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

Meth and gay men: Tweaking, no thinking

One man’s story of his journey from HIV-positive drug addict on a downward spiral to HIV education advocate has a lesson for the whole gay community, especially youth

Leslie Robinson  General Gayety

“In my brief moments of clarity I knew my life was supposed to be better than this.”

Who said that? Who had mere seconds of clarity? Yogi Berra? Dan Quayle? Maxwell Smart?

If you guessed Lindsay Lohan, you’re getting warm.

The speaker was 26-year-old Jordan Duran, who in an interview with The Seattle Times described his addiction to crystal meth. He was part of a story about young gays contracting HIV through meth use.

As happy a topic as exploding oil rigs.

There is some happiness connected with Duran’s story: He’s alive. Not long ago you’d have gotten better odds on Mel Gibson joining the diplomatic corps.

Duran struggled in his hometown of Puyallup, about 35 miles south of Seattle. By the age of 5, he knew he was different from other boys. In high school he seized on religion. Duran even went to a therapist who “specialized” in reversing homosexuality.

During his senior year, he came out.

After graduation he headed for Seattle, moving in with an older man who apparently took his role as mentor very seriously, arranging official introductions for his protégé — to ecstasy, ketamine, GHB and then meth.

“From the first time I took meth I was hooked,” said Duran. “It was about escaping from who I was, and meth was the perfect drug to wash it all away.”

Chocolate does the same for me, but oddly, it doesn’t have that effect on everyone.

On his 21st birthday, Duran drank a boatload and then scored some meth. He had unprotected sex with a stranger.

A few weeks later it became clear what he’d gotten for his birthday: HIV. And many happy returns.

Joshua O’Neal, who does HIV testing research at a local hospital, told The Seattle Times that three-quarters of those who test HIV-positive at his clinic have used meth.

Said O’Neal, “When you feel invincible, you don’t care about using a condom.”

After he tested positive, Duran’s downward spiral got a move on. By 23, he was using meth 20 times each day.

Most people don’t do anything 20 times a day — except breathe.

He had unsafe sex. Staph infections and MRSA were frequent visitors. He contracted syphilis, which spread to his brain, causing disorientation. He was homeless.

Only Dante could do justice to this circle of hell.

Finally Duran saw a doctor, who happened to resemble his grandmother. She asked if he was using meth, and told him if he continued to use he’d be dead within six months from an overdose or the HIV.

Grandma took no prisoners. Thank goodness.

“Up until that point I was afraid of living, but suddenly I was afraid of dying,” said Duran.

He went directly from the doctor’s to an AA meeting, and began the arduous task of getting clean.

“Quitting the drugs wasn’t the hard part,” he said. “Feeling my emotions was the hard part.”

Duran has been victorious in the smackdown with his emotions — he’s been sober for well over two years. Soon after starting antiretroviral drugs, his viral load was undetectable.

He now works for Gay City Health Project, which focuses on gay men’s health. When someone on the skids comes in and tells him he doesn’t know what it’s like, Duran must struggle not to guffaw.

In Seattle’s King County, in the space of a year, about 10 percent of gay and bisexual men use crystal meth. For men under the age of 30, the figure is twice as high.

Combine that with the studies saying gay men who use meth are at scary-high risk for contracting HIV, and it all adds up to a real problem: tweaking twinks who can’t think.

E-mail Leslie Robinson at lesarobinson@gmail.com, and visit her blog at GeneralGayety.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens