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

25 ways to fight AIDS

Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day.

Wait! Before you click the ‘next’ button or scroll down your news feed hear me out: The LGBT community has been living with AIDS for three decades now. For people of my generation the message to get tested and use condoms has been stated and restated so many times that it has faded into the background with the result that, all too often, people do not take the steps they need to to protect themselves. Harris County is responsible for 30% of the new HIV/AIDS diagnosis in Texas and men who have sex with men account for 64% of newly diagnosed men statewide. The threat is not over, the fight is not over, AIDS still endanger the LGBT community.

But I don’t want to just talk about just condoms and testing (as important as they are). Fighting HIV/AIDS is easier than you might think. I present to you 25 ways, in no particular order, to fight AIDS in Houston.

25. If you’re over a certain age talk to a young LGBT person about how your life has been affected by HIV/AIDS. You might be surprised how eager we are to hear your stories.

24. If you’re under a certain age listen to an older LGBT person tell you how HIV/AIDS has affected their lives. I know you aren’t eager to hear their stories, but listen anyway. You may find that learning the history of your community is more empowering than you’d expect.

23. If you are a sexually active gay man or transgender woman participate in the Baylor College of Medicine’s HIV Vaccine Study.

22. Ask your local public or school library to put books about HIV/AIDS on the shelf, not just in the back room where they have to be requested. Access to accurate information is crucial in fighting the spread of the disease.

21. Post HIV/AIDS stories to facebook.

20. Ask your clergy person what your community of faith is doing to fight the pandemic.

19. Sign up for action alerts from the Texas HIV/AIDS Coalition at texashiv.org

18. Actually follow through when the action alerts from the Texas HIV/AIDS Coalition arrive in your in-box.

17. Volunteer for organizations that deal with communities at high risk for infection: high school dropouts, victims of sexual assault, the poor, the homeless and sex workers. Fighting AIDS means fighting the injustice in our society that all too often contributes to new infections.

16. Say AIDS out loud.

15. Ask political candidates what they will do to continue funding to fight HIV/AIDS.

14. Once they’re elected, ask those candidates why they aren’t doing more to continue funding to fight HIV/AIDS.

13. Remind yourself that it’s OK to be tired of hearing about HIV/AIDS.

12. Thank a person who volunteers their time to the fight.

11. Take a moment to remember the people we’ve lost.

10. Take a moment to think of the people we may loose if this pandemic isn’t stopped.

9. Take a HIV/AIDS healthcare worker to dinner.

8. Wear a red ribbon.

7. Recognize that wearing a red ribbon isn’t enough.

6. Work with communities other than your own. HIV/AIDS effects us all.

5. Get angry.

4. Get over your anger.

3. Donate to an HIV/AIDS Charity.

2. When you pass a mobile HIV testing center, thank the workers.

1. Don’t pretend the fight is over, and don’t let other people pretend it’s over either.

—  admin

PHOTOS: John Grissom captures AWOL title

John Grissom, shown above, took home the title of AWOL Leatherman 2012 on Saturday night during AWOL III, Third Strike (A Weekend of Leather) at the Crowne Plaza Dallas.

The AWOL competition feeds Mr. Texas Leather.

The Leather Knights, who put on AWOL, also announced the dates for next year’s event, “AWOL IV – FLEET WEEK,” which will run Oct. 12 through 14, 2012.

This year’s AWOL benefited the SSC Fund, a nonprofit that raises funds to provide hearing aids and sign interpreters for hearing-impaired and/or deaf individuals.

For a slideshow of photos from Saturday’s AWOL Leatherman contest, go here.

—  John Wright

Woman pleads guilty in case of videotaped beating of trans woman at McDonald’s

Teona Brown, 19, has pled guilty Thursday, Aug. 4, to first degree assault charges and a hate crime charge in connection with the beating of transgender woman Chrissy Polis last April in Towson,

Chrissy Polis

Md. The attack was captured on video by a McDonald’s employee — who filmed the assault rather than step in and try to stop it — last April. The video went viral online and was used, along with new footage from a surveillance camera, in court hearings this week. CBS Baltimore has this report on the plea.

Conviction on a first degree assault charge carries a maximum sentence of 25 years, and a hate crime conviction could add another 10 years. Because Brown pled guilty to the attack, prosecutors are recommending that the judge sentence her to five years in prison. A sentencing hearing has been set for next month.

Polis was present in court on Thursday, but told reporters she was nervous about being there and had no comment. “I just want to lay low and keep my life as normal as possible,” she said.

A second person charged in the attack was 14 at the time and has been charged with assault as a juvenile. Because she is a minor, her identity has not been released.

Below is a video of a news report aired on the Washington, D.C., Fox news program when the attack happened. It includes video of the attack and, as State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said this week, “The severity of the beating is much easier to understand when you see a video. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. Well, a video’s worth a million.”

—  admin

Judge to rule this week in Nikki Araguz case

Nikki Araguz

Transgender widow vows appeal if she loses case

JUAN A. LOZANO  |  Associated Press

WHARTON, Texas — The transgender widow of a Texas firefighter will likely learn next week whether his family’s request to nullify their marriage and strip her of any death benefits will be granted, a judge said Friday.

State District Judge Randy Clapp made the announcement after hearing arguments in a lawsuit filed by the family of firefighter Thomas Araguz III, who was killed while battling a blaze last year. The suit argues that his widow shouldn’t get any benefits because she was born a man and Texas doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

The widow, Nikki Araguz, said she had done everything medically and legally possible to show that she is female and was legally married under Texas law. She believes that she’s entitled to widow’s benefits.

“I believe the judge is going to rule in my favor,” Araguz said after the court hearing.

The lawsuit seeks control over death benefits and assets totaling more than $600,000, which the firefighter’s family wants to go to his two sons from a previous marriage. Voiding the marriage would prevent Nikki Araguz from receiving any insurance or death benefits or property the couple had together.

Thomas Araguz died while fighting a fire at an egg farm near Wharton, about 60 miles southwest of Houston, in July 2010. He was 30.

His mother, Simona Longoria, filed a lawsuit asking that her son’s marriage be voided. She and her family have said he learned of his wife’s gender history just prior to his death, and after he found out, he moved out of their home and planned to end the marriage.

But Nikki Araguz, 35, has insisted that her husband was aware she was born a man and that he fully supported her through the surgical process to become a woman. She underwent surgery two months after they were married in 2008.

Longoria’s attorney, Chad Ellis, argued that Texas law — specifically a 1999 appeals court ruling that stated chromosomes, not genitals, determine gender — supports his client’s efforts to void the marriage.

The ruling upheld a lower court’s decision that threw out a wrongful death lawsuit filed by a San Antonio woman, Christie Lee Cavazos Littleton, after her husband’s death. The court said that although Littleton had undergone a sex-change operation, she was actually a man, based on her original birth certificate, and therefore her marriage and wrongful death claim were invalid.

Ellis presented medical and school records that he said showed Nikki Araguz was born without female reproductive organs and that she presented herself as a male while growing up and going to school. He also said her birth certificate at the time of her marriage indicated she was a man.

“By law, two males cannot be married in this state,” Ellis told the judge.

Nikki Araguz, who was born in California, did not change her birth certificate to reflect she had become a female until after her husband’s death, said Edward Burwell, one of the attorneys for Thomas Araguz’s ex-wife, Heather Delgado, the mother of his two children.

But one of Nikki Araguz’s attorneys, Darrell Steidley, said that when his client got her marriage license, she presented the necessary legal documents to show she was a female. He also noted changes made in 2009 to the Texas Family Code that allowed people to present numerous alternatives to a birth certificate as the proof of identity needed to get a marriage license. That was an example, he argued, of the state trying to move away from the 1999 appeals court ruling.

The changes in 2009 allowed transgendered people to use proof of their sex change to get a marriage license. The Texas Legislature is currently considering a bill that would prohibit county and district clerks from using a court order recognizing a sex change as documentation to get married.

After the hearing, the firefighter’s family and attorneys for his ex-wife criticized plans by Nikki Araguz to star in a reality television dating show and implied she was only interested in money and fame that the case would bring her.

“That is absurd,” Nikki Araguz said in response. “I’m after my civil equality and the rights that I deserve as the wife of a fallen firefighter.”

If the judge rules against the firefighter’s family in their motion for a summary judgment, the case would then proceed to trial. Araguz said if the judge rules against her, she would appeal, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

—  John Wright

Watch: N.H. Hearing on Marriage

Marriage Rings New Hampshirex 390 | Advocate.comThe New Hampshire house of representatives are debating Thursday about whether to rescind the legalization of marriage equality.
Advocate.com: Daily News

—  David Taffet

California Supreme Court will hold hearing on standing issue in Prop. 8 case

Twitter is abuzz with the news that the California Supreme Court will hold a hearing on the standing issue in the Prop. 8 case.

From AFER:

BREAKING: Calif. Supreme Court to hear #Prop8 case with expedited schedule. Oral arguments as soon as Sept 2011.

One thing is clear: this case about marriage equality will be front and center during the 2012 presidential campaign. Background on what all of this means here. And, we’ll post more as we get more info. I expect we’ll see a statement from AFER — and that’s the one that matters.

UPDATE @ 6:16 PM: And, here’s that statement from AFER:

Statement by the American Foundation for Equal Rights on California Supreme Court Response to Ninth Circuit

Los Angeles, CA – American Foundation for Equal Rights Board President Chad Griffin issued the following statement regarding the California Supreme Court’s response to the question from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case:

“More than six months ago, the federal district court declared unequivocally that Prop. 8 is unconstitutional and that it causes grave harm to gay and lesbian couples and their families each day that it is in effect. We look forward to assisting the California Supreme Court reach an answer to the question before them as soon as possible so that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals can affirm the district court’s ruling and end the state-sanctioned discrimination of Prop. 8. We are hopeful that the California Supreme Court will also consider further expediting this matter so that it could be argued before the summer.

“The American Foundation for Equal Rights is committed to achieving the freedom to marry for all Americans. We look forward to taking this case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which 14 times before has declared that marriage is a fundamental right for every American.”




AMERICAblog Gay

—  David Taffet

NH preps for House marriage hearing; we want public to hear what, exactly, leading state group wants to repeal (*Hint: It’s more than marriage)

In anticipation of Thursday’s marriage equality hearing before the New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee, the National Organization For Marriage is asking readers to email that body’s members, House Speaker Bill O’Brien, and House Majority Leader DJ Bettencourt:

Urgent Alert: Marriage Hearing in Concord this Thursday!!! [NOM]

And for once, we totally agree with NOM. Because we think fair-minded New Hampshirites and all concerned neighbors should also email all of those same people and ask why the state’s most prominent anti-equality/pro-repeal group, the NOM-aligned Cornerstone Action (sure to be represented at Thursday’s hearing), is encouraging scientifically discredited ‘ex-gay” therapy on its website:



Why is New Hampshire’s Cornerstone Policy pushing ‘ex-gay’ myths? [YouTube]

And unlike NOM, we won’t make you use a form email message. Because we trust your independent brain to say the right thing. Email addresses below:

LaCasse, Paul (Republican), New Hampshire House Sullivan 04 , NH

paul.lacasse@leg.state.nh.us

Weber, Lucy (Democrat), New Hampshire House Cheshire 02 , NH

lwmcv@comcast.net

Sorg, Gregory (Republican) – Representative , New Hampshire House Grafton 03 , NH

greg.sorg@leg.state.nh.us

O’Brien, William (Republican), New Hampshire House Hillsborough 04 , NH

william.obrien@leg.state.nh.us

Rowe, Robert (Republican) – Representative , New Hampshire House Hillsborough 06 , NH

rh.rowe@comcast.net

Souza, Kathleen (Republican) – Representative , New Hampshire House Hillsborough 11 , NH

kathleen.souza@leg.state.nh.us

Peterson, Lenette (Republican), New Hampshire House Hillsborough 19 , NH

lenette.peterson@leg.state.nh.us

McClarren, Donald (Republican), New Hampshire House Hillsborough 21 , NH

donald.mcclarren@leg.state.nh.us

Palmer, Barry (Republican), New Hampshire House Hillsborough 26 , NH

Email N/A

Silva, Peter (Republican), New Hampshire House Hillsborough 26 , NH

PSilva372@aol.com

Giuda, J. Brandon (Republican), New Hampshire House Merrimack 07 , NH

brandon.giuda@leg.state.nh.us

Potter, Frances (Democrat) – Representative , New Hampshire House Merrimack 10 , NH

frances.potter@leg.state.nh.us

Watrous, Rick (Democrat), New Hampshire House Merrimack 12 , NH

rick.watrous@leg.state.nh.us

Bettencourt, David (Republican), New Hampshire House Rockingham 04 , NH

DJ.Bettencourt@leg.state.nh.us

Tregenza, Norman (Republican), New Hampshire House Carroll 02 , NH

norman.tregenza@leg.state.nh.us

Hagan, Joseph (Republican), New Hampshire House Rockingham 07 , NH

Email N/A

Wheaton, Gary (Republican), New Hampshire House Rockingham 14 , NH

gary.wheaton@leg.state.nh.us

Murphy, Brian (Republican), New Hampshire House Rockingham 18 , NH

brianm@siaa.net

Andolina, Donald (Republican), New Hampshire House Strafford 06 , NH

district6.dover@comcast.net

Wall, Janet (Democrat) – Democrat Caucus Leader , New Hampshire House Strafford 07 , NH

janet.wall@leg.state.nh.us

**Email ALL at once




Good As You

—  David Taffet

Live stream: MD Senate Judicial Hearing #marryland #lgbt #sb116




*You have to download some RP plugins. If you have continued problems, we’ll post archived mp3s as the day goes on.

***

**ARCHIVES:

1:05PM-1:43PM:

1:43PM-2:09PM:

2:09PM-2:21PM:




Good As You

—  admin

NCLR Analysis: Ninth Circuit Court Of Appeals Hearing On Perry v. Schwarzenegger

BLEND EXCLUSIVE: Trial analysis by the National Center For Lesbian Rights (NCLR) Attorney Shannon Minter.


By Shannon Minter, Esq.

National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director

Today was the long-awaited oral argument at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the federal court challenge to Proposition 8. Thumbnail Link: NCLR's Legal Director Shannon MinterThe Ninth Circuit is the federal appeals court that covers California. Today’s argument was heard by a panel of three judges, who will decide whether to uphold District Court Judge Vaughn Walker’s August ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional.

The argument ran for almost two and a half hours, covering two basic questions:

• Do the proponents of Prop 8-and Imperial County, which is seeking to intervene in the case-have the right to appeal Judge Walker’s ruling, even though they do not represent the State of California? The legal term for this question is whether the proponents have “standing” to appeal.

• Second, is Prop 8 unconstitutional?

It is never possible to predict how any judge will rule based on the questions that are asked at argument, but overall, today’s argument seemed to go well for the plaintiffs. The panel asked difficult questions throughout and were particularly tough, on both sides, on the standing issue.  In the end, they seemed skeptical that Imperial County has standing to be in the case. They also seemed to recognize that recent U.S. Supreme Court cases raise serious questions about whether the proponents of an initiative like Prop 8 have standing.  

Some of the panel’s questions hinted that they might ask the California Supreme Court to rule on whether California law gives the proponents of a ballot measure the power to force an appeal over the objections of the official representatives of the state (the governor and attorney general). Arguing on behalf of the plaintiffs, attorney David Boies forcefully argued that even if California law would allow the proponents to defend the initiative, the proponents still could not meet the federal requirements for bringing this appeal because they cannot show that they are directly affected in any way by whether same-sex couples can marry.  

In the second hour, on the constitutionality of Prop 8, the panel’s questions focused on two general areas: the unique circumstances under which Prop 8 was passed in California — where same-sex couples had the right to marry before Prop 8 stripped that right away; and the principle established by the U.S. Supreme Court in their 1996 decision, Romer v. Evans, that a state cannot deliberately discriminate against gay people just to send a message that they are inferior.  

At least two judges seemed critical of the argument that Prop 8 can be justified based on arguments relating to procreation-which was the central defense offered by the proponents’ attorney Charles Cooper.  Repeatedly, the judges pressed Cooper on how procreation could possibly justify Prop 8 when California law gives same-sex couples exactly the same parentage rights as heterosexual couples, and has affirmatively embraced same-sex couples as equally good parents.  

Arguing on behalf of the plaintiffs, former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson urged the court to reach the broad question of whether same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry under the U.S. Constitution.  In an argument that complemented Olson’s, Therese Stewart, Chief Deputy City Attorney  for San Francisco, did a brilliant job of laying out why Prop 8 is uniquely irrational because it took away an existing right, because California continues to give same-sex couples all of the substantive rights and benefits of marriage, and because the stated purpose of Prop 8 in the ballot materials was to counter the idea that being gay is “okay.”

Stewart also made a crucial point about what it means for a court to determine that the only justification for a law is “animus,” or bias, against a group of people, which would be unconstitutional. Contrary to how the proponents have framed this question in the media and in court, Stewart rightly argued that from a constitutional perspective, finding that a law was based on “animus” does not have to mean that the voters intentionally sought to harm gay people.  Rather, unconstitutional “animus” can include situations where the voters failed to think about what is really at stake for the targeted group, or failed to guard against a natural tendency toward stereotyping of unfamiliar or historically disfavored groups.

Together, Boies, Olson and Stewart were a great team and did a phenomenal job of presenting the most powerful arguments for upholding Judge Walker’s decision. There is no specific timeline for the Ninth Circuit panel to issue a ruling, but they have expedited the case up to this point, and we may see a decision with a few months.  In the meantime, unfortunately, same-sex couples in California will have to continue to live under the state’s separate-but-equal system that designates our families as second-class.

~~~~~

Related:

* Visit the Blend for exclusive legal analysis of Federal Prop 8 trial by NCLR

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 1

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 2

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 3

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 4

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 5

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 6

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 7

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 8

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 9

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 10

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 11

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 12

* Key commentary from the PHB Shannon Minter live blog on the fed Prop 8 trial

* NCLR Analysis: Closing Arguments For Perry v. Schwarzenegger

* NCLR Analysis: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Ruling
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin