Texas lesbian judge ordered to remove Pride flag from courtroom

The complaining attorney said he would have been equally offended by a judge displaying a symbol of white supremacy such as a swastika.

A judge sits at her desk with three flags behind her, a crowd of people in front

Earlier this month, the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct issued an ethics sanction to a lesbian judge, Rosie Speedlin Gonzalez, ordering that she remove her rainbow flag from her courtroom. The Texas Lawyer site reported on this incident, with Speedlin Gonzalez’s attorney, Deanna Whitley, explaining that the judge was issued a private warning which said that displaying the rainbow flag created an appearance in the public’s mind that the judge lacked impartiality.

The commission instigated the investigation after receiving a complaint from Flavio Hernandez, an attorney, who described the flag as, “a symbol of sexuality [with] no place in the courtroom”. Texas Lawyer reports that Hernandez said he was was offended by the rainbow flag, and that he would have been equally offended by a judge displaying a symbol of white supremacy, like a swastika or confederate flag.

Speedlin Gonzalez was sanctioned under Canon 2 of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct which requires a judge to avoid the appearance of impropriety. It says a judge must comply with the law and always act in a way that, “promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” Speedlin Gonzalez intends to appeal this decision.

Many courtrooms have flown flags other than the United States flag, and judges have flown flags from countries that they associate with or draw a sense of heritage from. As Deanna Whitley explains, “Elected officials, including judges, have a First Amendment right, which they do not forfeit upon election. If the commission is going to enforce these issues, it should not be limited to an LGBTQ judge. It should be across the board.”

Speedlin Gonzalez outlined the unequal stance being taken, noting that one San Antonio judge, who is a veteran, wears a camouflage robe on the bench. A different judicial colleague, who is Irish, had displayed the Irish tricolour in his courtroom. If the commission disciplines her for a rainbow flag, it must mete out equal discipline to other judges who display different symbols in court, she said.

The extent of the sanction went beyond the flag, as Speedlin Gonzalez was also ordered to remove colourful pens and a colourful trim that had been added to her judicial robes, which were not even rainbow colours. This is despite the fact that Speedlin Gonzalez herself sees the flag as a symbol of inclusivity, telling Texas Lawyer that, “Everyone is welcome into this courtroom. That was the symbolism behind that flag.”

The flag itself had been presented to Judge Speedlin Gonzalez by Orgullo de San Antonio, the local LGBT+ Chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, which she presented alongside her US and Texas flags.

In the midst of quarantines and lockdowns, when solidarity is one of our most powerful weapons, reports like this are even more disheartening. Roughly one year ago we saw changes to the US military systems which effectively banned transgender service members. Perhaps the Commission on Judicial Conduct would be better serving its community by focusing its efforts on Texas Judge Brian Keith Umphress, who filed a lawsuit against the State Commission last month, arguing that “violates the constitutional rights of judges” to punish them for publicly stating anti-gay beliefs. His suit compared his disapproval of homosexuals similar to disapproval of paedophiles.

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