Openly gay US attorney speaks at law school lecture

2012-02-22_Robert_Pitman_Shea

Shea Carley

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.

Alexa Ura

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