Recent Issues Concerning Gays:
Extra prison time for gay criminals, prohibition on adoption for gays, A pattern of abuse, and Matt Shepard, Gay survey raises a new question


Defying U.S. Supreme Court, Kansas Court Upholds 17-Year Prison Sentence of Bisexual Teenager
January 30, 2004

TOPEKA, KS -- The American Civil Liberties Union today deplored a Kansas appeals court ruling that it is constitutional to give a bisexual teenager a sentence 13 times longer than a straight teenager would receive for the same crime.

"The court's opinion in this case defies comprehension, and we intend to seek an appeal," said Dick Kurtenbach, Executive Director of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri. "The U.S. Supreme Court ordered Kansas to reconsider this case in light of its holding last summer that the government can't have a different set of rules for gay people than it does for straight people. But the Kansas court's opinion is written as if Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down same-sex-only sodomy laws, had never even happened."

The two-to-one decision from the Kansas Court of Appeals today upholds the state's "Romeo and Juliet" law, which gives much lighter sentences to heterosexual teenagers who have sex with younger teens, but specifically excludes gay teenagers. In its decision, the Court gave three explanations for sentencing gays so much more severely: that doing so will reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, that doing so encourages "traditional sexual mores," and that doing so promotes procreation and marriage.

"The Court's reasons for approving this law are absurd," said Tamara Lange, Limon's attorney from the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "All young people should be entitled to protection from sexually transmitted diseases, and punishing gay kids more harshly ‘protects' no one. The Supreme Court made it very clear that ‘traditional sexual mores' are no longer a legitimate rationale for discriminating against gay people. To suggest that the state should give straight men a lighter sentence to encourage them to marry the 14- and 15-year-old girls they impregnate and support the children that result from their crimes is incomprehensible."

Matthew Limon is currently serving 17 years in prison, instead of the 13 to 15 months he would have faced if he were heterosexual. The Kansas law makes sexual relations with a minor a lesser crime if both people are teens, but it only applies to opposite-sex relations. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated Limon's conviction and instructed the Kansas Court of Appeals to give it further consideration in light of the historic ruling on sexual intimacy in Lawrence v. Texas. The "Romeo and Juliet" law, like the overturned Texas sodomy law, treats the sexual conduct of lesbian and gay people differently.

Under the Kansas law, consensual oral sex between two teens is a lesser crime if the younger teenager is 14 to 16 years old, if the older teenager is under 19, if the age difference is less than four years, if there are no third parties involved, and if the two teenagers "are members of the opposite sex."

ACLU Dismayed by 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision Upholding Florida's Anti-Gay Adoption Law
January 29, 2004

NEW YORK—The American Civil Liberties Union today said that is saddened by the decision by the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to uphold a Florida law that prohibits gay people from adopting.

"We are deeply disappointed by the court's decision," said Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "We think the court is wrong in believing that government can continue to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation after the Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas last summer. We think the court is wrong in thinking that the Constitution lets the government assume that sexual orientation has anything to do with good parenting. We are distressed that the court's decision will leave thousands of children without the homes and the parents they deserve."

"We intend to do everything we can to make sure that none of the children involved in this case are taken from their families," Coles added. "We are exploring the legal options and when we have decided what course of action to pursue we will release more details."

The ACLU brought the lawsuit on behalf of four gay men who would like to adopt in Florida but are prevented from doing so by a state law that ban lesbians and gay men from adopting. The law was passed in 1977 in response to Anita Bryant's infamous anti-gay campaign.

"We were hoping that the courts would perform one of their most important functions, namely protecting people from the prejudices of legislators that were written into law a quarter of a century ago," said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. "If single people can adopt in Florida, if gay people can be foster parents and legal guardians, and if there are thousands of children languishing in foster care, there can be no justification for Florida's ban on gay adoptions other than impermissible prejudice and hostility toward gay people."

Even though the state prevents lesbian and gay men from adopting, it frequently relies on gay people to be foster parents to children in need of stable homes, Simon noted. According to the Florida's Department of Family and Children, there are over 3,400 children in Florida foster care who are in need of homes.

Two of the three families represented by the ACLU are raising Florida foster children. Steven Lofton and his partner Roger Croteau are raising five children, including three foster children from Florida. Although the Florida children -- two 16-year-olds and a 12-year-old -- have never known any other family, they cannot be adopted by Lofton or Croteau because of Florida's law. Wayne Smith and Dan Skahen have willingly taken in many foster children over the years and are now foster parents to six children. Doug Houghton has been the legal guardian of an 11-year-old boy for seven years. Even though the child's biological father wants Houghton to be the legal parent, Houghton can't adopt because of Florida's law.

Every mainstream child advocacy and mental health organization, including the Child Welfare League of America, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association and National Association of Social Workers, is opposed to excluding gay people from adoption. The Child Welfare League of America, Children's Rights, Inc., Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, National Center for Youth Law and the North American Council on Adoptable Children submitted a friend-of-the-court brief asking the court to strike down the ban.

A Pattern of Abuse
August 25, 1998, Tuesday, Late Edition - Final The New York Times
Section F; Page 7; Column 3; Science Desk; Health Page
Associated Press 

Nearly one-quarter of community college students who took part in a survey admitted to harassing people they thought were gay, a new study says.

The survey of nearly 500 students, said to be the first of its kind, was presented last week at the American Psychological Association convention in San Francisco. Previous studies had mostly focused on the victims of such crimes.

The study by Dr. Karen Franklin, a forensic psychologist at the Washington Institute for Mental Illness Research and Training, found that 24 percent of those surveyed admitted to antigay name calling.

"Indeed, assaults on gay men and lesbians were so socially acceptable that respondents often advocated or defended such behavior out loud in the classrooms, while I was administering my survey," Dr. Franklin wrote.

Among men, 18 percent said they had physically assaulted or threatened someone they thought was gay or lesbian. And 32 percent admitted they were guilty of verbal harassment. The figures were lower for women.

Dr. Franklin's study reported that almost half the students said they would assault again and either lacked remorse or saw nothing wrong with their behavior.

Many explained their actions as self-defense, which Dr. Franklin said was based on their perception that gays are sexual predators.

Others were thrill seekers or simply went along with their peers.

Students who held back from harassing gay people did not necessarily show more tolerance than the assailants. Many feared getting in trouble, she said.


October 12, 1998

FORT COLLINS, Colorado (CNN) -- Authorities plan to file murder charges in Monday's death of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who was pistol-whipped and tied to a fence post five days ago in an attack denounced nationwide as a hate crime.

Shepard, 21, died from his injuries early Monday morning without regaining consciousness. He had been on full life support, Rulon Stacey, the chief executive officer of Poudre Valley Hospital, told reporters.

Shepard had been in a coma since bicyclists found him about 12 hours after he was tethered to the post in near-freezing temperatures outside Laramie, Wyoming, on Wednesday.

Four suspects were being held on a variety of charges. Aaron James McKinney, 22, and Russell Arthur Henderson, 21, both of Laramie, have been charged with attempted first degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery by Albany County, Wyoming District Attorney Cal Rerucha.

The charges will be upgraded to first degree murder now that Shepard has died, said Sgt. Rob DeBree of the Albany County Sheriff's Office. Authorities also are expected to stiffen kidnapping charges against the two men.

The two men's girlfriends -- Chasity Vera Pasley, 20, and Kristen Leann Price, 18 -- were charged with being accessories after the fact.

Gay Survey Raises a New Question
SECTION: Section B;  Page 8;  Column 4;  National Desk
October 18, 1994, Tuesday, Late Edition - Final The New York Times

  To the question of "How many homosexuals are there in America?" a new nationwide study has provided a striking range of numbers and an unanswered question of its own: What is a homosexual?

After all, there is no agreement whether homosexuality is a matter of self-identification, behavior, desire or a combination of these. Further, the study found pronounced differences between the numbers of gay men and women who live in cities and those in smaller communities, and between those with college educations and those without. There are hints, too, of racial distinctions, although these figures may be statistically insignificant.

The study of 3,432 Americans from 18 to 59 years of age was conducted by a team of researchers based at the University of Chicago and made public earlier this month. Since then, much attention has focused on its finding that 2.8 percent of the men and 1.4 percent of the women identified themselves as homosexual or bisexual.

For many years, the conventional wisdom was that 1 in 10 American men was homosexual, a number attributed to a 1948 Kinsey report. But in April 1993, a survey of male sexual behavior found that about 2 percent of the men had engaged in homosexual sex in the past decade.

The authors of the new study, "The Social Organization of Sexuality" (University of Chicago Press), are the first to say that theirs is not the last word.

"To fetishize 2.8 as if this is solid to that level of precision is a mistake," said Stuart Michaels, a researcher at the University of Chicago who is an author of the new report and the project manager of the survey. "And it is to miss the point."

"To quantify or count something requires unambiguous definition," Mr. Michaels and his co-authors wrote. "And we lack this in speaking of homosexuality."

Moreover, they said, estimates in the survey were likely to be lower than actual numbers, since many homosexuals were probably reluctant to report certain behaviors or feelings to the interviewers.

Even with those qualifications, the findings may explain why many people who live outside big cities never believed that 1 in 10 of their neighbors was homosexual, and why many city dwellers responded incredulously to reports that only 1 man in 50 was homosexual.

"The reality in a big city like New York is different," said Robert T. Michael, dean of the Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago and another author of the study.

In the United States' dozen largest cities, 10.2 percent of the men and 2.1 percent of the women reported having had a sexual partner of their own sex in the last year. Asked about their entire adulthoods, 16.4 percent of the men and 6.2 percent of the women said they had had at least one sexual partner of their own sex.

In rural areas, 1 percent of the men and six-tenths of 1 percent of the women reported a sexual partner of the same sex in the last year. For their entire adulthoods, the figures were 1.5 percent for men and 2.8 percent for women.

Larger cities are magnets for migration, the authors suggested, because of their generally higher tolerance, less scrutiny by neighbors, more work and leisure opportunities and well-established gay groups and neighborhoods.

Educational levels seem to have a strong bearing on self-identification, the study concluded, particularly for women. For example, only four-tenths of 1 percent of women with less than a high school education identify themselves as lesbian. In contrast, 3.6 percent of those with a college degree do so.

Paula A. Brantner, interim legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco, said she was not surprised by the findings. Without the sense of security offered by a college degree, she said, many people "can't afford, both financially and psychologically, to come out."

Along racial lines, 1.5 percent of the black men surveyed identified themselves as homosexual or bisexual, as opposed to 3 percent of the white men; six-tenths of 1 percent of the black women did so, compared with 1.7 percent of the white women.

"To many African-Americans, 'gay' or 'lesbian' still have the ring of being white terms, tied up with white identity," said Donald Suggs, director of public affairs for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, when asked about that finding. So too, he said, did the clinical-sounding word "homosexual."

Mr. Suggs said black people "tend to see themselves less in terms of sexual orientation and more in terms of their racial identity."

How much political effect the new survey will have is open to debate.

For Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who is gay, the answer is, "None whatever."

"How many members of the N.R.A. are there?" Mr. Frank added. "I don't know. I don't think my colleagues know. What's important politically is not how many there are, but what you do about it. The extent to which you mobilize enormously outweighs the numbers."

Randall L. Sell, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard School of Public Health who has studied the prevalence of homosexuality, asked regarding the overall number: "Why should we care? Most of the reasons people tend to be talking about are civil rights, where it just doesn't matter."

But the Rev. Lou Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, based in Anaheim, Calif., said the new numbers spoke "very decisively" to the political fate of anti-discrimination measures or domestic-partner provisions, as well as to efforts to repeal such laws.

"In certain inner cities, we know the pro-gay movement is stronger," Mr. Sheldon said. "But politically, the leverage is not there when you take the numbers and spread them across America."

Robert H. Knight, director of cultural studies for the Family Research Council in Washington, said, "The numbers show that Americans don't have to succumb to the idea that any and all forms of sexual expression are desirable."