Remembering John Lawrence, the man behind Lawrence v. Texas

Lawrence

John Lawrence and Tyrone Gardner

Metro Weekly reports that one-time Houstonian John Geddes Lawrence, the “Lawrence” in Lawrence v. Texas, passed away last month at the age of 68:

“In the facts underlying the Supreme Court case, Lawrence v. Texas, Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested under Texas’s Homosexual Conduct Law after police entered Lawrence’s home on Sept. 17, 1998, and saw them “engaging in a sexual act.” The couple challenged the law as unconstitutional”

I was 22 and living in Dallas in 2003 when the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lawrence declaring Texas’ law against “homosexual conduct” unconstitutional. A group of over 100 people gathered in the parking lot of the Resource Center of Dallas as Dennis Coleman, then with Lambda Legal, read excerpts of the decision. I remember the exuberant electricity in the air, the crowd bubbling with joy and the relief of centuries of official oppression finally coming to an end. Similar get-togethers took place across the state, as an entire community breathing a collective sigh of relief.

That relief has turn to frustration over the years. Although the Supreme Court decision rendered Penal Code Section 21.06 unconstitutional, the law remains on the books, and efforts to remove it have met with significant resistance. During a hearing this spring on finally removing the unconstitutional law, Rep. Jose Aliseda, R – Pleasanton, lamented that repeal of the law would entail removing portions of the Health Code requiring that HIV education efforts include information that “homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.”

Before Lawrence several attempts were made to remove the law against “homosexual conduct.” The Texas legislature voted to remove it from the penal code as part of a complete rewrite of the code in 1971, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Preston Smith. In 1973 the Legislature again undertook a rewrite of the code, keeping “homosexual conduct” a crime but making it a class C misdemeanor. In 1981 a U.S. District Court ruled in Baker v. Wade that the law was unconstitutional, but as that case was winding its way through an unusually torturous appeals process the Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that a similar law in Georgia was constitutional, making the questions in Baker moot. Similarly, in the 90′s there was hope that Texas v. Morales might finally prevail in defeating the “homosexual conduct” prohibition, but the Texas Supreme Court decided that since, in their opinion, the law was rarely enforced, there was no reason for them to rule in the matter.

Lawrence’s legacy lives on in a scholarship named after him and Garner administered by the Houston GLBT Community Center. The scholarship “recognizes outstanding leadership shown by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Texas high school seniors and college
students by contributing to the cost of their continuing education. Selection is based upon character and need.” Tim Brookover, president of the community center, expressed sorrow at Lawrence’s passing “John was a hero, the community owes a great debt of gratitude to John and Tyrone for taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court,” said Brookover. “They could have easily allowed it to slip away, but they decided to stay and fight and that makes them heroes and role models.”

The application deadline for the John Lawrence/Tyrone Gardner Scholarship is March 2, 2012.

—  admin

Pride 2011 • LGBT seniors in Dallas ‘just out of luck’

One man’s plight highlights the needs, dangers facing the entire community of older LGBT people

Kee-Holt
Kee Holt

David Webb  | Contributing Writer
davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com

Almost a year after a well-known gay community activist was discovered wandering the streets and apparently suffering from dementia, he remains alone in a nursing home near White Rock Lake without any support from family or friends, according to representatives of Dallas’ Crisis Intervention Unit.

“He is completely alone,” said Valencia Hooper, a caseworker for the unit, which is a program administered by the Dallas Police Department. “He doesn’t have anybody.”

The activist, whose identity is being withheld because of his vulnerability, was arrested by police just before Christmas last year when he was allegedly discovered trying to get into a car that did not belong to him. At the time the activist was homeless and wandering the streets after being evicted from his Oak Lawn apartment.

It is suspected that at the time of his arrest he was too confused to understand what he was doing, and that he was likely trying to find shelter from the weather.

While he was in jail¸ the activist came into contact with a nurse who realized that he was suffering from dementia and did not belong there, according to Marilu Thorn, another caseworker with the unit that initially assisted him and tried unsuccessfully to locate family members or friends who knew him.

Thorn said that when she started looking into the activist’s personal history in an attempt to find help for him, she was shocked to discover that he had been so well-known in the community. A few years ago, the activist was on the Democratic Party’s ticket running for a state representative’s position for a district in central Dallas.

Thorn reached out to the Dallas Voice for help, and a notice was posted on the newspaper’s blog featuring a picture of the activist and asking for assistance in locating his family. The effort was unsuccessful so the activist now only has contact with nursing home staff, other residents and the caseworkers who still monitor him.

“He’s pretty much out of it,” said Hooper, who noted that he needs someone to visit him and make sure that he has the personal things he needs such as clothing and shoes. “He’s really a very sweet man.”

Hooper said that as it stands now, if the activist were to die there wouldn’t even be anyone to notify to determine if anyone wanted to hold a memorial service. “He is going to die someday,” she said.

The activist, who moved to Dallas in 1975, is believed to have a son and a grandson somewhere, but apparently no one knows how to contact them. A former roommate of the activist’s now reportedly lives in Florida.

Hooper said that when the activist was first evicted from his apartment, some of his neighbors tried to help him for a while. One neighbor would let him sleep on her sofa at night. He would go to the streets during the day when she left for work.

“They didn’t know what to do,” Hooper said. “They kind of treated him like he was a little dog.”

At the time the activist’s plight came to the attention of the Dallas Voice, research showed that there were scarce resources dedicated to aging LGBT people who lack personal resources. Although the activist’s plight sparked some concern in the community, apparently no progress has been made so far.

One reader who commented about the lack of resources said the community’s resources are rightfully dedicated to HIV/AIDS services, and that there is no room for other programs.

He said that LGBT people are already entitled to the same resources that benefit all elderly people, but another reader noted that many programs benefiting seniors are religion-based and reject homosexuality.

Resource Center Dallas sponsors a program for LGBT seniors, the GLBT Aging Interest Network or GAIN, but its primary focus is education, entertainment and social activities, according to Kee Holt, RCD’s center services manager who oversees the GAIN Program.

After the activist began receiving help from the caseworkers, he was transferred from jail to a medical facility for evaluation and eventually was placed in the nursing home.

Thorn said anyone who was aware of the activist’s plight could have called Dallas’ 311 service to report his situation. That would have resulted in his case probably being referred to the

Crisis Intervention Unit, and he would have avoided the trip to jail, she said.

“It shouldn’t have gotten that bad,” Thorn said.

Holt said that as unfortunate as this man’s story is, a nearly complete lack of services in Dallas for LGBT seniors means that he is probably not the only one in such a situation.

“There’s really nothing at all out there for GLBT seniors in this city,” Holt said. “If you’re an older GLBT person here who needs some specific services, you’re really just out of luck.

There are no GLBT-specific shelters, no GLBT-specific services or resources. Oak Lawn United Methodist Church does have a program that helps a lot of people, but it’s not GLBT-specific.”

There are, of course, more general services and resources for senior citizens in the area, and Resource Center Dallas recently became a member of the Community Council of Greater

Dallas, an umbrella organization for Dallas-area agencies on aging. But, Holt stressed, those services are often not educated on the special needs of LGBT seniors and in some instances are outright hostile.

“When I first took this job in 2008, I started just cold-calling all the nursing homes and assisted-living facilities I could find in this area, just to try and get a feel for what people knew about LGBT seniors and their issues and how welcoming they would be,” Holt said. “I got hung up on a lot of times, and I even had some people tell me that they didn’t have any LGBT residents because ‘they grow out of it by now.’ Some just told me, “We don’t have that kind of thing here.’”

It’s attitudes like those, Holt said, that put many older LGBTs in an untenable either-or situation: “They have lived their lives as out LGBT men and women, and now, they face the decision of either going back into the closet and spending the rest of their lives hiding who they are, or they can stay out and face being ostracized, maybe even mistreated, by staff members and other residents at the nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

“It’s just a really, really difficult situation, with no good answers right now,” he said.

Holt noted that the Dallas Area Agency on Aging has recently asked Resource Center Dallas to conduct diversity training for its staff in an effort to increase understanding on LGBT issues. That is a step in the right direction, he said, but there are many more steps that are needed.

“The Resource Center needs a full-time staff person to work on just these issues. I don’t have the time to do that, and the funding for that isn’t there right now,” Holt said. “What we need in Dallas is an activist organization focusing on these [LGBT senior] issues. I don’t think that GAIN will be that organization. But we need one.”

Dallas Voice Senior Editor Tammye Nash contributed to this report.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Threepeat?

HELLBENT FOR LEATHER | Scott Moore has planned for a year to try and repeat the achievements of Dallas leathermen Jeffrey Payne and Jack Duke. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Dallas has become a player in the international leather scene, and Scott Moore hopes to keep streak alive

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Scott Moore has some big boots to fill — and we don’t just mean size 13 triple Ds.

In 2008, Dallas’ Jeffrey Payne parlayed his Mr. Dallas Eagle leatherman title into Mr. Texas Leather 2009, then went on to score the top international prize: International Mr. Leather. His service was seen as a benchmark for the entire community, and an award was even named after him.

The next year, Dallas’ Jack Duke pulled off almost the same feat, going from Mr. Dallas Eagle to Mr. Texas Leather and coming in an impressive third overall at IML.

The Texas leather scene — and more impressively, Dallas’ — was on the map for its depth and seriousness.

And that’s where Moore has to follow.

He’ll slide on his jackboots and strap on his harness this weekend to compete in the 16th annual Texas Leather Weekend, as leatherman from across the state gather in Dallas to celebrate their brotherhood and crown the new Mr. Texas Leather.

Whoever wins will go on to Chicago and IML in the spring, but Moore would like for North Texas to represent for a third year in a row … and, of course, work its way onto the winners’ podium.

“It hit home for me after I won Mr. Dallas Eagle and [the Voice] started listing [in Instant Tea] the history of the event, which I knew, but seeing it in print … well, as you say, I have big boots to fill. Jeffrey was phenomenal and Jack has also done a lot. But for now my goal is not to trip when coming up the stairs or fall off the edge of the stage. The rest will work itself out.”

Moore is being modest — this isn’t his first time on the runway. A few years ago, he was entered by a friend in the Bear of the Month contest at the Eagle, and eventually went on to be named Mr. TBRU 2007. Still, Mr. Dallas Eagle was the first leather contest he’d ever entered.

It was the culmination of a long journey for him. Moore, 43, started in the leather community 14 years ago when he still lived in San Antonio. That’s when his lover gave him a gift: His first piece of leather.

“It was a harness — I still wear it,” he says. “I have been increasingly active ever since.”

In fact, it was watching Payne and Duke win — as well as attending IML and other events — that gave him the impetus to seek out the title for himself.

“I really wanted to get more involved and be part of this brotherhood. It was on my mind for a year. So I read extensively, and have gone to a lot of events. There’s quite a bit of preparation. And it’s not a cheap hobby,” he says.
When it comes down to it, though, he knows the competition will really just be an opportunity to enjoy the camaraderie of the leather community.

“I have met all of my competitors and have a really good group of people but there is no history or drama. Everyone’s advice is to be yourself and have fun. As a contestant, the have fun part is harder. I tend to be a little uptight — it’s in my nature. Paranoia helps as an attorney.”

Might not be had for a leatherman, either.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011. 

—  John Wright

FW church leaves BGCT

Broadway Baptist wants to move beyond ‘distractions’ caused by denomination’s response to congregation’s welcome of gays

Tammye Nash and John Wright  |  Dallas Voice editor@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — Saying that the church doesn’t want any further “distractions” over its position on homosexuality, Fort Worth’s Broadway Baptist has officially ended its 125-year affiliation with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Broadway Baptist officials on Monday, Sept. 13, hand-delivered a letter — written by Pastor Brent Beasley and approved by the congregation on Wednesday, Sept. 8 — to BGCT offices in Dallas, informing BGCT Executive Director Randel Everett that the congregation will no longer contribute or send messengers to the convention’s annual meeting or publicly claim affiliation with the state convention, according to a report published online by The Baptist Standard.

The move was the latest development in an ongoing battle between Broadway and the Southern Baptist denomination that began in 2008 when the Fort Worth congregation voted to include photos of its openly LGBT members in the directory commemorating the church’s 125th anniversary.

Scott Green, an openly gay member of Broadway Baptist, responded to the decision Tuesday evening, Sept. 14, in an e-mail sent exclusively to Dallas Voice.

“It is indeed unfortunate that Broadway has once again been put into the situation of having to make choices that, in the end, benefit no one,” Green said.

Green added that Broadway Baptist “has always stood as a beacon of hope for the entire community. We also stand firm in the knowledge that God is gracious and loving, welcoming all of us.

“Each and every week, I am surrounded by this marvelous community of believers,” he continued. “They seek God’s guidance for their individual lives, and corporately live out their faith. They wrap their arms around those who are in need. I challenge anyone to stand and say that Broadway Baptist should not be a vital part of Christ’s mission.”

Green also had praise for Broadway’s pastor, Brent Beasley, saying the minister has “led us mightily” since becoming pastor in July 2009.

“We have rebounded in every way imaginable. Whether or not we are part of the SBC [Southern Baptist Convention], the BGCT, or any other denominational entity, I am both humbled and honored to be a member of this fine church,” Green said.

According to the letter from Broadway Baptist to BGCT, the Fort Worth church is leaving because of “distracting complications we encountered in our attempt to participate in last year’s annual meeting and the prospect of future unwanted and unneeded discord.”

Those “complications” were threats by some representatives to the state convention in the fall of 2009 that they would challenge the seating of messengers from Broadway Baptist over the church’s policy of welcoming openly gay and lesbian members.

According to the Baptist Standard, the letter also said one of Broadway’s commitments is “welcoming all persons into our church, including the outcast, those on the margins of society, and those who have not found that welcome in many other places, including, unfortunately, many churches,” and that thanks to that policy, Broadway Baptist has “become a vital and diverse community of faith, coming from many different backgrounds and representing many different perspectives, but united in the love and grace of Jesus Christ.”

In 2008, an internal dispute broke out at Broadway Baptist over plans to include same-sex couples in the photo directory. That led to an effort by some of the congregation’s more conservative members to oust then-Pastor Brett Younger.

That effort eventually failed when the congregation voted to keep him on. But a month later, Younger announced he was leaving to take a teaching position at Mercer University in Georgia.

In June of 2009, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to sever its ties with Broadway Baptist because of the congregation’s policy of welcoming LGBT members.

Earlier this year, the Baptist General Convention of Texas voted to expel Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas over the congregation’s acceptance of gays.­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Nate Phelps: Escaping the darkness

Son of infamous anti-gay crusader Fred Phelps offers a glimpse of what life was like growing up on the inside of the Westboro Baptist cult

Renee Baker  |  Contributing Writer renee@renee-baker.com

Nate Phelps
Nate Phelps

Nate Phelps has a unique identity, but an identity many of us can relate to on different levels. He’s a parent; he’s a partner; he has kids, and he has to come out of the closet regarding his family life.

But Phelps is not gay. Instead, you could say he comes from a family life that is spiritually haunting — one led by his father, Fred Phelps Sr., the infamous pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.

Phelps, who is now estranged from his father, says he often feels “pulled in two directions.” On one hand, he wants to explain to the world how his birth family evolved into what it is. On the other, he has found from experience that people get uncomfortable learning who he is, and he has to “reassure them” that it is okay to criticize his father’s views.
Phelps Sr., at age 80, is well known for attacking the gay community and operating the website GodHatesFags.com. The WBC launched a protest at the Resource Center Dallas in July of this year, leading to a counter-protest that raised a record-breaking $11,000, according to RCD spokesperson Rafael McDonnell.

McDonnell said of the protest, “What struck me is how the entire community came together, saying, ‘We are not going to allow this in our neighborhood.’”

The younger Phelps, now 51, was not surprised by the event. Counter-protests are common, and even satirical filmmaker Michael Moore has been to Topeka with his Sodom Mobile to confront Phelps Sr.

“I thought my father was going to punch him at any second,” Nate Phelps recalled.

It is a telling statement, as Nate Phelps said his father used to beat his 13 children, often with a long piece of wood — his Biblical rod. Nate’s brother Mark and sister Dot are also estranged from the family.

“Our childhood was full of abuse and violence,” Nate Phelps said, “and that was our sense of what normal was.”

He said his father taught them they were all “hell-bound sinners” and they could not say enough prayers to be saved. He said his father was “profoundly critical, destructive and violent towards us.” And he said the worst part was that his father was so strong and manipulative, that Nate began to “internalize it and believe it” himself.

As an example, Nate Phelps recalls an early memory when his father chopped off his mother’s hair. “When he took those blades to my mother’s head, he was making a powerful assertion that he had absolute control over her very salvation. So ingrained were these beliefs that I remember fearing that, by cutting her hair, my father had condemned her to eternal damnation,” Nate has said in a speech.

Nate Phelps subsequently went through two significant periods of counseling in his life, the first period focusing on the religious abuse. He found a counselor with a theological background and, he said, it exposed him to more information about religion and theism.

Ultimately, Nate found solace in an atheistic outlook. But in the background of his mind, he said, he will have to fight the religious programming for the rest of his life,  those expectations of walking in his father’s footsteps.

“The logical mind can dispute the expectations,” he said, “but the emotions — that is another thing all together.”

Nate, who has three children of his own, entered therapy a second time when he recognized that he “overreacted to events.” This time he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from the extreme violence he experienced at the hands of his father.

With a deep sense of anxiety, Nate spent two weeks in a mental hospital trying to find peace and answers.  But he said, “Certainly, there were no answers to be had.”
Nate Phelps said it was all the “thinking about things” that caused the anxiety. He said he realized that there simply was no way to think his way through it, though he tried to rationalize life to block his emotions. He eventually found that more thinking just increased his anxiety levels and he has been learning to find closure with the various issues in his mind.

“My father is not a human,” Nate Phelps said.  “The official story around the household is that Dad was once balanced and even-keeled, until he found salvation. And then suddenly, he became aggressive.

“But I don’t know what made him so angry and hateful,” Nate added.

Perhaps it was because Phelps Sr.’s mother died when he was 5. Perhaps it was because his father had a violent job. Perhaps he invested so much energy in a runaway, run-amuck spiritual path that admitting a lifetime of mistakes is way too much for his ego to contend with.

Nate Phelps may never put all the pieces together from his childhood, but he is learning to live a life of peace now, in Alberta, Canada with his new fiancée, Angela. “Angela keeps me on my toes and keeps me communicating,” he said.

But Nate can’t help but be honest and share that he still sometimes wonders what people would think of him if they really knew him.

Today, Phelps speaks internationally about his life, about his belief that “things are good enough for now,” and about “living in the gray.” In fact, his usual speech is entitled “The Uncomfortable Grayness of Life.”

It is hard to live this way, between black and white, Nate Phelps said. But, he added, rather comfortably, there no absolutes anyway.

For more about Nate Phelps, his writing and his speaking, go online to NatePhelps.com. For more about Fred Phelps and WBC, go online to their new website, GodHatesTheWorld.com.

Renee Baker is a transgender consultant and massage therapist and can be found online at Renee-Baker.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens