Senator Leticia Van de Putte has represented Texas Senate District 26 since 1999, and has worked closely with Equality Texas to draft pro-LGBT legislation during her time in office. After the 2013 Legislative Session, she was named to Texas Monthly‘s 10 Best Legislators List. Van de Putte spoke on the Texas Tribune Festival‘s keynote panel, “Turning Texas Blue,” and it has been predicted that she may announce a run for statewide office in the coming weeks.
Can you talk a little bit about what’s been happening in San Antonio with the passing of the nondiscrimination ordinance (NDO)?
Thankfully, the leadership of Councilman Diego Bernal, with the support of Julian Castro, and the majority of our council members have voted on a very positive, inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. It was not without risk. In speaking with Councilman Bernal this past week, because of his efforts, there is now underway a recall effort in his district. You only need 6,000 votes to place a recall on the ballot in that particular district. People are going door to door with very false and misleading information about the ordinance—things like men will be allowed in the women’s restrooms. So I have told Councilman Bernal that I will do everything I can, should they succeed in a recall effort, to help him with that. Our community needs to come out, because he stood at the forefront for equality and protection and nondiscrimination, and we need to make sure that those who stand up for us in a very public way—our champions of leaders—that we defend their actions.
Let’s talk about the past session. I know that you put forth legislation in this session, SB 237, that deals with employment discrimination based on orientation or gender identity.
We actually had a hearing, which I was so surprised!
Baby steps! But it was left pending …
I couldn’t get it out of the Economic Development committee. What’s unusual about our LGBT community is that they can be fired from their jobs, not because of their performance, but because of who they love or how they identify. And that’s wrong. I had the ability to be president Pro-tempore for a session, and that meant I got to be governor for the day formally. I used that. If I was going to have the pulpit once, a high priority in my speech was that there is still one group that doesn’t have full protection under the law. I told the Senators that I hope that one day that, in the portraits on the walls of the Senate chamber, that there’s a gay Texan on that wall, and hopefully it won’t matter. What matters is that they could get elected and do their jobs. Some of my colleagues said, “Oh, she’s going there! She’s taking it there!” And I will. I always will.
What is it about your character that makes you want to fight for the LGBT community? Do you have a personal connection to the community?
Discrimination on any account is horrendous and it is scarring for that individual. Early in my childhood, I experienced discrimination, and even in college because I’m Hispanic.
And you’re a woman, too, so that doesn’t help.
Well, that we’ve seen. For me, I have family members and neighbors, people who I love and cherish, who are LGBT. My aunt is transgender! She married into my family. Christie Lee Van de Putte. Her husband passed away, my husband’s uncle was dear friends with both of them, he married Christie four years after John died. Christie was such a great wife to my uncle. The last two years of his life were so horrendous, health-wise, but she was the most devoted spouse. And she’s a transgender woman: she went through her transition in the late 70’s, early 80’s, so she was one of the very first to do it. Why would I want anyone to discriminate against anyone who I hold so dear in our family? Some folks have told me that they can understand the gay and lesbian thing, but why include trans people?
And what do you tell them?
Because they’re people too. You can’t discriminate against someone just because of who they are, any more than you would based on gender or the color of someone’s skin or for their age. I think more people are having LGBT daughters and sons and neighbors, and they realize they’re just people and there should be nothing to fear.
Should you and Senator Davis end up on the same ticket, what do think that the state of marriage equality in Texas could be? Do you think there’s a chance we could reach that level of equality in the next decade?
I think as we see so many states adopt full inclusion, and that means the recognition of civil unions and marriage, those states are not falling apart. And the military offers full benefits to married couples now … if it’s ok to be gay and be a Navy SEAL, then I think we can handle it. I think we’re going to be grown up enough to handle this. Texas is a very conservative state, but it’s a very loving state. But when you don’t know, and when people have that fear—because it’s based out of fear. So I’m hoping that one day—and I think it’ll be pretty soon—that my children can marry the partner of their choice. My LGBT family members and LGBT Texans, they need the recognition and they need those sorts of benefits that are built into to the system of marriage. Now, I understand peoples’ religious views, I get that, marriage is a religious ceremony. But there are a lot of churches now where, they’re not just tolerant, they’re not just accepting, they’re embracing. They want gay married couples to be a part of their church fabric. So I think we’ll get marriage equality soon, I think in the next four to six years.