OUTLaw

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas Robert Pitman shared his experiences and gave advice to law students Tuesday afternoon at a lecture sponsered by OUTLaw. Pitman is the first openly gay man to be appointed as a U.S. attorney.

Photo Credit: Shea Carley | Daily Texan Staff

Acceptance of homosexuals in the law profession is a growing trend, but challenges remain for openly gay attorneys, said a UT Law alumnus in a lecture Tuesday.

United States Attorney Robert Pitman, law alumnus and the first openly gay man appointed to his position, said today’s generation of homosexuals attending college is in a much better place than his generation was when he entered the law profession. The lecture was sponsored by GLBT law group OUTLaw, the American Constitution Society and the UT Law Career Services Office.

“We stand on the shoulders of the preceding generation,” Pitman said. “But there is a steep upward trend in terms of treatment and acceptance of LGBT individuals in the legal field.”

Pitman was appointed as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas after President Barack Obama nominated him, and he and was sworn in last October.

Not many in the legal profession or any work environment will directly say they have a problem with homosexuals, but there are individuals who do not accept the lifestyle and can possibly impact homosexuals in ways that can’t be avoided, he said.

“I chose to not take a head-on, assertive road and instead accept that you can’t change anyone’s mind,” Pitman said. “I can change how I am perceived, though.”

Pitman said the time he spent hiding his sexuality took a greater toll on him than it was worth, so he decided to simply become the hardest working employee wherever he was. He said he did this to put his employers in a position that would oust them as “bigots” if they discriminated against him.

“I understand the anger behind responses to discrimination, but you can show others that they are wrong by living your life with integrity and fearlessness,” he said. “It’s a hard line to walk, but I have benefited from it and I have never been publicly dismayed in the sexist, homophobic culture that is law enforcement.”

Although Pitman is the first openly gay man serving as U.S. attorney, three homosexual women have earned the post in California, Washington and North Carolina before him.

Law student Cassandra McCrae said she was particularly thrilled to hear of Pitman’s success as she is a homosexual student.

“There are plenty of homosexual students in law school and a lot of us have career anxiety because of our sexuality,” she said. “It’s important for us to hear from individuals like Mr. Pitman.”

Daniel Collins, law student and OUTLaw officer, said the group did not ask Pitman to talk to students specifically because of his sexuality, but instead because of his success.

“Attitudes are changing, but it’s still helpful to hear from someone on the other side of all of this,” he said.

Pitman and the three other openly gay U.S. attorneys’ appointments show advancement in the legal profession, said assistant law professor Jennifer Laurin.

“The fact that his nomination was supported by Republican Texas senators [Kay Bailey] Hutchison and [John] Cornyn is a powerful signal that an exemplary record of experience and deep professional respect will trump prejudice,” she said. “The legal profession as a whole has liberalized such that top law firms that often feed to these posts are no longer as hostile toward gay lawyers as they were a generation ago.”

She said there are still challenges for homosexuals in law professions, as shown by the opposition to Pitman’s nomination from conservative groups.

Pitman said the “It Gets Better” program is important and should be spread with the understanding and acceptance that life can be very difficult for homosexuals at times.

“If you told me 20 years ago that I’d be standing in front of you today as a U.S. attorney supported by two Republican senators and that my religious and conservative family would all be at my swearing in, I would not have believed it,” he said. “It can happen.”

Printed on Wednesday, February 22, 2012 as: Openly gay lawyer inspiers law students in face of adversity

Anne Wynne, founder of LGBTQ rights group Atticus Circle, discusses the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Tuesday afternoon in the Charles I. Francis Auditorium. The lecture covered the obstacles that affect gay and lesbian veterans after being discharged from the military.

Photo Credit: Kiersten Holms | Daily Texan Staff

The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell almost a year ago has been a huge civil rights victory for the LGBT community, but legal issues still challenge LGBT soldiers and veterans, said Danny Hernandez, communications and development assistant for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

Hernandez was invited along with Anne Wynne, the founder of Atticus Circle, to speak about the legal issues facing LGBT service members on at a Tuesday afternoon talk hosted by OUTLaw, an LGBT community organization for students attending the UT School of Law. Both Atticus Circle and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network advocated for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell through national litigation, and OUTLaw hoped to bring more awareness of the ongoing legal struggle, OUTLaw president Samuel Rettew said.

“After Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been repealed, it’s very easy to think that LGBT in the military isn’t an issue, but there’s still a lot to address,” Rettew said. “There’s a sizable LGBT population and soldier population at UT and they have a vested interest in seeing the soldiers serving next to them having the same rights. It’s very powerful when people come here to join the discussion, and they realize there’s still a problem.”

Hernandez and Wynne related personal stories along with the stories of their plaintiffs in addressing the wide variety of LGBT issues following the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. While the repeal has ended the dishonorable discharge of soldiers, the repeal does not prevent discrimination by making LGBT soldiers a protected category or guarantee benefits for LGBT couples.

“You have to put it in context,” Wynne said. “If you were in the military and you had a partner, you couldn’t talk about your partner. You couldn’t have pictures of your partner. You had to tell a big fat lie, and if you had children, you had to tell them to tell a big fat lie, too.”

Members were also interested in incorporating these legal struggles into the day-to-day classwork of law students at UT.

“Intellectually, it’s interesting,” website and newsletter director for OUTLaw, Daniel Collins said. “If we are aren’t talking about these issues in our law class, then maybe that’s a sign that we may need more discussion, and that’s why OUTLaw holds forums like these.”

Outside the classroom, work by UT students is also important and can result in important repercussions for the LGBT community, Rettew said.

“What finally pushed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was that 50 percent of the U.S., and all segments of the military except for the Marines supported it,” Rettew said. “In a broad sense, everyone can have an impact. If you bring up discourse, you’ll be exposed to something you never knew, and occasionally, you’ll have the chance to influence people who can really make an impact.”