[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
The collective here at Firedoglake has carved out quite a niche on LGBT issues from the gavel to gavel liveblog coverage of the Perry v. Schwarzenegger (now Brown) Proposition 8 trial in the Northern District of California, to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell DADT) case brought by the Log Cabin Republicans in the Central District of California, to the recent change in policy by the Obama Administration regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to the broad based and excellent issue coverage of LGBT matters generally by Teddy Partridge. But that coverage has been centered on somewhat antiseptic and theoretical policy issues and statutory/Constitutional interpretation. There is another, darker, and more brooding area of LGBT law that is every bit as important, and quite arguably more directly important, to the relevant community.
This “other”, area is the critical subject of Queer (In)Justice by today’s guests, Joey L. Mogul and Andrea J. Ritchie. Mogul and Ritchie, along with co-author Kay Whitlock, have produced a treatise level work on the ugly underbelly that lies at the intersection of American law, bigotry and the castigation of “others”. It is a story all too familiar to those who are students and/or survivors of American history, as it played out with various peoples of color in the past, and yet, still, today. Today’s discussion is about crimes against LGBT individuals, and as what truly should be a suspect class under the Constitution:
In 2002, Jeremy Burke, a white transgender man was beaten, forcibly strip searched and arrested by several female officers in San Francisco. Burke was thrown in a holding cell naked and forced to wear a dress and expose his genitalia to the police officers. Freddie Mason, a 31 year old black gay nurse’s assistant with no prior criminal record, was arrested after a verbal altercation with his landlord and anally raped with a billy club covered in cleaning liquid by a Chicago police officer. And 18 year old Matthew Limon was sentenced to 17 years in prison for engaging in oral sex with a 14 year old boy. His sentence was 15 years longer than it would have been if he had engaged in the same conduct with a 14 year old girl.
See how quickly the comfort level veneer of the discussion is stripped away from the usual Prop 8, DADT and DOMA discussion? There is a large class of people in our society, our friends, neighbors, family members and loved ones that never have such a comfort level. Never. There is a frightening and pervasive bigotry and discrimination against LGBT people not just in society, but by police, prosecutors, courts and prisons. These are the stories, this is the law, of Queer (In)Justice.
But Queer (In)Justice is much more than a litany of horror stories, although there are certainly chilling horror stories in the offing, it is a discussion of the history of the gay/LGBT movement from roots in colonial times (literally starting out with Spanish Conquistador Balboa’s discovery of “different” beings among the indigenous people of Quaraca) through the infamous 1969 Stonewall incident and riots in New York City right up to the wrongs being occasioned today. It is a passionate and powerful weaving of the stories, the history and all its meaning.
Even though we have now driven down beyond the glossy DADT, Prop 8 and DOMA surface to the darker corners of LGBT law and discrimination, the bigotry and separation does not end there either. Every day, in smaller ways, it raises its hideous head. This is a class of people that have to engage tax professionals to complete two entirely different sets of tax returns, depending on how their state treats their joint income versus the federal government in a separate and unequal manner. Another area is employment: in approximately 37 states you can still be fired for being gay (not to mention the LBT). The non-passage of the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) affects far more people than DADT repeal will ever touch. This is Queer (In)Justice too.
There is, however, hope. There is always hope, and maybe even material change possible in the near future. The final chapter of the book is entitled “Over the Rainbow: Where Do We Go From Here”. I have a feeling that may be a healthy part of the discussion today, so I will add a thought of my own here and let the authors incorporate if appropriate into the discussion. Less than three weeks ago, the Obama Administration made a profound shift in their attitude toward the Constitutional status of gay citizens – the new policy is one of stated equality, and on Constitutional grounds. Although many have questioned the timing and breadth of this change, it is profound.
We saw what such a ruling can mean, and how it can virally drive the moment, from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas (case decision and Wiki). Notably, the remaining and ongoing criminalization of LGBT people after the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Lawrence v. Texas is a substantial part of Queer (In)Justice and will undoubtedly be a large part of our discussion today.
So, that begets the question, if appellate courts, most importantly of course the Supreme Court, accept LGBT citizens as being a Constitutionally protected suspect class, how much will it help the situation? It certainly has not been a magic elixir for African Americans, who have have such Constitutional protection for some time now. It is a step that can, hopefully, over time help curb abuses of the kind described in Queer (In)Justice. How this change can affect the situation, and what other, perhaps even more important, changes are necessary to get from the past to a more perfect and tolerant future are topics open for discussion along with the rest of this fantastic book.
With that, please welcome our guests today, authors Joey Mogul and Andrea Ritchie. Joey L. Mogul is a partner at the People’s Law Office in Chicago and director of the Civil Rights Clinic at DePaul University’s College of Law. Andrea J. Ritchie is a police misconduct attorney and organizer in New York City. Kay Whitlock is a Montana-based organizer and writer whose work focuses on dismantling structural injustice in law enforcement and other public institutions. Their full biographies can be found here, and they are impressive backgrounds in the field.