal bills.

Scott said the case is about money.

“She stands to inherit a good deal of money that she doesn’t want me to get my hands on,” he said. “I didn’t marry her for money. I married her because I loved her. I just want what I would have gotten in a regular divorce.”

Scott said he’s known he was transgender since an early age. In high school he cross-dressed and dated girls. He jokes that he kept waiting for a penis to grow and was disappointed when his mother told him he needed to start wearing a shirt after he developed breasts.

In 1998, months before he married Robertson, Scott had his breasts and ovaries removed. At the time the couple had already been together for 10 years.

Scott also obtained a birth certificate from his native Iowa identifying him as male. The only transitional step Scott hasn’t undertaken is a phalloplasty — an expensive, imperfect and dangerous procedure for female-to-male transsexuals.

Scott, who sports a full beard and mustache thanks to hormone therapy, said no one except his doctor’s office knew he was transgender during the time the couple lived together in Cedar Hill. He acknowledges this will change now, but says the case is about more than just him now.

“Most importantly if it keep kids from killing themselves because they’re different — that doesn’t need to be,” Scott said.

“I’m fully aware that after this case comes out in the press, I could be threatened, but at the moment it seems minor compared to what my wife has done to me,” he added. “It’s about equality for everyone.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Trans player’s hoops career cut short by injuries

Kye Allums

Kye Allums, the George Washington University junior who made headlines last fall by coming out as a transgender person while remaining on the school’s women’s basketball team, announced this week that he would not be returning to the team for his senior year because of injuries, according to several published reports, including this one at FoxNews.com.

Allums said in a prepared statement that he came to the decision on his own that it is “no longer in my best interests” to play basketball, and he thanked the school’s athletic department for respecting his wishes.

When he came out as transgender last November, Allums explained that he was postponing hormone treatments and gender reassignment surgery so that he could remain eligible to play on the women’s basketball team. However, Allums said this week that after suffering two concussions in the 2010-11 season, he has decided not to continue to play basketball.

Although Alllums started 20 games in his sophomore year at George Washington, he played in only eight games this season because of the concussions. He told the Associated Press in March that he has suffered a total of eight concussions overall and that he has been experiencing memory loss, a common symptom of multiple concussions. He said doctors told him that if he were a football player rather than a basketball player, his career would have ended even sooner.

A post by Eammon Brenna on ESPN’s College Basketball Nation Blog praised Allum’s courage in coming out as transgender, saying: “In essence, Allums’ change was about identity, about helping the external match the internal, and it raised awareness of transgender identity issues in an arena where even homosexuality remains a hotly debated subject. … It’s sad to see any player’s career cut short by injuries. But I’d argue it’s even sadder to see Allums — whose public bravery no doubt served as inspiration to even a (presumably) small number of athletes with transgender identities — unable to live out his final season with his teammates.”

—  admin

WATCH: Capacity crowd marks Transgender Day of Remembrance at Cathedral of Hope

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

A capacity crowd filled the Interfaith Peace Chapel at Cathedral of Hope to mark Transgender Day of Remembrance on Sunday night, Nov. 21.

Nell Gaither, a steering committee member for GEAR, served as MC. She noted the recent spate of suicides among gay youth. GEAR is the transgender program of Resource Center Dallas.

Among transgender adults, 40 percent have attempted suicide, a rate 25 times higher than among the rest of the community, she said.

She said 20 percent of transgender people had been refused healthcare treatment and even more experience harassment in a medical setting.

Among transgender people of color, 35 percent live below the poverty level.

A portion of the memorial was dedicated to Alexander Allison, a local trans man who committed suicide this year.

Among the speakers were Resource Center Dallas Executive Director Cece Cox.

Cox thanked the transgender community for answering her many questions so she can be a better ally. She also commented on the growing visibility of the transgender community.

“When someone tries to make me feel invisible, it makes me feel ‘less than’ and that doesn’t feel good,” she said.

Former Mayor Pro Tem John Loza said the community needs to do more than just tell LGBT youth that in 10 years it will get better — it also must provide the tools for them to get there.

“But there is reason for hope,” he said.

He listed recent gains the transgender community has made, including the election of the first transgender judge in California and Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s appointment last week of Phyllis Frye as a municipal court judge. He lauded Dallas Independent School District’s new enumerated anti-bullying policy that includes gender identity and expression.

As Aaron Barnes and Dorian Mooneyham read the names of 30 transgender victims of violence, members of the community lit candles and laid red roses on a table. Two of those victims were from Houston.

Mo Snow gave closing remarks. “I don’t want to be the reason my partner is discriminated against,” he said, calling her the most loving person he’d ever met.

For the third year, the Women’s Chorus of Dallas ensemble MosaicSong opened and performed during the ceremony. Voice of Pride winners Mel Arizpe and Laura Carrizales also performed.

—  David Taffet

Trans man Lance Reyna’s attacker has been released from jail, and he’s ‘about to lose it’

Terrance Calhoun

Back in June we told you about a brutal hate-crime attack against a transgender man inside a restroom on the campus of Houston Community College. Lance Reyna, a student-activist who’s both transgender and gay, was washing his hands when his attacker emerged from a stall and put a knife to his throat saying, “Hey queer, I need you to be quiet, cooperate, and give me all your valuables.” Reyna was knocked to the floor and beaten and kicked. His wallet and credit cards were taken. Terrance Calhoun, 22, was later arrested on campus and charged with aggravated robbery in the attack that occurred during Houston’s gay Pride week. Three months later, Calhoun has bonded out of jail as he awaits sentencing.

“I just got informed that my attacker is out of JAIL, someone please calm me down because I’m about to lose it,” Reyna wrote on Facebook on Thursday.

“I feel hopeless right now, plus all the bullying not being taken serious is something I can relate from my younger days in school,” he added Thursday night.

“Just spoke with HPD investigator, threatening text message has been documented. When number was ran it came up with a history,” Reyna wrote Friday morning.

Cristan Williams of the Houston-based Transgender Foundation for America reports on her blog that police don’t plan to pursue hate crime charges against Calhoun:

“Since the attacker won’t fess up to knowing that Lance was part of the GLBT community, he won’t be held accountable under State or Federal hate crime statutes and the case will be prosecuted as a simple assault,” Williams wrote. “As it stands now, he’s out of jail and may get off with a slap on the wrist and some community service because this is his, ‘first time offence’ (according to the DA’s office)!”

UPDATE: We spoke with Reyna on Friday afternoon, and he said Calhoun pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony, earlier this month. Calhoun bonded out of jail this week while he awaits sentencing in early November, but Reyna said a prosecutor told him Calhoun could receive probation because it’s his first felony.

Reyna said the FBI investigated the case under the new federal hate crimes law that passed last year. However, because Calhoun wouldn’t admit that he targeted Reyna because he is transgender, the FBI opted not to pursue hate crimes charges. This was despite the fact that Calhoun used an anti-LGBT slur, “queer,” during the attack.

“I’m really disgusted with the way they don’t want to take things seriously,” Reyna said of authorities.

Reyna, who now attends the University of Houston, said Calhoun lives just a few blocks away from the campus, and he’s concerned for his safety. He said he hopes Calhoun is sentenced to at least 2 1/2 years behind bars, to give him a chance to finish school.

“That way, there would be less of a chance of me running into him,” Reyna said. “I had calmed down a little bit, but now I’m back to when it initially happened. I’m reliving the attack, and I don’t want to deal with the hell I went through right after it. It’s too much for me to deal with right now, just knowing he’s out on the streets.”

Reyna said it took him three weeks to recover from a concussion he sustained in the attack, and he’s currently undergoing counseling.

“They say have a lot of systems of post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said. “I have my good days and bad days, buy my level of anxiety just went up a couple of notches with him getting out of jail.”

Reyna said he also received a threatening text message a few days before Calhoun got out, but he is unsure who sent it. He has reported the message to police.

Williams, of the TFA, said she’s concerned about the standard that’s apparently being used by authorities to determine whether offenses are hate crimes. Texas’ hate crimes statute doesn’t include protections for transgender people, but the new federal law does.

“Apparently the attackers just have to come out and say, ‘Yes it’s a hate crime. I hate them, I was motivated by hate, now take me off to jail,’” Williams said. “Basically, unless they can have evidence that is beyond the pale, that is incontrovertible, they can’t prosecute it is as a hate crime.

“It would break if my heart, and it would make me lose a lot of respect for our legal system, if this guy gets off with a slap on the wrist and some community service after attacking a trans man with a deadly weapon and sending him to the hospital,” Williams said.

—  John Wright

Time delay

Trans man Lucas Silveira hits the road with The Cliks — a year late

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

TRANS AMERICA | Lucas Silveira and The Cliks make up for lost time with their nationwide tour.

Last summer, Toronto rock trio The Cliks released Dirty King. Coming off strong buzz from their 2007 album Snakehouse and the public approval of high profile bands like The Cult and Cyndi Lauper, the band was on the rise. With King, their sound matured yet still offered the grit of garage rock.

But the band imploded soon after, leaving trans frontman Lucas Silveira with a new album on his hands and a major setback.

“The band on King left and that put a halt in touring and getting the album out there,” Silveira says. “That wasn’t great for the album taking off after its release.”

But The Cliks was always Silveira’s project. He was disappointed that bandmates Morgan Doctor and Jen Benton departed before touring, but he rallied and is on the road with a new incarnation, hoping fans haven’t forgotten the album he’s now supporting. He’ll find out Thursday when their tour brings them to Dallas.

“This is the tour I wanted to do when the album came out,” he says. “It would have gone a lot better then. But now, I have to rekindle the need and reconnect with fans.”

So far Silveira has found his audience has stuck around, especially his most loyal of all: the queer fans. Gaining notoriety as perhaps the first FTM trans rocker, Silveira garnered attention from big gay media like The Advocate and Out, and his band was tapped by Lauper to play on the True Colors Tour. But with a reputation for a killer live show and an evolving sound, The Cliks are transcending the trans curiosity and finding a real place in rock music.

“We still have a lot of queer fans and from that root, it’s really grown into a very diverse audience,” he says. “It’s something I’m very proud of. We have 60 year-old straight fans amid 30-something queer women. It’s so interesting.”

Silveira knows he won’t escape the trans label as, at least, a first impression, but he embraces the responsibility of artistic evolution, proving that he and The Cliks are here for the music. He’s seen the novelty wear off enough to attract and keep a non-gay audience, but he’s willing to meet them halfway.

“Queer artists have to work that much harder to prove their music can be accessible outside of queer audiences,” he says. “For the rest of my career, I’ll always be seen as the first trans mainstream music guy. If I allow that to predict my career, I won’t be successful. I’ll just continue to do what I do and be honest and open. People can take it or leave it.”

Silveira admits that when he’s at his unhappiest, his music flows out.  But he was thrilled at being named Sexiest Man in Canada by music magazine Chart Attack — or at least, had a good laugh.

“When I found out, I giggled. But I was happy to be nominated because it legitimized me as a rock male musician. And then I won! I thought this is hilarious if nothing for the fact that a trans man won.”

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New Voices returns to COH

New voicesRarely do you expect a church concert with the following disclaimer: “Some language not suitable for all audiences.” I mean, as a gay-welcoming congregation, the Cathedral of Hope realizes its parishioners can’t always be pristine angels — a curse word might leak out here and there.

COH and Club 119 Productions brings back New Voices, a songwriter showcase benefiting the COH AIDS Crisis Fund featuring a cast of fresh-faced singers. Pastor Rusty Baldridge assures this isn’t going to be a service — hence the disclaimer. “Just think of it as a cabaret, but without the tables and chairs — and liquor.”

— R.L.

Cathedral of Hope, 5910 Cedar Springs Road. Aug. 1 at 7 p.m. $10. CathedralOfHope.com.

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 30, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas