Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Paul Oetken, Federal Judge

U.S. Senate Confirms First Openly Gay Federal Judge

Paul Oetken (shown at left in photo) was confirmed July 18, 2011, as the first openly gay man to serve on the federal bench. One of the notable things about the action was that it occurred in an unremarkable fashion, without a word of objection on the Senate floor. When the vote tally of 80-13 was read out, there was no cheer or reaction of any kind. Senators continued their conversations as if nothing unusual had happened. The nominee’s sexual orientation did not create controversy of any kind; he was confirmed based on his moderate politics and pro-business record. Oetken is a corporate lawyer with Cablevision. On January 26, 2011, President Barack Obama nominated Oetken to serve on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, one of the key federal trial courts in the nation.

“As the first openly gay man to be confirmed as a federal judge,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) Said, “he is a symbol of how much we have achieved as a country in just the last few decades. And importantly, he will give hope to many talented young lawyers who until now thought their paths might be limited because of their sexual orientation. Paul Oetken is living proof to all those young lawyers that it really does get better” (in reference to the “It Gets Better” campaign). Paul Oetken is the first openly gay man to go through an Article III confirmation process in this country, which makes this moment historic.

Just before the vote ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley (Iowa), gave a brief speech in support of Oetkin, mentioning the nominee’s Iowa roots but nothing about his homosexuality. He recited Oetkin’s credentials, including his Yale Law degree and Supreme Court clerkship. “I support this nomination and congratulate him on his professional accomplishments,” Grassley said. To his credit, that is all Grassley thought relevant.

Many closeted gay men have served as judges since the beginning of the Republic. And a lesbian, Deborah Batts, has been a federal judge since 1994. But when Batts went before the Judiciary Committee, her homosexuality was left unmentioned in the confirmation hearings.

Oetkin, by contrast, downplayed nothing about his sexual orientation: his work with Lambda Legal and the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project, or his co-authorship of a Supreme Court amicus brief opposing an anti-gay law. At his confirmation hearing, he introduced Grassley to his partner, Makky Pratayot (shown at right in photo above). They live together in Manhattan.

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