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

Ouch! A hard typo to avoid

There’s an unspokin rule in publishing: The larger the font, the more embarasing the typo. That’s compounded by how many words there are in the first place. After all, if you have less to prufe-read, you should be abel to spot an arror.

Now, I myslef have been known to make a typo or two, so I take no pleasure in pointing our mispellings by others. But this one made me cringe a little, precisely because it is a flyer for a publication, the Texas Observer, touting it’s journalistic experteez. I showed it to a friend, also a writer in town, and it took her four seconds to see it. Do you? Ouch! If you can’t see the typo, well, that’s just plane wierd.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Overcoming fear and finding passion

Landon Starnes had to step outside his comfort zone to compete as Lotta Pink in the Miss LifeWalk Pageant

lotta1
Landon Starnes as Lotta Pink

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Talk to Landon Starnes about his involvement with LifeWalk, the annual walkathon benefiting AIDS Arms and its partner agencies, and you’ll hear

Starnes repeat the words “passion” and “fear” a lot.

Starnes said he let fear rule him for too long. But in the end, there’s no doubt that “passion” wins out.

Starnes, who works as a hairdresser, said that he was diagnosed with HIV in October 1998. But he wasn’t prepared to deal with reality, and so for years, he said, “I ignored my diagnosis emotionally.”

But then some friends began to encourage him to confront his HIV status by getting involved in LifeWalk, specifically by joining the Guys and Dolls LifeWalk team.

Starnes said it took him awhile to get up to speed, and he was involved with LifeWalk just “off and on” for several years. But three years ago, he decided to really take the plunge and has been an active member of the Guys and Dolls team ever since.

This year, even that got ratcheted up a notch when Starnes finally gave in to his teammates’ cajoling and entered the Miss LifeWalk Pageant.

“My team had been asking me for two years to enter the pageant, but I declined every time. I was just scared to death to do drag,” Starnes explained. “But this year, I decided to accept the challenge, even though it scared me.”

The first challenge was to come up with a character, so “I started brainstorming about a character, about who I would be,” Starnes said. “I started thinking about things I, as a person, am passionate about. And I am passionate about the singer Pink.

“Her music gets to me in a way that no one else’s does,” Starned continued. “Her lyrics inspire me. I think, if I had to pick just one, my favorite Pink song is ‘Glitter in the Air.’ It says, ‘Have you ever wished for an endless night?’ ‘Have you ever thrown a fistful of glitter in the air?’ It made me look into myself, literally. Last summer, while we were on a road trip, my friends and I stopped and actually threw a fistful of glitter in the air. It was silly and fun, and now it is a memory that will last forever.”

But there is one line in the song, Starnes said, that really touched him, one lyric that made him think and gave him the determination to set aside the fear that had held him back: “Have you ever looked fear in the face, and said, I just don’t care?”

It was, Starnes said, a spark that made his passion for LifeWalk and for doing something to help others blaze even brighter.

“I knew I wasn’t going to try to be Pink, but I love what she does. So I decided I would kind of pay tribute to her with my character,” Starnes said.

And so, Lotta Pink was born.

And lo and behold, Lotta Pink won the Miss LifeWalk title on her first try, helping Starnes bring in about $7,000 for LifeWalk this year, bringing his total over all his Guys and Dolls years to about $11,000.

Starnes said he and Lotta Pink obviously have a lot in common. “We share our passion for the cause, first of all, and second, we both want to step outside the box,” Starnes said. “I was afraid of doing drag. But my favorite quote is ‘Do it scared,’ so that’s what I did. I stepped outside the box and challenged myself, and in doing that, I learned that fears are just fears, nothing else.”

Starnes said that while his fears still remain to some degree, Lotta Pink “has no fear,” and she is helping him overcome his own.

“It’s easier when you can put on a wig and some makeup and kind of step outside yourself,” Starnes said. “Now, learning to step out without that disguise is what comes next!”

Knowing that what he does is all to help AIDS Arms and the clients the agency serves makes it even easier to put the fear aside, Starnes said.

“The Guys and Dolls team works all year, not just on the day of LifeWalk. And the people at AIDS Arms work all year trying to help other people. I love AIDS Arms, and I love what it stands for,” Starnes said. “The walk itself is symbolic, to me. It’s a short walk, yes, but just going through the movement of walking allows you to release your passion.

“Everybody who participates is there for their own reasons, but whatever the reason, they are passionate about it,” he continued. “That alone speaks volumes. The biggest thing that came out of all this for me was seeing how good people really are.”

Again, it all comes down to overcoming fear and fully realizing the passion.

“It’s so important for everyone to find their passion, whether it’s LifeWalk or something else,” Starnes said. “Finding my passion has lifted me to a whole new level of awareness, understanding and joy. It’s just such a positive energy when you are around all these people at LifeWalk who work so hard to make a difference in other people’s lives. It’s helped me find a happiness I have never known before.”

AIDS Arms LifeWalk will be held Sunday, Oct. 2, at Lee Park. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m., and the walk begins at 1 p.m. For more information, go online to LifeWalk.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

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

UPDATE: Police release description of missing vehicle belonging to NE Dallas murder victim

Earlier we told you about the two men found dead in a burned Northeast Dallas apartment. Police are still not releasing the victims’ names because their bodies were so badly damaged in the fire that they’re waiting on the medical examiner to positively identify them. However, police have now released a description of the vehicle belonging to one of the victims, which is apparently missing. The vehicle is a silver, four-door 2002 Saturn L200, with a license number of 5CVDN. If you see it, call 911.

Again, police have confirmed that they believe the two victims were a gay couple, but they aren’t treating the murders as a hate crime. Police also say they don’t know the motive for the crime, prompting some to question how a hate crime can be ruled out. We posed this question to DPD Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse:

“Detectives will not elaborate at this time,” Janse told Instant Tea. “It may hamper the investigation.”

—  John Wright

House is now debating the Rule for the DADT standalone bill

In the House, before a bill is debated and voted upon, a rule setting the parameters of the debate must pass. The House is currently debating, H.Res. 1764, the Rule for the DADT standalone bill. One good thing about this rule is that there won’t be a motion to recommit. That’s a procedural tactic, which has been used to great effect by the House Republicans.

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) is leading the debate for our side. She’s an amazing ally — and my Congresswoman.

There’s an hour of debate, evenly divided on the rule. After the rule passes, which usually happens along a party line vote, the House will proceed to the actual bill, HR 2965.

The debate on the Rule will give the homophobes in Congress a chance to spew their venom.

You can watch the debate on CSPAN, CSPAN online and also online here at the House website.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  admin

Basic rule of campaign management: First, tweet no #harm

If you’re managing someone’s congressional campaign, you probably don’t want to be Tweeting things like this:

Screen Shot 2010-09-13 At 1.16.43 Pm

But that’s exactly what’s happening in Indiana’s 7th congressional district. Head over to Bilerico for the full story:

IN07: Campaign Manager Tweets Anti-Gay Slurs [Bilerico]




Good As You

—  John Wright

Stay Tuned: Judge to Rule Today on Whether to Continue Stay on Prop 8 Case

image via WikiCommons

According to press reports, sometime after noon today (Eastern time), Judge Vaughn Walker will rule on whether to lift the stay on his decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, allowing California to once again issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  The judge concluded last week, in declaring Prop 8 violates the U.S. Constitution, that “California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians.”  Lifting the stay would put that conclusion into action, ending the enforcement of a discriminatory and unconstitutional law and once again treating same-sex couples as full citizens of California.

Whatever Judge Walker decides today, there are many steps left – and a lot of unanswered questions – in this case.  Prop 8 supporters can appeal the stay decision to the Ninth Circuit, which could issue its own stay and stop marriage licenses from being issued.  So even if marriages begin again today, it may not last for long and their legality may remain in question.  Also, wasting no time in trying to undo Judge Walker’s historic decision, supporters of Prop 8 have already filed their appeal of the entire case with the Ninth Circuit.

Same-sex couples in California deserve their equality and they deserve it now.  But no matter if the stay is maintained or lifted today, the ability of same-sex couples to marry, and the legal status of any marriages that may happen, will remain somewhat uncertain.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

Judge Walker will rule on stay of Prop. 8 decision today

From The Advocate:

U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker will issue a Thursday morning ruling on whether to stay a decision in the Proposition 8 federal case pending appeal, according to a late Wednesday e-mail from the court.

The ruling be issued between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. Pacific Time.

Karen Ocamb reports that West Hollywood is ready to preform marriages, if the stay is lifted. And, she includes this additional background:

As Lambda Legal’s Jon Davidson noted, there is some confusion over the appeals process. There may only be a small window of opportunity for same sex couples to marry if Judge Walker lifts the stay on his affirmative ruling before the defendant-interveners appeal to the 9th Circuit to impose a stay and stop or prohibit marriages while Walker’s ruling is appealed – if the defendant-interveners have standing to make the appeal.

The issue of defendant-intervener arises because the named defendant, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state’s Attorney General Jerry Brown, wouldn’t defend the case and won’t appeal the decision. In fact, they support allowing marriages to begin immediately and asked Judge Walker to lift his stay.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  John Wright

Judge Walker to Rule Tomorrow on Stay in Prop 8 Ruling

We'll know tomorrow morning whether gay couples can begin marrying again in California, the AP reports:

"Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker said he would issue his decision Thursday by noon on requests to impose a stay that would keep Proposition 8 in effect while its sponsors appeal his decision."


Towleroad News #gay

—  John Wright