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Letter to Councilman LaBonge
Real People as Fictional Characters
Female Actors, Part Two
One Culture Hero Award
Adelante Gay Pride Gala
Best Work of Fiction?
Tom of Finland: Sexual Liberator or Enslaver
Lying Writers
Review of The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson
Promiscuous Thoughts
A Crime of the Heart
A Letter to Michael Silverblatt
"Have you no decency, sir?"
Political Incorrectness: Female Actors and Trojans
He Hugged Moms and Dads
What is a Girly Man?
Review of Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
From Sunset Boulevard to Mulholland Drive
The Gay Mammies
A Writer Protests
Review of Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro
A Spirit Preserved in 'Amber'
The Supreme Court Case
Review of Live from Golgotha: The Gospel According to Gore Vidal
Review of Lost Years: A Memoir 1945-1951 by Christopher Isherwood
Review of Out For Good
Review of Hoyt Street: an Autobiography
Review of Sergei Eisenstein: A Life in Conflict.
Review of Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation
Review of Whores for Gloria
Muscles and Mascara
Review of "Blonde"
Brother Paul, Sister Jan, Brother Hinn, God and the Folks
Advice to the Next Generation
Sins of the Fathers
Beatin' Around the Bush

Cruise Not Gay! The Judge Has Spoken

The Horror, The Horror
LA--a Cliché?
Dominick, Mark & Orenthal
Holy Drag!
Ms. Hill & Mr. Tom
Mrs. guy Ritchie 
Supreme Court 
Tom Cruise 
New Times Article 

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The Supreme Court Case

Note: a version of this commentary appeared on the editorial page of the Los Angeles Times on June 29, 2003.     

In memorable words, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on Thursday, June 25, 2003, struck down a Texas law that made consensual sex in private between members of the same sex a criminal act. The decision reversed a 1986 ruling upholding Georgia's anti-sodomy laws, and, by extension, similar laws that at the time existed in 24 other states. In the present instance, Justice Kennedy wrote: The Texas law "demeans the lives of homosexual persons ... entitled to respect for their private lives...." Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg concurred; Sandra Day O'Connor agreed, with qualification. By emphasizing the word "respect," Justice Kennedy was not only upholding the right of privacy; he was asserting human dignity.

     He, concurring justices, the defendants involved, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund that handled the appeal, and Paul Smith, who argued the case (and who, in perfect irony, was the law clerk of past-Justice Lewis Powell when Powell along with O'Connor and Rehnquist, on the bench at the time, ruled to uphold the Georgia law against "deviant sex")--all deserve the celebratory rallies being held throughout the country in their honor.

     For some, it will be difficult to feel grateful. That the matter came up is disgraceful to all concepts of decency. For gay veterans of not-too-distant wars for equal rights, the grand decision will stir memories of outrages survived.

     Not too many years ago--the fifties, the sixties, the seventies, and into the eighties--incidents of violence against gay men and women were common, most often not even investigated, or reported, because it was almost always the gay man who was deemed guilty. Into the 70's people risked arrest by being in a gay bar. A scurrilous Hollywood newspaper of the time frequently ran stories headlining the number of "queers" arrested in a bar. At any moment a bar would be flooded with light from a squad car. A bullhorn ordered all "queers" to march out in a single line, ostensibly to be checked for I.D. The men would be insulted, mauled, in some instances beaten. Chosen arbitrarily, as many men as fitted into a squad car or wagon were taken to "headquarters for questioning." Protest would elicit a powerful threat: Anyone suspected of whatever the police claimed--including loitering--might be held, without charges, for 48 hours, released, and then held again for as long.

     Entrapment was rampant; a vice cop might court or accept an invitation for sex at someone's home, and then arrest. Plain clothes cops sat in cars outside gay gathering places in order to trail men leaving together. They waited, then pushed their way into a private home, just as--significantly-- years later, the defendants in the Texas case would be arrested in their home. Some men went to prison; a sentence of up to 5 years was possible.

     It was illegal for members of the same sex to dance together (heterosexual women exempted). A "private" club in Topanga Canyon adopted a system of lights to signal a hostile presence. Lights would blink, and gay men would shift partners, dancing with Lesbians.

     Fledgling political groups, like the Mattachine Society, met in secret, blinds drawn; their newsletters were confiscated by the postoffice, although they had no erotic content.

     Countless lives were destroyed by such arrests, men lost their jobs, were ostracized, forced to register for life as "sex offenders," threatened with electric shock treatment, mandated to stay away from any place catering to "perverts"--in effect being sentenced to a life of loneliness, away from the possibility of finding someone. A man arrested in 29 Palms after a plainclothes cop struck up a conversation that led to a mutual agreement to go to a motel was sentenced to six months in jail, where he remained incommunicado. After he managed to get out--the judge claiming he was "insane" and needed to be scrutinized--he became a recluse, petrified for life by the incident.

     In 1977--four years after the repeal in California of anti-sodomy laws--in the early evening, driving home from UCLA, I saw muggers fleeing from the man they had assaulted on the street. I drove the bleeding man to the police station so that a squad car would be sent to the area. The bruised man--clearly gay--was returning home with groceries when attacked. At the station, the sergeant studied him after I had recounted what I had seen, and he asked him, "What did you try to do with those guys?"

     Now, on the memorable day of June 25, 2003, in decent, moving words, Justice Kennedy, and those who joined him, in effect denounced those past horrors as inconsistent with the respect and dignity asserted. Many will rightly celebrate the decision as a grand, unqualified victory--and those who brought it about are heroic. Without in any way belittling the decency of the justices in their brave opinion, some might view the decision as a vastly imperfect apology for the many lives mangled by cruel laws that made possible the myriad humiliations of gay people, the verbal assaults and screams of "Faggot!"--the muggings, the suicides, the murders--all occurring even during this time of victory.

     Three members of the court to which Americans have long looked for unbiased justice supported the Texas outrage. That flagrant dissent will help to keep fertile the atmosphere of hatred that allowed three men to mangle Trevor Broudy in West Hollywood and allowed Matthew Shepherd to be butchered in Wyoming.

     And so the battles continue.

John Rechy
June 2003
Los Angeles, California

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