The Death of John Lawrence: The Policing of LGBT People

27 Dec

Thank you, John Lawrence

Thank you to my friend Jennifer Lockett for inspiring me to write this article. Just a week ago, John Lawrence passed away at the young age of 68.  Lawrence became famous for standing up to the criminal system in Texas in Lawrence v. Texas, the now famous court case that ended sodomy laws in the United States.

Of course, sodomy laws have been used to police and discriminate against gay men since the 16th century here in the United States, thus marginalizing a certain population and publicly vilifying gay men. More pathetically, these sodomy laws were used to support and reinforce the existing horrifically inequitable race, class, and gender power structures.  Yes, sodomy laws were enforced to ensure the stability of a white heterosexual power system.

The victory that was Lawrence v. Texas for the LGBT community was monumental, but we must not delude ourselves into thinking that striking down sodomy laws was going to end homophobia or institutionalized and systematic and systemic discrimination against LGBT people–lest we forget the intersections of oppression and how violence and discrimination are disproportionately applied to LGBT people of color–all to support a milleniums-old white heterosexual male power structure, or white I like to call WHMP.  Before many of you get offended by the word “wimp,” I would point out that I am reclaiming it for the Queer community and using it as a pejorative for white heterosexual males who abuse their power to sustain their own.  We have to look no further than the current pledge by the Republican presidential candidates to see the limited impact of Lawrence v. Texas.

By no means do I want to minimize John Lawrence or the courage he displayed in taking injustice to the US Supreme Court.  Lawrence’s courage did manage to stop making it a crime for gay men to have consensual sex at home.  Just a very important side note here: sodomy is not gay sex!  While sodomy has been used for centuries to depict and vilify gays, the actual sex act of anal sex is just as prevalent among heterosexuals.  In fact, there was an exponential rise in heterosexual sodomy during the Bush(W) administration; the rationale was that anal sex still allowed young women to retain their virginity for the Lord.

As humans we owe a great debt of gratitude to John Lawrence and his legacy for civil rights for the LGBT community.  Even the very homophobic and misogynistic Justice Scalia admitted in his dissent of Lawrence v. Texas (yes, Scalia would like to retain the sodomy laws–big surprise): “The logic of the Lawrence decision supported a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.”

TSM will be publishing many more stories on the intersections of oppression and the policing of gay sex, as it is used to embolden and secure white heterosexual male dominance.

Policing Gays

Click here to see the full NYT article on John Lawrence.

4 Responses to “The Death of John Lawrence: The Policing of LGBT People”

  1. Jay December 27, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

    Stereotyping any group, including white heterosexual males, is a tricky business. It makes me think, on the one hand, of the many poor folks I’ve known who have happened to be male, white and heterosexual, and on the other hand of famous names like Oprah, Michael Jordan, and David Geffen who have done exceedingly well without being a member of that ‘club’.

    It also leads me consider how rapidly the global balance of economic power is shifting to Asia. China and India have been among the wealthiest and most innovative places on the planet for most of human history, so the shift in global power in their direction is not anomalous, but instead represents a return to normalcy. Straight white guys had a hell of a run–five or six centuries of near-absolute dominance–but in my view that era is ending or is already done.

    The new global elite is much more about education and wealth than it is about color and gender, or so it seems when one peruses the New York Times wedding section.

    You are free to choose whatever rhetorical strategy you like, and if that includes maintaining a drumbeat about white heterosexual males, so be it. I personally prefer the rhetoric about the 99% used by the various Occupy movements–it strikes me as being more inclusive as to victims and more focused as to villains–but differing interpretations and approaches are part of what keeps the world interesting.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt December 27, 2011 at 9:17 pm #

      Yes, I do feel we will respectfully disagree on a few points. While I do agree about a power shift to Asia, I would maintain that gender, gender conformity, and color still play an all too pivotal role in the United States, as gender, and gender conformity play a dominate role in Asia regarding distribution of power and wealth.

      • Jay December 28, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

        You make valid points; in particular it is inarguable that the shift to Asia is largely to gender-conforming heterosexual men (though the growing middle classes of Asia certainly include many women, and at least a few members of the LGBT community).

        I suppose the core difference between us regards the primacy of race or ethnicity as opposed to economics or social status. It makes no sense to me, for example, that Herman Cain’s kids, or the Obama girls, would benefit from Affirmative Action programs, while a white kid in foster care due to having wildly dysfunctional parents would not. Race matters, of course, but I think it is, increasingly, a crude proxy for the true determinants of disadvantage: poverty and dysfunctional families. And yes, LGBT status as well.

        I was being sincere when I noted that disagreements need not be disagreeable, so I hope you understand that I’m merely expanding on my points rather than trying to convince you that you’re ‘wrong.’ I don’t think you’re wrong–we just are looking at similar problems from different angles, rather than looking at identical problems from the same angle–so it makes sense that we see somewhat different pictures.

    • webwordwarrior December 28, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

      You make an interesting point about the nature of the elite, Jay. It’s certainly true that education and wealth rule the day (especially wealth) almost everywhere. I find it interesting, however, that you overlook how one gains access to those advantages.

      The world over, straight men from the dominant religion and of the dominant regional race (usually white, but not necessarily in Asia or other places) have the best opportunity to gain wealth and receive education. As long as that remains true, focusing on white hetereosexual Christian men in North American and Europe as the fundamental power structure seems reasonable to me.

      Your exceptions are notable, especially Oprah, but I think you’d have to admit that it was easy to pick those examples because they are rare. Herman Cain also comes from Atlanta, where, at this point, his race is less of an issue than it might be other places. I believe Geffen was also firmly closeted when he launched his career.

      The “new global elite” — as you put it — may be taking on a different shape (however slowly). It is worth noting, however, that those in that elite remain predominantly representative of the faces like themselves in that group.

      Respectfully – Lex

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