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

Victory in HCC trans discrimination case (sort of)

As previously reported by our friends over at the Dallas Voice, in September a Houston Community College teacher, Donny Leveston, led an in-class conversation about “Taboo: Incest and Homoeroticism” in which transgender people were referred to as “freaks” and “weirdos.” In an official response from the HCC Office of Institutional Equality the school admitted that the instructor acted insensitively and failed to show proper concern for a transgender student in the class who later withdrew from the school over the incident. Despite this, HCC found that Leveston did not violate the school’s policy against Discrimination and Harassment and will not be disciplined or required to attend training on transgender issues.

—  admin

If Rick Perry is so ‘fed up,’ why doesn’t he leave?

We weren’t lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Gov. Rick Perry’s new book, Fed Up!, so for now we’ll just have to rely on other media outlets around the state who’ve posted excerpts. Thus far, we haven’t seen any examples of overt gay-bashing by Perry in the book, but we did notice what we’re sure is one of many major factual issues, so we thought we’d go ahead and issue a clarification. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Perry writes the following in Fed Up:

“If you don’t support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol, don’t come to Texas. If you don’t like medicinal marijuana and gay 
 marriage, don’t move to California.”

This quote is really a variation on something Perry said several years ago, when asked what he would tell gay and lesbian veterans returning from Iraq who wanted to wed: “If there is some other state that has a more lenient view than Texas, then maybe that’s a better place for them to live.” In other words, Perry’s message to gay people is, “If you don’t like how we treat you in Texas, move somewhere else.” And his message to straight people is, “If you hate gay people, move to Texas.”

If Perry really believes that people should only live in states where they agree with all the laws, then we suppose he’s entitled to his opinion. But at the very least, we think he should get his facts straight.

Same-sex marriage isn’t legal in California, governor, and it hasn’t been since November 2008, when voters approved something called Proposition 8. Sound familiar? Yes, marriage was legal briefly during the summer of 2008, and the constitutionality of Prop 8 is currently being challenged in federal court. But no, same-sex marriage is not legal in California, so ultimately your statement doesn’t make much sense. Perhaps what you meant to say was, “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t move to Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont or the District of Columbia.”

Also, if you really hate the federal government so much, governor, we’d suggest you consider moving to a country that’s more in line with your views. We hear Iran is nice.

—  John Wright

Excerpts from Toxic Town Hall that led to Gay Suicide

I’ve often said that Oklahoma is ground zero for extremist Evangelical, or “Talibangelical” hatred of the LGBT community. This is what it looks like at an Oklahoma public town hall that led to the suicide of gay teenager Zack Harrington. I’m fairly certain the young Zack, naively perhaps, was hoping to hear citizens discuss a simple proclamation recognizing October as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender History Month in the city.

John also posted a link with more extensive recorded video from that meeting here.

Compare the hateful remarks and expressions of hatred you will see and hear with, Joel Burns, the brave gay city councilman in Fort Worth.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  John Wright