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

A Sister’s Gift honors volunteers

Brunch recognizes the efforts of women volunteering in HIV/AIDS community

Edwards.Cheryl

Cheryl Edwards

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Sheri Crandall serves dinner at Ewing House once a month, and has been for six years. She is one of 11 women who have volunteered their time to help those living with HIV/AIDS who will be honored at brunch this weekend sponsored by A Sister’s Gift Women’s Center.

A Sister’s Gift provides resources and support for women living with HIV/AIDS. Cheryl Edwards founded the organization in memory of her brother, Ronald Lewis, who died of AIDS in 1995.

A Sister’s Gift will recognize Crandall as “Volunteer — feeding with faith.”

Crandall said she was embarrassed to be honored for simply doing the right thing. When she joined Church of the Incarnation, an Episcopal church on McKinney Avenue in Uptown, people were already involved with the AIDS Services of

Dallas supper club. She’s taken the program to heart and over the years has become friendly with some of the residents.

“Some have been there the entire time,” she said. “Others transition in and out, and others pass away.”

Crandall said that some residents have special dietary needs and the group tries to keep that in mind in preparing a meal that is as healthy as possible. But, she said, if groups didn’t continue serving meals at the facility, some people wouldn’t eat.

Rosemarie Odom will be recognized as a community advocate.

Odom co-founded C.U.R.E., a Collin County-based group that uses panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in HIV education efforts. This week, C.U.R.E. members hung 18 panels at the Anatole Hotel for the Out & Equal conference.

Odom said that she and Roseann Rosetti started C.U.R.E. because the number of HIV cases were increasing and fewer people seemed to know about it.

“People forgot about what happened in the early ’80s or didn’t know about it,” she said, adding that many people who come to see the quilt panels have never seen the quilt before.

The group has had success displaying panels in Plano and Frisco public schools and starting a discussion about HIV, Odom said, noting that, “Everyone wants to take a picture with it and touch it.”

For World AIDS Day, Odom said C.U.R.E. is planning an event in downtown Dallas with AIDS Interfaith Network. They will display panels from the quilt at the brunch.

Gretchen Kelly will be recognized at the brunch as an HIV fundraiser and volunteer patient advocate. For more than 20 years, Kelly has helped raise funds for a variety of agencies including DIFFA, AIDS Services of North Texas, Legal Hospice of

Texas, AIDS Services Dallas and AIDS Interfaith Network.

But rather than talking about herself, Kelly said Edwards should be getting the award.

“She made a promise to her brother,” she said. “She’s worked really hard to make it work. She’s dedicated her life to it.”

Edwards founded A Sister’s Gift after her brother died of AIDS to provide resources and support for women living with HIV/AIDS.

Edwards said the idea for the brunch came several years ago when she was given an award and noticed that she was the only woman being recognized.

She remembered a woman who took care of her brother when her parents were out of town and she said she knew there had to be a lot of other women whose devotion to people with HIV were not being recognized.

“Women’s needs are different from men’s,” she said.

Edwards called one of the primary services provided by A sister’s Gift “navigational counseling.”

“After many women are diagnosed with HIV, most are clueless about where to go and what to do,” she said.
Edwards said the goal is to make sure women with HIV get medical care and stay on their regimen. They provide bus passes to make sure clients can get to doctors appointments.

More than 95 percent of A Sister’s Gift’s clients live below the poverty line. So when possible, they provide grocery assistance and utility assistance.

TOP Event Center, 1508 Cadiz St. Oct. 29 at 11:30 a.m.
$20 online at ASistersGift.org.
$25 at the door.

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

—  Kevin Thomas