First Openly Gay Family Court Judge in Texas

judge jim evansHouston attorney Jim Evans was appointed 507th Family Court associate judge on January 1,2017, making him the first openly gay man to serve as a judge in family court in Texas. “There are openly LGBT judges in the criminal and civil courts,” Evans says. “But this is a first for Texas.” In fact, he is the 12th openly LGBT judge in the state.

For the LGBT community, it is an important step for family courts to address deeply personal issues such as adoption, custody, property distribution, and child support for the LGBT community.

Judge Evans will be serving under newly-elected Democrat Julia Maldonado, who won 52% of the Harris County vote. The associate judge position is appointed by the district judge upon taking office to assist in handling the court’s caseload.

Evans ran as a Democrat for the 308th Family District Court in 2014. Having won the Democrat primary, he lost in the general election to the Republican candidate. During the campaign, the Houston Chronicle endorsed Evans saying, “A graduate of the University of Houston Law Center, Evans, 47, has a pastor’s compassion that comes from working as a Baptist minister, not to mention a master’s degree in religious studies. A personal experience of perceived discrimination against Evans and his husband in the family courts led Evans to run for a position on the bench. He brings his decade of legal experience to bear on his passion for more equitable courts.”

It was important to Evans to have an openly gay person on the bench because, he said, none of the Republican family court judges in Harris County would grant an adoption in a case where the prospective parent is an “out” gay or lesbian. He wanted to change the negative treatment that gays and lesbians received in the Harris County family court system.

Evans graduated from Houston Baptist University, majoring in Spanish and history. After graduating from college, Evans went to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth to earn a master of education degree. In2000, Evans entered the University of Houston School of Law, where he was in the top 10% of his class and selected to write for the school’s law review. He graduated law school in 2003.

In 2007, Evans came out as gay. A year later, he began pursuing his passion for family law. Then, he married his love William Flowers in 2010 in Connecticut.

See Wolf, Brandon, Houstonian Becomes First Openly Gay Family-Court Judge in Texas, Out Smart: Houston’s LGBT Magazine February 1, 2007, http://www.outsmartmagazine.com/2017/02/houstonian-becomes-first-openly-gay-family-court-judge-in-texas/ .

The number of LGBT identifying adults rises

lgbt flag picGallup did a survey in 2016 which shows that more than 10 million American adults now identify as LGBT, making 4.1% of the population LGBT in 2016. That’s up from 3/5% in 2015. Millennials, who are viewed as more open-minded and accepting of different lifestyles, are to be credited for the increase. Millennials, born between 1980 and 1998, identifying as LGBT rose from 5.8% in 2012 to 7.3% in 2016. On the other hand, the percentages among Generation X and Baby Boomers declined slightly. Even so, these numbers only reflect Americans who have come out as LGBT publicly.

See Gallup Poll In US, more adults identifying as LGBT

See related article More than 10 million Americans now identify as LGBT

What is a pregnant woman supposed to look like?

domo picA married lesbian couple decided to have a baby with the help of a sperm bank. Their Youtube videos have earned them over one million subscribers. Domonique has always wanted to have a baby and was thrilled when she learned from her doctor that she is pregnant with a baby boy. However, the internet is full of haters. The haters criticized Domonique’s pregnancy because she looks too masculine and “dresses like a dude”. The couple’s response…. To dance. They filmed a Youtube video of themselves “dancing the haters off” which has been viewed over 1.2 million times as of the writing of this blog post! They also took to Instagram with positive pictures of the pregnancy. Domonique said, “People need to see a new side to pregnancy and not what’s ‘normal’.”

I don’t give a crap who pees in the stall next to me in the bathroom

bathroom billTexas is making international news again – this time for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s newly filed bathroom bill seeking to require people to use the bathroom according to the gender on their birth certificate. The Lt. Gov. renamed it as the “Women’s Privacy Act”. He went on to lay out his argument for it: “Transgender people have obviously been going into the ladies’ room for a long time, and there hasn’t been an issue that I know of,” he said. “But, if laws are passed by cities and counties and school districts allow men to go into a bathroom because of the way they feel, we will not be able to stop sexual predators from taking advantage of that law, like sexual predators take advantage of the internet.” (See story on SB6 2017 Leg. on WFAA.com)

Here’s the problem I have with this law… no one gives a crap. Seriously. The only time in my life that I felt threatened in a bathroom was when a three-time convicted male sexual predator was released from prison (seriously, released!) and made his way into the bathroom in the building I worked in. He hid in the stall in the ladies room, eating a cookie, waiting for the next unsuspecting woman to come in alone. It could have been me, but it wasn’t. He attempted to rape a woman that worked in the office next door. She fought him off, screamed, and was rescued by other women from my office who heard her scream. A group of women in my office gave chase, flagged down a female Dallas police officer who chased him down on the streets of downtown Dallas and arrested him. Girl power! He was not transgendered. He was a criminal. No law on the books would have stopped him or made any difference in what happened.

Transgendered women look like women. They sit when they pee. It’s not like you will lean under the wall of the stall and say “Ah Ha! Caught you standing to pee dude!” The last thing a transgendered woman wants is to be outted as a man. She worked hard putting on her makeup and fixing her hair and dressing to be perceived by all of society, including misogynists like Lt. Gov. Patrick, as a woman. Unless you have a super secret hidden camera in the bowl of the toilet aimed just right, you will probably never know. They’ve been peeing in the ladies room for many years and we didn’t even know.  This law serves only to further discrimination and bigotry against transgender people without any purpose whatsoever.

I am also concerned about the effect of this law on cisgender women – that means they identify with the gender they got when they were born – who don’t look womanly enough for someone’s perceived definition. (See What does it mean to be cisgendered?) This new law just furthers the misogyny that some in our society want to put forward that a woman should look a certain way. If I don’t wear enough makeup, will someone think I don’t look “female enough” to go pee in the ladies room? If I have a short hair cut, will someone think I don’t look “female enough” to go pee in the ladies room? If I don’t have big Texas size boobs, will someone think I don’t look “female enough” to go pee in the ladies room? If I wear certain clothes, will someone think I don’t look “female enough” to go pee in the ladies room? Hold on… I can’t go pee yet… I have to fix my makeup! What more perfect example of misogyny at work in our society than this movement of conservatives to paternalistically protect my privacy.

And on the other hand, if a cisgender male has long hair and maybe a little bit of man-boobs, will some alpha-male in the bathroom use this law to justify harassing that man because he doesn’t look “dudely enough”? Wrong, wrong and wrong. Having a law that condones this behavior is just wrong.

One of my girlfriends has a young daughter and professed support for this bill to keep her daughter safe from male predators in public bathrooms. To her I say, 1) don’t let your young daughter go to a public bathroom by herself, as there are many other larger dangers lurking out there than a transgender woman, 2) don’t be so small minded to think that transgendered women are pedophiles, that’s rude and wrong, and 3) teach your daughter to focus on the right things – people violating your private space in the bathroom no matter their perceived gender or whether their appearance rises to the level of “female enough”. If you are that worried, get self-defense lessons so your daughter has a fighting chance against someone who intends her harm.

Thank you, Lt. Gov., but I don’t want you to paternalistically protect my privacy in the ladies room. Leave me alone and let me pee in peace. And leave everyone else alone and let them pee in peace too. We have enough laws on the books to handle it if someone tries to accost me in the ladies room – it won’t matter if they are female or male at that point.

And, ladies, you know you’ve all done it – snuck into the empty men’s room when the line to the ladies room is too long. Under this new law, you are a criminal for going in the wrong, door-without-a-line.

And, are we supposed to start carrying our birth certificates with us to prove our right to pee in the ladies room? Do they need to be certified copies to prove we didn’t doctor up the gender assignment? Will Lt. Gov. Patrick appoint bathroom monitors across the state to check birth certificates before entry? Will the Lege issue a list of acceptable appearance criteria to check off before we have to prove our gender-at-birth? What does a female look like? What about a male? Maybe Lt. Gov. Patrick could sponsor a fundraiser for his political bank account with a fashion show of acceptable womanly-looking candidates for the ladies room?

You may ask… this is supposed to be a blog about LGBT issues in Texas family law. What does the bathroom bill have to do with that? Well, the “T” in LGBT stands for transgender. And there can be no more basic right to a transgender person than to be allowed to pee in peace. There are many families I’ve talked to who have transgender children that need to pee whether at the Lt. Gov’s office or at school. While we can make light of the ridiculousness of the “Women’s Protection Act”, for many people, adults or children, this is a very real and scary issue. It has meaning for them… and us… society.

Plus, who can blame anyone for wanting to use the ladies room – they are mostly cleaner than mens rooms anyway and generally smell a whole lot better. You know I’m right.

More reading on the topic: Angry Transgender Woman Writes Story About Texas Bathroom Bill, Changes the World

 

 

A Dallas Baptist church votes for LGBT inclusion, and is unincluded

Wilshire-Baptist

Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas Texas

Wilshire Baptist Church, located on Abrams Road just north of Mockingbird Lane in Dallas, voted November 14, 2016 to include gay and lesbians for full membership, including rights to serve in leadership positions and marry in the church. The measure passed with a vote of 61% of the membership in favor of inclusion. As soon as the church completed its vote, the Baptist General Convention started proceedings to remove the church out of the group because, in its view, gay and lesbians should not be members of a Baptist church.

The pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church, Rev. George Mason, studied the issue of God’s view of gay and lesbians for several months before reaching his own personal decision. He concluded that the passages actually do not say loving homosexual relationships are sinful, but actually condemn abusive sexual practices. He concluded that he would “err on the side of love and grace” in accepting gay members.

Unfortunately, the controversial issue may result in the loss of 100 members who stood in disagreement with the issue.

The Baptist Standard, a weekly digital news journal affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, reports that the BGCT position is that the Bible teaches any sexual relations outside the bounds of a male/female marriage are sinful. So, any church that affirms other types of sexual relationships choose to withdraw from the convention. (See Two churches face removal from BGCT due to gay issue.)

For more reading, see A Dallas church voted to perform gay marriages, and it’s getting kicked out of the Texas Baptists from the Washington Post and UPDATE: Wilshire Baptist Church votes on accepting LGBT members.

Do I need a lawyer who is gay for my same sex divorce in Texas?

keep-calmOne of the challenges that I see in my work as a family law/divorce/child custody attorney in the Dallas LGBT community is the attitude that only a lawyer who is also gay can represent a gay person. In any field, you should want the best professional for your situation as possible. While a lawyer who is also gay may be a great lawyer and may be very good at the issues you are facing, he or she may not be the only lawyer or even the best lawyer for your situation.

If you have a medical condition, would you only want a doctor who is gay to treat you – or would you want the best doctor for your malady? If you wanted to buy a house, would you only want a realtor who is gay to represent you – or would you want the best realtor for the area you are looking in?

Many lawyers, regardless of sexual orientation, have advocated for same sex couples even before the recent expansion of rights for LGBT people by the US Supreme Court. Gay couples have adopted children, had custody arrangements, and broken up relationships for years before the US Supreme Court decided the Windsor case or the Obergefell case (granting recognition for same sex marriages).

For example, in the late 1990’s I represented a couple in a break up and division of property, under the laws at that time called a Partition suit. I represented gay couples who had children and intended for the children to be raised by them as parents. In fact, I represented a lesbian woman in a custody case, resulting in the first appellate decision in Texas granting standing to a lesbian non-biological parent to sue for access to the child. (See discussion about In re M.K.S. opinion here.)

So, what qualities should a person look for in a lawyer for a gay divorce or child custody suit in Texas? First, look for a lawyer who specializes in Texas family law. The Texas Board of Legal Specialization offers certification in Texas family law, which can be standard to ensure that a lawyer has met certain minimum qualifications. Also, research or ask the lawyer about his or her prior experience in LGBT or gay family law issues. Is the lawyer new to the subject or does the lawyer have a track-record of representing people in LGBT or gay issues? Third, do you have a comfort level with the lawyer? Rapport is an important part of the attorney/client relationship. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to the lawyer, he or she will not be a good fit for you. None of those questions involve an inquiry into the lawyer’s personal sexual orientation.

 

LGBT National Coming Out Day October 11th

national lgbt coming out dayTuesday October 11th is LGBT National Coming Out Day.

On October 11, 1987, half a million people participated in the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The idea of a national day to celebrate coming out came on October 11, 1987 when a half million people participated in a march on Washington D.C. for gay and lesbian rights. Since then, each year on October 11th, LGBT National Coming Out Day continues to promote a safe world for individuals to live truthfully and openly.

Coming out (of the closet) is a figure of speech for LGBT people’s disclosure of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

There is no one right way to come out. Throughout the process of coming out and living more openly, it is important for a person to be in the driver’s seat about how, where, when and with whom he or she chooses to be open. The Human Rights Campaign has a Resource Guide to Coming Out to help people through that process in realistic and practical terms. It acknowledges that the experience of coming out and living openly covers the full spectrum of human emotion – from fear to euphoria. Whether coming out to friends, family, coworkers or healthcare providers, a person’s approach and timing will be as unique as his or her own sense of identity.

The Human Rights Campaign lists the following benefits of coming out:

The Benefits of Coming Out:

  • Living an open and whole life.
  • Developing closer, more genuine relationships.
  • Building self-esteem from being known and loved for our whole selves.
  • Reducing the stress of hiding our identity.
  • Connecting with others who are LGBT.
  • Being part of a strong and vibrant community.
  • Helping to dispel myths and stereotypes about who LGBT people are and what our lives are like.
  • Becoming a role model for others.
  • Making it easier for younger LGBT people who will follow in our footsteps.

But, there are also risks of coming out:

  • Not everyone will be understanding or accepting.
  • Family, friends or co-workers may be shocked, confused or even hostile.
  • Some relationships may permanently change.
  • You may experience harassment or discrimination.
  • Your physical safety may be at risk.
  • Some young people, especially those under age 18, may be thrown out of their homes or lose financial support from their parents.

The HRC suggest making a coming out plan. First, get a sense of how accepting the important people in your life will be by the things they say or don’t say when LGBT-related issues come up. Second, be well-informed on LGBT issues so that you can respond to misinformation about LGBT issues. Third, practice what you want to say and be prepared. Fourth, have a support group to help you through the process. Fifth, pick a good time to come out. And Last, be patient and allow time for people to come to terms with your news.

 

Books for children in gay-parent families

I came across this list of books for children in families with gay  and LGBT parents and thought it might be useful as a resource: Gay-Themed Picture Books for Children. I especially liked the one titled A Family is a Family isBooks for children in gay families a Family that talks about children who tell a teacher what makes their family special and hearing about all different kinds of families – one child is raised by a grandmother, one has two dads, one has a lot of step-siblings, and another has a new baby. Another book called Home At Last talks about a child who didn’t have a home for a long time and is adopted by two dads. There is even a book that delves into the topic of a child conceived through sperm donation called Family Stew. And, another book goes through a family whose child was conceived through surrogacy, Milo’s Adventures: A Story About Love. Other topics include gender nonconformity, AIDS and disease, bullying, cross-dressing, tomboys, and homophobia. There are books in Spanish, French, and many other languages listed in this blog.

The curator of the list cites three purposes of the list – 1) for parents who would like to find books for their children about the experience of being a child in a gay family or having gay family members; 2) for librarians who would like to develop collections; and 3) for counselors and therapists who would like to have books like this in their practices.

For many children, having books like this will give them something to identify with and help them understand that they are not alone or strange or weird. They will also help parents find the words to open discussions with children about topics that might be hard.

My mother instilled in me a love of reading from a very young age. She always believed that a person could learn anything in the world if they know how to read. She loved libraries and book stores, and even buying books at garage sales. She was always reading something.  If my Mom were still here, I’m sure she would want to read these books to help understand what some of the children experience.

Says Justice Devine: LGBT marriage benefits denied, procreation encouraged

pidgeon dissent by devineThis week, Texas Supreme Court denied review, upholding a lower court’s ruling that cities cannot deprive married same-sex LGBT couples the benefits it provides to opposite-sex couples. However, Justice John P. Devine filed a dissenting opinion to the denial of review.

Read the dissenting opinion here Pidgeon v. Turner.

Justice Devine disagreed with the denial of review, arguing that the high court should have heard the case. “Marriage is a fundamental right. Spousal benefits are not,” he wrote in his dissent. Further, he urged that the state has an interest in encouraging procreation and that offering benefits to opposite-sex couples would encourage procreation within marriage.

“After all, benefits such as health insurance provide financial security as couple decide whether to have a child. An opposite-sex marriage is the only marital relationship where children are raised by their biological parents. In any other relationship, the child must be removed from at least one natural parent, perhaps two, before being adopted by her new parent(s).”

Thus, Devine argues that Texas may recognize the differences between same-sex and opposite-sex spouses as it relates to employment benefits without violating the constitutional protections of same-sex marriage equality.

Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, who first wrote about the dissent, notes Devine’s “argument is profoundly insulting to nonbiological children: It suggests that a gay employee’s nonbiological child, birthed by the employee’s same-sex spouse, is not as worthy of state ‘resources’ as an employee’s biological child would be.” Stern rightly calls Devine’s opinion “an ominous sign that conservative judges are striving to work around Obergefell v. Hodges and affirm the constitutionality of state-sponsored anti-gay discrimination.”

The problem I have with Justice Devine’s dissent is the complete disregard for parents of either orientation that adopt children. Adopting children is a high calling, and for some a necessary calling to enable them to have children. And legally and morally, adopted parents are every bit as much a parent as a natural parent. I also disagree with Justice Devine’s assessment that adopting children or having children through assisted reproduction necessitates removal of one or both parents. In many situations, children don’t have both parents – that isn’t an option. Justice Devine’s logic shows a lack of connection to any part of society that doesn’t involve a long-term, monogamous, heterosexual relationship. As much as that might be the “Leave It To Beaver” ideal of the 1950’s, that isn’t the reality of our current state of society.

 

O’Neil and Wysocki among best divorce lawyers in Dallas Texas area

Michelle O'Neil and Michael Wysocki

O’Neil and Wysocki 2016 Texas Super Lawyers

Michelle O’Neil and Michael D. Wysocki, Shareholders of O’Neil Wysocki, P.C., have been named to the 2016 Texas Super Lawyers List for family law. Only 5% of lawyers statewide are recognized. O’Neil was also named as one of the Top 50 Women Super Lawyers in Texas for all practice areas, Top 100 Texas Super Lawyers for all any practice areas, and one of Top 100 D/FW Super Lawyers for all practice areas, recognizing her as one of the best lawyers of any kind in the State of Texas. This is the 5th year of recognition for O’Neil and the 6th year of recognition for Wysocki.

Super Lawyers is one of the most prominent and respected rating services in the industry. Each year the organization’s patented selection process is used to identify the most accomplished and trusted legal counselors in every state and major region in the country.

The Super Lawyers selection process includes:

  • Nominations from peers or the Super Lawyers research team
  • Independent research on candidates by the Super Lawyers team
  • Peer evaluation by a blue ribbon panel of notable attorneys
  • Final selections based on these findings

Ultimately, the Super Lawyers lists represent a mere 5% of all licensed attorneys practicing in each state. Attorney O’Neil’s additional honors mean that Super Lawyers has determined she is among the best of the best lawyers in Texas.

For both Attorney O’Neil and Attorney Wysocki, this is not the first recognition from Super Lawyers. Attorney O’Neil has been chosen for the Texas Super Lawyers list each year since 2011 – five years straight – and has been named to the Top 50 Women Texas Super Lawyers, Top 100 Texas Super Lawyers, and Top 100 D/FW Super Lawyers lists for three years in a row.

Attorney Wysocki has received recognition from Texas Super Lawyers organization for six years, three on the Texas Rising Star list in family law by Texas Super Lawyers, and three additional years as a part of the Texas Super Lawyer list in family law. The Rising Star list only recognizes about 2.5% of young lawyers statewide.

These are not the only accolades for the O’Neil Wysocki firm. Attorney O’Neil has also been named among the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and 2017. Attorneys Eric Navarrette, Ashley Russell, and Chrysandra Bowen have been named to the 2016 Texas Super Lawyers Rising Star in family law list, which is given to only about 2.5% of young lawyers in the state. (Note: Of the 2.5% of young lawyers recognized statewide this year, 3 work at our firm!) Navarrette has maintained this honor since 2013, Russell since 2011, and Bowen since 2015. Attorney Jere Hight has previously been named to the Texas Super Lawyers Rising Star in family law list as well.

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