“The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times”

Three Supreme Court cases relating to LGBTQ rights were decided on June 26: Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, United States v. Windsor in 2013, and affirming Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015.

On June 26, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that gender-based sodomy laws are unconstitutional and affirmed a right to privacy.

Police were called after a weapons disturbance was reported at a home in Houston, Texas. They entered John Lawrence’s apartment and reported seeing him and another man, Tyron Gardner in the bedroom engaged in sexual activity. They were arrested and charged under the “Homosexual Conduct,” which made it a Class C misdemeanor for “a person commits an offense if he engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex.”

The Supreme Court overturned its decision in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), a similar case where Michael Hardwick was arrested by Georgia police for engaging in a consensual sex act. The Court had ruled that such laws “have ancient roots” and that “there was no constitutional protection for acts of sodomy, and that states could outlaw those practices.” In Lawrence, the Court ruled that the Texas statute “furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual.” A key factor in the decision was that, “the sexual acts happened inside a private residence, where the state and law enforcement had no right to dictate individual behavior in these deeply personal matters.”State v. Limon

The Court’s ruling was used in State v. Limon to amend Kansas’s “Romeo and Juliet” laws, which penalizes teens younger than 19 who engage in “voluntary sexual intercourse, sodomy or lewd touching with a teen between the ages of 14 and 16, provided the teens are of the opposite sex” but if the teens are of the same gender, they are penalized under the state’s criminal sodomy statute, which “prohibits sodomy with a child between 14 and 16 years of age, without regard to consent, the offender’s age, or the gender of the participants.” The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that, “the Romeo and Juliet law, which effectively mandates a substantially higher sentence for the same acts, based on whether the defendant is of the same sex as the victim, is a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution referenced in the Lawrence decision.”

Ten years later, on June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Windsor that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional and violated the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), enacted in 1996, states that, under federal law, the words “marriage” and “spouse” refer to legal unions between one man and one woman. Edith Windsor and Thea Clara Spyer were married in Toronto, Canada in 2007.and their marriage was recognized under New York law. When Spyer died in 2009, Spyer left her estate to Windsor. But, as their marriage was not recognized by federal law, the government imposed a $363,000 tax. If the federal government had recognized the marriage, there would not have been any taxes imposed as the estate would have qualified for a marital exemption.

On November 9, 2010, Windsor filed suit in district court, to declare DOMA unconstitutional. When the suit was filed, the government stipulated that DOMA must be defended, but the President and the Attorney General declined to do so. The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives filed a petition to intervene and defend DOMA and also a motion to dismiss the case. The district court denied the motion and held DOMA unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court ruled that “states have the authority to define marital relationships and that DOMA goes against legislative and historical precedent by undermining that authority.” DOMA “denies same-sex couples the rights that come from federal recognition of marriage, which are available to other couples with legal marriages under state law.” Therefore, “the purpose and effect of DOMA is to impose a “disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma” on same-sex couples in violation of the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.”

Two years later, the Supreme Court would come to a different conclusion. In Obergefell v. Hodges, groups of same-sex couples in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee challenging the constitutionality of bans on same-sex marriage. The plaintiffs argued that the bans violated the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and in one case, the Civil Rights Act. In all cases, the trial court found for the plaintiffs, but the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed and held that the states’ bans did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment, equal protection, and due process. The cases converged into Obergefell v. Hodges and went to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court considered three questions: 1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?; and 2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex that was legally licensed and performed in another state? Citing cases such as Loving v. Virginia (1967), which overturned anti-miscegenation laws, the Court concluded that the Fourteenth Amendment the “Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the right to marry as one of the fundamental liberties it protects, and that analysis applies to same-sex couples in the same manner as it does to opposite-sex couples.” Preventing same-sex couples from marrying also violates the Equal Protection Clause, but also ruled that the “First Amendment protects the rights of religious organizations to adhere to their principles, but it does not allow states to deny same-sex couples the right to marry on the same terms as those for opposite-sex couples.”

As with the Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia, where some states refused to comply and kept such laws on their books (Alabama became the last state to repeal its law in 2000), seven counties in Alabama refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, two years later. As of early 2019, those seven counties were still not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, prompting the Alabama legislature to abolish all marriage licenses and replacing them with affidavits.

“It Took Away The Rest Of My Life”

On June 24, 1973, thirty-two people died after the UpStairs Lounge, a gay bar on Chartres Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana burned from an arson attack. It is the deadliest fire in New Orleans and the second deadliest act of violence against LGBTQ people in U.S. history. Twenty-nine died at the scene, and three died later from their injuries.

Patrons at the bar, who participated in various celebrations, events, and activities, were celebrating the fourth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. There were around sixty-five people still in the bar around eight pm when the buzzer sounded downstairs. When it continued to ring, the bartender, Douglas “Buddy” Rasmussen sent a regular downstairs. When he opened the door, a fireball burst through the door. The draft sucked the fire upstairs and within second, the walls were burning. Douglas Rasmussen escorted twenty people through the back exit to adjoining rooftops. A few, like Francis Dufrene, whose body was on fire, squeezed through the burglar bars on the windows.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze around sixteen minutes after receiving the call. Many of the victims were so badly burned that they could only be identified by dental records, including several victims who were patients of another victim, Dr. Perry Lane Waters, Jr., a Jefferson Parish dentist. Twenty-nine of the victims, including the only woman, were identified, but three were so badly burned that they were unidentifiable. Fifteen men who leaped from the fire escape were injured, with six in serious condition.

One of the few press articles about the tragedy was a TimesPicayune headline which called the scene “Hitler’s Incinerators.” No public officials spoke about the event, though New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu and Governor Edwin Edwards had issued condolences in November after six people died in a fire at the Rault Center, and in January after eight died in an arson at a downtown Howard Johnson’s. Families refused to claim the victims. The three unidentified victims and Ferris LeBlanc, whose family did not know of his death were buried in unmarked graves in a potter’s field. In 2015, LeBlanc’s family – who had accepted his sexuality – learned of his fate. They had lost touch after LeBlanc left California. While they eventually found records, the family was unable to locate LeBlanc’s grave.

Police investigated for two months and issued a 64-page report in August. They found little evidence: a can of lighter fluid at the scene, and two suspects, David Dubose and Roger Nunez neither of whom were ever prosecuted. David Dubose was a teenager who confessed to the crime, though he soon recanted. His alibi was confirmed and he passed a polygraph test. Police focused on their second suspect, Roger Nunez, who had been kicked out of the bar earlier that night for fighting with another patron, according to Michael Scarborough, another patron’s testimony. As he left, Nenuz had said “something to the effect of ‘I’m going to burn this place down,’ or ‘I’m going to burn you out,'” Scarborough told police.

Bur before he could be interviewed, Nunez had a seizure. He was taken to Charity Hospital. When he was released, the police were not notified and it took months for them to find him. When questioned, he denied setting the fire and that he wasn’t sure had been at the Upstairs bar that night. People he knew claimed that he had confessed to the crime. At least one source has inverted the identities of the victims, stating that it was Dubose who patronized the bar that night, and not Nunez.

In the final report, the police department concluded that, “Although there is speculation of arson, as of the writing of this report, there is no physical evidence to indicate anything other than this being a fire of undetermined origin.” The coroner classified all 32 deaths as “accidental fire fatalities.”

It took a week before a church agreed to hold a memorial. St. Mark’s United Methodist Church. Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the MCC, promised to safeguard the mourners’ identities, and offered to let them leave through the back door when television crews appeared outside the front door. No one accepted.

In 2013, composer Wayne Self created a musical “Upstairs,” based on the arson. He has created composite characters of the thirty-two victims. A documentary, “The UpStairs Lounge Fire” was also created that year.

A documentary of the tragedy, Upstairs Inferno premiered in New Orleans on June 24, 2015, the 42nd anniversary. The film has traveled around the world, including many US states, Greece, and Ireland.

ABC also released a documentary, “Prejudice and Pride” on June 24, 2018, the 45th anniversary.

The deadliest attack on LGBTQ people occurred on June 12, 2016 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The club, located within twenty miles of Disney World, billed itself as “Orlando’s Premier Gay Nightclub.” Saturdays were “Latin Night” at the club. Around two a.m. just before last call, the gunman entered the club, which had around three hundred and twenty people inside. Over the next three hours, when police killed him, he killed thirty-eight in the club. Two other victims died on the street outside the club, and nine died en route or at hospitals.

Unlike in the aftermath of the Upstairs arson, many public officials issued statements. Florida Gov. Rick Scott asserted that “this is clearly an act of terror” and that he had declared a state of emergency in Orange County, ensuring that resources were made available from the state immediately.

The shooting marked the first time that Facebook’s “Safety Check” feature was used in the United States. The feature had been used several dozen times over the last two years, including during the Paris attack in November, 2015 and wildfires in Alberta, Canada in April, 2016.

Over a year later, Pulse owner Barbara Poma announced that the site will become a memorial and museum to commemorate survivors and victims. The onePULSE Foundation, the non-profit which Poma founded and serves as executive director and CEO, fill fund the initiative.

“Bi, Poly, Switch—I’m Not Greedy, I Know What I Want”

June was chosen for LGBT Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall riots which began on June 28, 1969. The New York Police Department staged a raid on The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. At 1:30 AM, contrary to most raids, which took place during the day. The riots lasted six days and involved thousands. On June 26, the Stonewall Inn, which had been included on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999, became a National Historic Landmark on June 24, 2016.

Brenda Howard

The first pride event was organized by a bisexual woman named Brenda Howard, know as “the Mother of Pride.” She coordinated events after Stonewall to make sure that the events were not forgotten. Pride began as a week-long series of events. Howard and her allies’ efforts led to events such as New York and Atlanta’s Gay Liberation Day, and San Francisco and Los Angeles’s Gay Freedom Day. New York’s Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade eventually became Gay Pride. She also helped founded the New York Area Bisexual Network.

Before becoming an LGBTQ rights activist, Howard was involved in the anti-war and feminism movements. Howard’s activism continued into the 80s and 90, as she demonstrated for national health care, racial equality and for those living with HIV and AIDS. At a time when the gay rights movement was focused on gay men and women, Howard successfully lobbied for the 1993 March on Washington to include bisexuals. Howard died on June 28, 2005, the 36th anniversary of Stonewall.

Several months later, the Queens Chapter of the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) created the Brenda Howard Memorial Award, the “first award by a major American LGBTQ organization to be named after an openly bisexual person.” The annual award “recognizes an individual or organization whose work on behalf of the bisexual community and the greater LGBT community best exemplifies the vision, principles, and community service exemplified by Brenda Howard.”

Nearly fifty years after the Stonewall riots, on June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court decided in Obergefell v. Hodges that, “The Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state.”

Turing

June is also important in LGBTQ history for several other reasons. Alan Turing, the subject of the 2014 film The Imitation Game committed suicide on June 8, 1954. In 1936, Turing published a paper which was later recognized as “the foundation of computer science” which “analysed what it meant for a human to follow a definite method or procedure to perform a task.” His idea was to invent a “Universal Machine” that could decode and perform any set of instructions.

His best known work, however was a paper he published in 1950, which included the idea for an ‘imitation game’ now called the Turing Test, which compared human and machine outputs. It became an important contribution to the field of Artificial Intelligence.

He did not live to see how his contributions affected the field. In 1952, Turing was convicted until Britain’s anti-homosexuality laws, which were overturned in 1967. He was prosecuted for having an affair with a young man and, chose to undergo chemical castration instead of going to prison. The following year, Turing committed suicide by ingesting cyanide. Turing was granted a posthumous royal pardon in December 2013.

On June 5, 1981, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published the first official document on the disease that later became known as AIDS. The Morbidity and Morality Weekly Report described five cases of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, a type of pneumonia typically caused by a suppressed immune system. All five victims were gay young men living in Los Angeles, two of whom died by the time the report was published.

A month after the report was published Dr. Paul Volberding at the University of California San Francisco saw his first case of AIDS on his first day at the San Francisco General Hospital. By the end of 1981, nine people in San Francisco had died from the disease, and by 1984, more than 800 cases were reported. In January 1983, Dr. Volberding established the first HIV outpatient clinic in the United States at San Francisco General Hospital.

On June 9, 2014, actress Laverne Cox was the first transgender person featured on the cover of Time for their “The Transgender Tipping Point” story. She became the first openly transgender person nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as Sophia Burset in the show Orange Is the New Black. The show is based on the eponymous book, Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman, a bisexual Smith College graduate.

Two years later, on June 10, 2016, an Oregon circuit court ruled that Jamie Shupe could legally change their gender to non-binary. Legal experts believe this to be the first ruling of its kind in the country, though some states and cities have removed gender from ID cards.

Twenty days later, on June 30, 2016, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that the U.S. was lifting the ban on transgender people serving in the military. “Starting today, otherwise qualified service members can no longer be in voluntarily separated discharged or denied reenlistment or continuation of service just for being transgender.” This came five years after the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy which allowed LGBT people to serve in the military but banned them from revealing their sexual identity, was repealed. 

President Clinton was the first to honor Pride Month on June  11, 1999, when he declared that June “Gay & Lesbian Pride Month.” On May 31, 2016, President Obama declared June “LGBT Pride Month.”