Category Archives: LGBTQ

Remembering Ryan White

Remembering Ryan White

AIDS

Whatever the decade, whatever the century, the media provide us with what they think we are interested in, with what we buy, and tell us what we should be interested in.

AIDS was first clinically observed in 1981 in the United States. The medical community noted it in intravenous drug uses and gay men.

That being the case, it was easy for a society marked by homophobia to discount the illness’s fatal effects or describe it as divine retribution.

We ignored AIDS; so did most media.

Remembering Ryan White

Ryan White

Remembering Ryan White

Ryan White was born on December 9, 1971, at St. Joseph Memorial Hospital in Kokomo, Indiana to Jeanne Elaine Hale and Hubert Wayne White. When he was 3 days old, doctors diagnosed White with severe Hemophilia A.

For treatment, he received weekly infusions of Factor VIII, a blood product created from pooled plasma of non-hemophiliacs, an common treatment for hemophiliacs at the time

Remembering Ryan White

13 Years Later

Remembering Ryan White

In late 1984, Ryan White came down with pneumonia and on December 17  during a lung biopsy procedure, doctors diagnosed him  with AIDS.  His prognosis was he had six months to live. He remained home for the rest of that school year.

Meanwhile research into the disease continued. On March 2, 1985, the federal government approved a screening test for AIDS that detected antibodies to the virus, allowing possibly contaminated blood to be excluded from the blood supply. (NYT article)

Remembering Ryan White

Kept out of school

Remembering Ryan White

Despite feeling strong enough to return to school, on June 30, 1985 Western School Corporation Superintendent James O. Smith,  denied White admittance. Smith said it was for everyone else’s own protection. Whites’ parents challenged the decision.

On the first day of school, August 26, 1985,  Ryan listened to his classes via telephone. 117 parents (from a school of 360 total students) and 50 teachers signed a petition encouraging school leaders to ban White from school. On October 2 the school principal upheld the decision to keep White out of school, but on November 25, the Indiana Department of Education (DOE) ruled that the district must admit him.

The school board voted 7–0 to appeal Indiana Department of Education ruling. (December 17), but on February 6, 1986 the Indiana DOE again ruled White can attend school.

Remembering Ryan White

Ignore scientific evidence

Remembering Ryan White

Much evidence supported the DOE’s decision. That month the New England Journal of Medicine published a study of 101 people who had spent three months living in close but non-sexual contact with people with AIDS. The study concluded that the risk of infection was “minimal to nonexistent,” even when contact included sharing toothbrushes, razors, clothing, combs and drinking glasses; sleeping in the same bed; and hugging and kissing.

On February 13, 1986 the Howard County health officer determined White was fit for school (NYT article); on February 19 Howard County judge refused to issue an injunction against White and on February 21, 1986 he  returned to school.  A different judge granted a restraining order that afternoon to again bar him. (NYT article)

Remembering Ryan White

Continued opposition

In March 1986 White’s opponents held an auction in the school gymnasium to raise money to keep White out.

On April 9, 1986: White’s case was presented in U.S. Circuit Court and the next day Judge Jack R. O’Neill dissolved the February 21 restraining order. (NYT article)

White returned to school. Again.

When White was finally readmitted, a group of families withdrew their children and started an alternative school. Threats of violence and lawsuits persisted. According to White’s mother, people on the street would often yell, “we know you’re queer” at Ryan.

Before the next school year began, on July 18, 1986, the Indiana Court of Appeals declined to hear any further appeals in the White case.

Remembering Ryan White

Harrased 

White attended Western Middle School for eighth grade for the entire 1986–87 school year, but was deeply unhappy and had few friends. In 1988 White would speak before President Reagan’s AIDS Commission. At it he would state:

Even though we knew AIDS was not spread through casual contact. Nevertheless, parents of twenty students started their own school. They were still not convinced. Because of the lack of education on AIDS, discrimination, fear, panic, and lies surrounded me:

  • I became the target of Ryan White jokes
  • Lies about me biting people
  • Lies about me spitting on vegetables and cookies
  • Lies about me urinating on bathroom walls
  • Some restaurants threw away my dishes
  • My school locker was vandalized inside and folders were marked FAG and other obscenities.

I was labeled a troublemaker, my mom an unfit mother, and I was not welcome anywhere. People would get up and  leave so they would not have to sit anywhere near me. Even at church, people would not shake my hand. (entire text)

Threats continued. After someone fired a bullet through the Whites’ living room window, the family decided to move.

By this time the story had become an international one. Elton John loaned $16,500 to put toward a down payment on a new home in Cicero, Indiana.

Remembering Ryan White

Cicero

 

Remembering Ryan White

On August 31, 1987 White enrolled at Hamilton Heights High School, Cicero, Indiana. The school principal Tony Cook, school system superintendent Bob G. Carnal, and students who had been educated about AIDS greeted him and shook his hand. (NYT article)

He drove to school in a red Mustang convertible, a gift from Michael Jackson.

On March 29, 1990. spring of his senior year, White entered Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis with a respiratory infection and on  April 8, 1990 White died. (2016 PBS article on White)

Remembering Ryan White

Funeral

Remembering Ryan White

 

On April 11, over 1,500 people attended White’s funeral at the Second Presbyterian Church on in Indianapolis.  White’s pallbearers included Elton John, Howie Long and Phil Donahue. Elton John performed “Skyline Pigeon” at the funeral. Also attending was Michael Jackson and First Lady Barbara Bush. On the day of the funeral, former President Ronald Reagan wrote a tribute to White that appeared in The Washington Post. In part Reagan said:

“We owe it to Ryan to make sure that the fear and ignorance that chased him from his home and his school will be eliminated. We owe it to Ryan to open our hearts and our minds to those with AIDS. We owe it to Ryan to be compassionate, caring and tolerant toward those with AIDS, their families and friends. It’s the disease that’s frightening, not the people who have it.” [Full text]

Remembering Ryan White

Gravesite

His family buried him in Cicero.

Remembering Ryan White

In the year following his death, his grave was vandalized on four occasions.

Remembering Ryan White

Remembering Ryan White

Legacy

Rather than accept repayment Sir Elton placed the repaid money into a college fund for Ryan’s sister.

On August 18, 1990 President George Bush signed the Ryan White Care Act, a federally funded program for people living with AIDS.

On May 20, 1996 Congress reauthorized the Ryan White CARE Act.

Remembering Ryan White

On October 30, 2009 President Obama signed The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009. Obama  announced plans to remove a ban on travel and immigration to the U.S. by individuals with HIV. Obama called the 22-year ban a decision “rooted in fear rather than fact.”

For complete information about the Ryan White CARES Act visit: Ryan White Cares Act.

Remembering Ryan White

Controversy Continues

As governor of Indiana, current Vice President Mike Pense, hesitated in his support of the Ryan White Cares Act unless the disproved homophobic “conversion therapy” was integral to the program:

Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.
Remembering Ryan White

Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program

October 11, 2018: the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that approximately $2.34 billion in Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program grants were awarded to cities, counties, states, and local community-based organizations in fiscal year (FY) 2018.

This funding through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) supports a comprehensive system of HIV primary medical care, medication, and essential support services to more than half a million people living with HIV in the United States.

Remembering Ryan White
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Anita Bryant Pied 1977

Anita Bryant Pied 1977

October 14, 1977

Many young people today don’t recognize the name Anita Bryant, but for Boomers she is someone who we associate with at least two things: selling orange juice and selling homophobia.

Bryant was born on March 25, 1940 in Barnsdall, Oklahoma. As a child she enjoyed singing and sang on stage starting at the age of six at various fairgrounds. Bryant also sang occasionally on radio and television.

Anita Bryant Pied 1977

Miss Oklahoma

Bryant became Miss Oklahoma in 1958 and was a second runner-up in the 1959 Miss America beauty pageant at age 19. She had just graduated from high school.

In 1960, Bryant married Bob Green. They had four children together.

Anita Bryant Pied 1977

Singer

In the early 60s, she had a successful singing career with minor hits such as  “Till There Was You” (1959, US #30), “Paper Roses” (1960, US #5), “In My Little Corner of the World” (1960, US #10); and “Wonderland by Night” (1961, US #18).

Bryant performed the National Anthem at Super Bowl III in 1969 and sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” during the halftime show of Super Bowl V in 1971 and at the graveside services for Lyndon B. Johnson in 1973.

Anita Bryant Pied 1977

Florida Citrus Commission spokesperson

In 1969 Bryant became a spokeswoman for the Florida Citrus Commission and was often seen on commercials that featured her singing “Come to the Florida Sunshine Tree.” She also appeared in advertisements for Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Holiday Inn and Tupperware.

Anita Bryant Pied 1977

Political activist

In 1977, Dade County, Florida, passed an ordinance that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Bryant led a campaign to repeal the ordinance as the leader of a coalition named Save Our Children [later the name changed due to the actual Save Our Children group protesting against the group’s use of the name]. Jerry Falwell assisted her.

She said, What these people really want, hidden behind obscure legal phrases, is the legal right to propose to our children that theirs is an acceptable alternate way of life. […] I will lead such a crusade to stop it as this country has not seen before.

She also stated, “As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children” and “If gays are granted rights, next we’ll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters.”

Bryant’s campaign led to a repeal of the anti-discrimination ordinance in June by a margin of 69 to 31 percent. Following the repeal, the Florida legislature approved a measure prohibiting gay adoption, a ban that lasted until 2008.

Anita Bryant Pied 1977

Anita Bryant Pie

Emboldened by her success in Florida, Bryant and her husband went national with their anti-gay message, but on October 14, 1977  while in Des Moines, Iowa,, a gay rights activist pushed a whipped cream pie into Anita Bryant’s face during a press conference. Her reaction  was to say “Well, at least it’s a fruit pie” (being derogatory) and with her husband’s encouragement, praying for the activist and asking for his forgiveness.

As her campaign grew, so did a reaction to it. Gay organizations began an orange juice boycott which eventually many celebrities supported, including Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Dick Clark, Carroll O’Connor, Mary Tyler Moore, Charles Schulz, Billie Jean King, and Jane Fonda.

Anita Bryant Pied 1977

Decline

In 1979, the Florida Citrus Commission dropped let Bryant’s contract lapse.  She divorced her husband in 1980, which angered many of the fundamentalist Christians that had supported her anti-gay campaigns.  She and her second husband tried to reignite her career with the  “Anita Bryant’s Music Mansion.”  It went bankrupt as did other business ventures.

She continues to defend her anti-gay activism and views. In an odd way, one can argue that her vocal homophobia helped organize the LGBTQ community in ways that had not happened before. Having said that, it also organized the anti-gay movement that continues today.

Anita Bryant Pied 1977
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Richard John Baker v Gerald R Nelson

Richard John Baker v Gerald R Nelson

June 26, 2017

Perhaps some day June 26 will be a holiday recognizing the import of the US Supreme Court decision on that date in 2015 when the Court decided in Obergefell v Hodges that same -sex marriage was legal according to the US Constitution.

Some day.

Richard John Baker and James Michael McConnell

Richard John Baker and James Michael McConnell met at a barn party on Halloween night, 1966, in Norman, Oklahoma. They fell in love and on March 10, 1967 Baker proposed to McConnell.  McConnell said yes, but only if they could marry.

Yes you read correctly. It was 1967 and of course the large majority of Americans would have found the idea of two men marrying as laughable as it was illegal.

Richard John Baker v Gerald R Nelson

Long road

In 1970, the couple lived in Minneapolis and in May they kept their and several other same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses to Minneapolis court clerk Gerald R. Nelson. The clerk denied the licenses saying that marriage was limited to “persons of the opposite sex,” though the Minnesota laws said nothing about such a limitation.

Baker and McConnell sued. Not only did the judge uphold the clerk’s decision, but he specifically ordered that no such licenses be issued.

Despite the setback, both men were determined to find a way forward. McConnell adopted Baker in August 1971 so that the couple would be able to access some tax benefits and inheritance rights for each other. Also Jack Baker legally assumed the gender-neutral name “Pat Lynn McConnell” and on August 16, 1971, using Baker’s new name, the town clerk of Mankato, a small town west of Minneapolis in Blue Earth County, issued them a marriage license.

Richard John Baker v Gerald R Nelson

Married

On September 3, 1971, the Rev. Roger Lynn of the United Methodist Church officiated their marriage  in a private ceremony.

The Blue Earth County Attorney challenged the legitimacy of their marriage license, but a grand jury “found the question not worth pursuing.” Baker and McConnell considered themselves legally married from then on.

Six weeks after their wedding, on October 15, 1971, the Minnesota  Supreme Court ruled that marriage “is a union of man and woman” that the Constitution did not provide for same-sex couples to get married.

Richard John Baker v Gerald R Nelson

Federal appeal

Baker and McConnell appealed their case to the US Supreme Court. Almost exactly a year later, on October 10, 1972, that Court stated: “Appeal from Sup. Ct. Minn. dismissed for want of a substantial federal question.”

That one sentence established a powerful and long-lasting precedent, one often used by the opponents of marriage equality for the next 30 years.

Richard John Baker v Gerald R Nelson

A life together

Richard John Baker v Gerald R Nelson

Baker and McConnell continued their lives together as a happily married couple and continued their activism. Baker became an attorney and a local politician, and McConnell had a 37 year career as a librarian with Hennepin County. They have both retired and continue to live in Minnesota.

Richard John Baker v Gerald R Nelson

Wedding Heard ‘Round the World

Richard John Baker v. Gerald R Nelson

In 2016 the University of Minnesota Press published The Wedding Heard ‘Round the World, America’s First Gay Marriage written  by Michael McConnell with Jack Baker.

Richard John Baker v Gerald R Nelson

Satisfying Coda

September 18, 2018, a district court in Minnesota issued a ruling that said, “The marriage is declared to be in all respects valid.”

“The ruling was a long time coming, but I knew the courts would eventually rule in our favor,” said Baker. “Over the years, many legal scholars have reviewed our case and concluded that the law was on our side.”

February 16, 2019, just two days after Valentine’s Day, the Social Security Administration sent a letter to Jack Baker and Michael McConnell confirming once and for all that their 1971 marriage was legal, stating that they were indeed entitled to monthly husband’s benefits.

Link >>> Marriage Equality dot org story

Richard John Baker v Gerald R Nelson
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