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.

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GLAAD Nominates Atlanta Journal-Constitution For ‘Outstanding’ Use Of ‘Transvestite,’ Ignoring Pride

We've already noted that all it takes to get a GLAAD Media Award nomination is to spit out some piece of gay-related content of middling quality, which explains why GLAAD gave Burlesque the only award nomination it'll receive — not counting its bribe-y Golden Globe nomination — besides its Razzie. But how does that explain GLAAD's "Outstanding Newspaper Overall Coverage" selection of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a newspaper that has both ignored Atlanta's LGBT Pride celebrations (among the largest in the state and country) as well as the community at large, notes GA Voice. Oh, and then there's AJC's use of the word "transvestite" in an article, a practice GLAAD expressly forbids in its style guide. But hey, this is the same Gay Inc. organization that ignored Kirby Dick's Outrage! documentary exposing anti-gay closeted politicians, so really, the nominating standards are already suspect. If you're a glass half-full type, then find solace in GLAAD at least having the good sense not to nominate the Washington Post.


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Queerty

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GLAAD Announces 2011 Media Awards Noms, JMG Up For Outstanding Blog

GLAAD has announced the nominations for its 2011 Media Awards, which honor excellence in a broad range of LGBT-related media, including movies, television, theater, newspapers, magazines, and digital journalism. A first-time category this year is Outstanding Blog, for which this here website thingy is nominated! My co-nominees are Bilerico Project, Blabbeando, Pam’s House Blend, and Rod 2.0. All pals of mine! Below is GLAAD’s highlight reel for this year’s nominees in television and film. Click over for the complete listing of nominees in all categories.

Joe. My. God.

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DART accused of transphobia

Judge reversed order after transit agency fought longtime employee’s gender-marker change last year

John Wright | News Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

TRANS FRIENDLY? | Judge Lynn Cherry, right, is shown alongside drag performer Chanel during Stonewall Democrats’ 2008 holiday party at the Round-Up Saloon. A few months later, Cherry ruled against a transgender DART employee and overturned a gender-marker change. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

DART stands accused of bigotry and transphobia after attorneys for the local transit agency intervened in family court last year to challenge a gender-marker change granted to an employee.

According to court records, a transgender DART employee obtained a court order in February 2009 directing all state agencies to correct their records by changing her gender-marker from male to female, including on her birth certificate.

As Dallas Voice reported last week, many Dallas County judges have been routinely granting gender-marker changes to transgender people who meet set criteria — including documentation from licensed medical personnel — since the Democratic sweep of 2006.

The DART employee, who’s name is being withheld to protect her anonymity, later presented the court order to the transit agency’s human resources department and requested that her personnel records be changed to reflect her new gender.

But DART’s attorneys objected to the gender-marker change and responded by filing a motion seeking a rehearing in court. DART’s objections prompted 301st Family District Court Judge Lynn Cherry to reverse her order granting the gender-marker change.

“Where does this stop when an employer can start interfering with your personal life and family law decisions?” said longtime local transgender activist Pamela Curry, a friend of the DART employee who brought the case to the attention of Dallas Voice. “She was devastated. This should be a serious concern to a lot of people — everybody — and I just think this story needs to be told.”

Judge Cherry, who received Stonewall Democrats of Dallas’ Pink Pump Award for her support of the group last year, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment this week.

Morgan Lyons, a spokesman for DART, noted that Cherry reversed her order before the agency actually filed its motion for a rehearing. However, Curry alleges that DART’s attorneys met with Cherry privately and pressured her into reversing the order.

As is common with gender-marker changes, the case file has been sealed, but Dallas Voice obtained copies of some of the court documents from Curry.

In their motion for a rehearing, DART attorneys Harold R. McKeever and Hyattye Simmons argued that Texas law grants registrars, not judges, the authority to amend birth certificates. They also argued that birth certificates could be amended only if they were inaccurate at the time of birth.

“It’s not a DART issue, it’s a point of law,” Lyons told Dallas Voice this week, in response to the allegations of bigotry. “The lawyers concluded that the birth certificate could not be altered by law, unless there was a mistake made when the birth certificate was completed, and again, the judge changed the order before we even wound up going into court with it.”

Asked about DART’s LGBT-related employment policies, Lyons said the agency’s nondiscrimination policy includes sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression. The agency, which is governed by representatives from Dallas and numerous suburbs, also doesn’t offer benefits to the domestic partners of employees.

Lyons didn’t respond to other allegations made by Curry, including that the agency has fought the employee’s transition from male to female at every step of the way.

Curry, who helped the employee file her pro se petition for a gender-marker change, said the employee has worked for DART for more than 20 years and has an outstanding performance record.

The employee began to come out as transgender in 2003 and had gender reassignment surgery more than three years ago, Curry said. Curry said DART supervisors have at various times told the employee that she couldn’t have long hair, couldn’t wear skirts to work and couldn’t use women’s restrooms at work.

The employee has responded by showing up at work in her uniform so she doesn’t have to change and using public restrooms on her bus route, Curry said.

Supervisors have also told the employee she can’t talk to the media and can’t join political groups, such as Stonewall Democrats, Curry said.

“She’s intimidated and she’s scared,” Curry said. “One supervisor even suggested to her that if she doesn’t lay off it, they will mess up her retirement.”

Elaine Mosher, a Dallas attorney who’s familiar with the case, also questioned why DART intervened. Mosher didn’t represent the employee in the case but has handled gender-marker changes for other clients.

Mosher said the employee’s gender doesn’t have any bearing on her ability to do her job at DART.

“My argument in any gender marker matter is, the birth certificate was wrong, that’s why they had to go through the transition surgery, in essence to put them in the correct gender,” Mosher said. “All I can tell you is that it seems strange to me that DART would care one way or another what the gender marker of anybody that works for them is.”

Moster added that she believes someone at DART may have been “freaked out” by the employee’s transition from male to female and developed a “vendetta” against her.

“I wish I had a good explanation for why [DART got involved] other than the fact that I know there are people out there who are utterly blind and prejudiced for no other reason than they are,” Mosher said. “I compare it to some of the nonsense African-Americans had to live through in the ’60s.”

Mosher also said she’s “very surprised” that Cherry reversed the order granting the gender marker change.

Erin Moore, president of Stonewall Democrats, said she’s heard “bits and pieces” of the story but isn’t sure of all the facts.

Moore said in response to her questions about the case, Cherry told her she couldn’t talk about it because it’s still within the timeframe for a possible appeal.

“Lynn is a longtime supporter of Stonewall and I would think she would be fair in the case,” Moore said. “I’m confident she’s an ally to this community.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 19, 2010.

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Dallas could elect 1st gay judge

Judicial candidates John Loza, Tonya Parker among 4 LGBTs running in local races in 2010

By John Wright | News Editor wright@dallasvoice.com
IN THE RUNNING | Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons, clockwise from top left, County Judge Jim Foster, attorney Tonya Parker and former Councilman John Loza are LGBT candidates who plan to run in Dallas County elections in 2010. The filing period ends Jan. 4.

Dallas County has had its share of openly gay elected officials, from Sheriff Lupe Valdez to District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons to County Judge Jim Foster.
But while Foster, who chairs the Commissioners Court, is called a “judge,” he’s not a member of the judiciary, to which the county’s voters have never elected an out LGBT person.

Two Democrats running in 2010 — John Loza and Tonya Parker — are hoping to change that.

“This is the first election cycle that I can remember where we’ve had openly gay candidates for the judiciary,” said Loza, a former Dallas City Councilman who’s been involved in local LGBT politics for decades. “It’s probably long overdue, to be honest with you.”

Dallas County’s Jerry Birdwell became the first openly gay judge in Texas when he was appointed by Gov. Ann Richards in 1992. But after coming under attack for his sexual orientation by the local Republican Party, Birdwell, a Democrat, lost his bid for re-election later that year.

Also in the November 1992 election, Democrat Barbara Rosenberg defeated anti-gay Republican Judge Jack Hampton.

But Rosenberg, who’s a lesbian, wasn’t out at the time and didn’t run as an openly LGBT candidate.

Loza, who’s been practicing criminal law in Dallas for the last 20 years, is running for the County Criminal Court No. 5 seat. Incumbent Tom Fuller is retiring. Loza said he expects to face three other Democrats in the March primary, meaning a runoff is likely. In addition to groups like Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, he said he’ll seek an endorsement from the Washington, D.C.-based Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which provides financial backing to LGBT candidates nationwide.

Parker, who’s running for the 116th Civil District Court seat, declined to be interviewed for this story. Incumbent Bruce Priddy isn’t expected to seek re-election, and Parker appears to be the favorite for the Democratic nomination.

If she wins in November, Parker would become the first LGBT African-American elected official in Dallas County.

Loza and Parker are among four known local LGBT candidates in 2010.
They join fellow Democrats Fitzsimmons and Foster, who are each seeking a second four-year term.

While Foster is vulnerable and faces two strong challengers in the primary, Fitzsimmons is extremely popular and said he’s confident he’ll be re-elected.

“I think pretty much everybody knows that the District Clerk’s Office is probably the best-run office in Dallas County government,” Fitzsimmons said. “I think this county is a Democratic County, and I think I’ve proved myself to be an outstanding county administrator, and I think the people will see that.”

Randall Terrell, political director for Equality Texas, said this week he wasn’t aware of any openly LGBT candidates who’ve filed to run in state races in 2010.

Although Texas made headlines recently for electing the nation’s first gay big-city mayor, the state remains one of 20 that lack an out legislator.

Denis Dison, a spokesman for the Victory Fund, said he’s hoping Annise Parker’s victory in Houston last week will inspire more qualified LGBT people to run for office.

“It gives other people permission really to think of themselves as leaders,” Dison said.

The filing period for March primaries ends Jan. 4.


This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 18, 2009.

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