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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Houston Chronicle pulls endorsement of school board member Rodriguez over anti-gay flier

Manuel Rodriguez

The Houston Chronicle has rescinded its endorsement of Houston Independent School District Trustee Manuel Rodriquez over an anti-gay flier distributed by the Rodriquez campaign. As previously reported by Houstini, the flier attacked Rodriquez’s opponent, Ramiro Fonseca, for his history of advocating for LGBT people, and his endorsement by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. The flier also suggested that Fonseca being 52 and unmarried is a reason that Houstonians should not trust him to make decisions affecting children, and points out that he has a “male partner.”

In the online opinion piece removing their endorsement, the Chronicle editorial board called out the overt homophobia in the Rodriquez flier.

“With his hateful flier, Rodriguez perpetuates the kind of stereotypes that put our kids in danger. And he implies that all right-thinking people agree with him – an insult to his constituents, and precisely the kind of blithe, old-school homophobia that makes school hallways so treacherous.

Members of the school board are supposed to be role models, not bullies. They’re supposed to support civil rights, not fight against them. They’re supposed to fight hate speech, not commit it.”

In response to the Rodriquez flyer the Houston GLBT Political Caucus had encouraged people to contact the editorial board and ask that the Chronicle endorsement be rescinded. “Certainly we’re very pleased that the Chronicle has taken this step,” said Caucus president Noel Freeman. “They recognize that there is no place for this kind of homophobia on the school board.” Freeman added the next step for the Caucus will be to continue to work to elect Fonseca. “We’re looking for volunteers who can help us by handing out literature at the polls.”

Until this recent controversy very little attention had been paid to the District III HISD race outside of political circles. No scientific polling on the race has been made public, but it’s considered to be a dead heat, with neither candidate having a clear advantage. It remains to be seen how the Rodriquez flier, and the overwhelmingly negative response it has garnered, will affect the outcome of the race.

HISD elections are part of the general elections taking place this Tuesday, Nov 8. Visit HarrisVotes.org to find your voting location and view a sample ballot.

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What’s Shakin’ – Wolfman at Wortham, Vampires on Pacific St.

The Wolfman1. If you got your hard-core Halloween partying out of the way this weekend, why not curl up under the stars (and a blanket) for the 1941 horror classic “The Wolfman,” at the Miller Outdoor Theater in Herman Park. Show starts at 7:30 pm. In this version the Wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr.) has an estranged father, frequents antique stores, caries an ornate walking stick for no particular reason and (of course) engages in nocturnal behavior of a hairy and bestial sort. Sounds like some of my friends. Admission is free, but prime spots on the lawn fill up quickly so arrive early.

2. If you didn’t get your hard-core partying out of the way then you’ll be glad to know that the clubs of Pacific street are still going strong. JR’s Bar‘s “Anytheme Goes” party (808 Pacific) and Meteor‘s “True Blood” festivities (2306 Genesee) continue tonight with a costume contests at 11 pm, while South Beach‘s “Twilight” fete (810 Pacific) waits till midnight for its contest . Cash prizes are up for grabs at all three for best costume, best couple or group and most outrageous costume.

3. Broadway World reports that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D – NY, plans to introduce the Senate companion to the “Every Child Deserves a Family Act” introduced by Rep. Pete Stark, D – CA, last May. The bill would remove barriers to otherwise qualified LGBT parents servings as foster parents or adopting. “By removing all barriers for LGBT families to serve as foster parents, New York City has increased its foster parent pool by nearly 26,000 prospective parents,” said Gillibrand. This legislation would open thousands of new foster and adoptive homes to children ensuring they are raised in loving families.” So far only three of Texas’ thirty-two congressional representatives, including Houston’s own Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, have signed on as cosponsors.

 

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Association of British Muslims criticizes UN for removing sexual orientation protections

The Association of British Muslims is calling on the United Nations General Assembly “to reverse its vote on the exclusion of sexual orientation from the Resolution on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions.”  As previously reported, on November 16th the Social, Humanitarian Cultural Affairs Commitee (Third Committee) of the General Assembly voted 79 to 70 to remove “sexual orientation” from the UN resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

This resolution is reviewed every two years, and in 2008 it had been amended to mention specifically those killings that take place because of the sexual orientation of the victims. The 16th November vote removed that special mention.

The Association of British Muslims views this decision with considerable concern. It is the duty of the UN’s Human Rights Committee to uphold the rule of law, so it should vigorously oppose any extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions by whatever party and for whatever reasons.

It should also act to preserve the human rights of all vulnerable communities.

Removing this clause at this time will send quite the wrong signal to those regimes that indulge in these barbaric practices, implying as it does that United Nations is no longer concerned at the maltreatment of people because of their sexual orientation or considers it to be a lesser matter.

Referring to the Nazis, Paster Martin Niemoller once wrote, ‘First they came…’. Have we not learned anything since the tragedies of World War 2? Niemoller started out by saying, ‘First they came for the communist’s, and I did not speak out, because I was not a communist’ Then, the socialists, trade unionists, Jews and other groups until finally he writes, ‘Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me’.

The Committee vote is to be ratified in December. The Association of British Muslims calls on member states of the General Assembly not to endorse the decision of its Third Committee, and to reinstate the deleted clause.

Founded in 1889, Association of British Muslims is the oldest Muslim organization in Britain.  This announcement is higly significant in light of the barbric treatment of sexual minorities in doctrinaire Muslim countries like Iran.

Two youths were executed in Iran in 2005, reportedly for homosexuality.

December 10, 2010 is Human Rights Day at the United Nations.  Unless the General Assembly reverses the Third Committee’s vote to strip sexual orientation from the resolution, all I can say about Human Rights Day is what a joke.

Event Name: Human Rights Day

Event Description: The promotion and protection of human rights has been a major preoccupation for the United Nations since 1945, when the Organization’s founding nations resolved that the horrors of The Second World War should never be allowed to recur. Respect for human rights and human dignity “is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”, the General Assembly declared three years later in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1950, all States and interested organizations were invited by the General Assembly to observe 10 December as Human Rights Day. The Day marks the anniversary of the Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Over the years, a whole network of human rights instruments and mechanisms has been developed to ensure the primacy of human rights and to confront human rights violations wherever they occur.”

UN Sponsor: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

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