Victory! Sonoma County Settles with Clay Greene for Over $600,000

July 23, 2010

Just days before trial was set to begin in our lawsuit on behalf of Clay Greene, Sonoma County officials have agreed to settle out of court with the elderly man, who County officials separated from his partner, Harold Scull, after Harold was injured in a fall outside of their home.

Their tragic story captured hearts and headlines across the country, and generated an outpouring of support unlike anything we have seen before, along with intense, justifiable outrage that an elderly gay couple could experience such cruel mistreatment and abuse.

Sonoma County has agreed to pay Clay and Harold’s estate. This payment is partial vindication for the nightmare Clay and Harold endured at the hands of county workers, whom disregarded their 20-year relationship and failed to respect legal documents in which Clay and Harold named each other as agents for medical and financial decisions.

Ignoring Greene entirely, the County petitioned the Court for conservatorship of Scull’s estate, separated the couple by putting them in separate nursing care facilities, and terminated Harold and Clay’s lease on the home they shared. Without authority, the County took everything the couple owned and auctioned it off. And horrifyingly, without following the strict legal requirements for placing someone in a nursing facility against their will, the County then forced Clay into a facility where he did not want or need to be, where he was physically restrained from leaving, and where he was completely isolated. In Clay’s own words from a story in The New York Times: “I was trash” to them, he said. “I’m going to end up in the dumpster.”

In addition to paying out a substantial sum, as a result of Clay and Harold’s lawsuit, the County has changed or modified a number of important policies in its Office of Public Guardian, including requiring employees to follow protocols before seizing private property, preventing employees from relocating elders or others against their will, and prohibiting employees from backdating information in their guardianship databases.

No amount of money can ever ease the trauma, pain, humiliation, and fear Clay suffered in the months after Harold’s fall. And nothing can ever make it possible for Clay to be at Harold’s side when he died three months after they were separated.

We are awed by Clay’s courage in standing up for himself and other vulnerable LGBT elders. We are grateful to Clay’s court-appointed attorney, Anne N. Dennis, and elder abuse specialists Stephen O’Neill and Maggie Flynn of Tarkington, O’Neill, Barack & Chong, because their hard work and dedication led to this terrific result. We trust that this experience will go a very long way in ensuring that LGBT elders in Sonoma County are not similarly mistreated in the future. But this victory is tempered by the harsh, sad facts of this case. Nothing can salve the heartache of being cruelly deprived of the opportunity to be with a dying partner. Nothing can make up for the unbearable reality that Harold died alone, without Clay by his side, after spending the final months of his life making a photo album for Clay of their life together.

This story truly haunts me, and underscores the need for everyone to be more educated about elder abuse within the LGBT community, and what each one of us can do to prevent a sequel to this tragedy. At NCLR, we are working harder than ever, expanding outreach for our elder law public education program. And your support can help us continue working to enforce laws to protect the aging LGBT population.

This case highlights the urgency needed for true and full LGBT equality across the country, rather than a patchwork of hit and miss state rights or protections. This settlement cannot undo what Clay and Harold endured, but it ensures that what happened to them will never happen in Sonoma County again. Someday, I hope I will be able to say the same for the rest of the country.

Sincerely,


Sonoma County Defendants to Pay Clay Greene over $650,000 to Settle Case in Which County Forcefully Separated Greene from his Partner of 20 Years

July 23, 2010

Late yesterday evening, Clay Greene and the estate of Harold Scull, Greene’s deceased partner of 20 years, reached a settlement resolving their lawsuit against the County of Sonoma (“County”) and other defendants.

Greene and Scull’s estate will receive more than $600,000 to compensate for the damages the couple suffered due to the County’s discriminatory and unlawful conduct.

“What Clay and Harold lost can never be replaced, but this settlement brings a measure of justice to their story,” said Amy Todd-Gher, Senior Staff Attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which represented Greene with The Law Office of Anne N. Dennis and Stephen O’Neill and Margaret Flynn of Tarkington, O’Neill, Barrack & Chong. “This victory sends an unmistakable message that all elders must be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their sexual orientation, and that those who mistreat elders must be held accountable. Even as we celebrate this victory, however, we are deeply troubled that the County of Sonoma continues to refuse to take responsibility for their egregious misconduct and violations of the law in this case.  We urge every citizen of Sonoma County to demand more oversight of the Public Guardian’s office.  They need to be watched.”

Greene and Scull lived together for 20 years and had executed both mutual powers of attorney for medical and financial decisions and wills naming each other as beneficiaries. In April 2008, County employees separated the couple after Scull fell outside their shared home. In the next three months, County officials ignored the couple’s legal documentation, unlawfully auctioned their possessions, terminated their lease, and forced Greene into an assisted living facility against his will. The County did not consult Greene in Scull’s medical care and prevented the two from seeing one another. In August, 2008, before the partners could be reunited, Scull passed away after completing a photo album of the couple’s life for Greene.

In August, 2009, Greene and the representative of Scull’s estate, the couple’s longtime friend Janette Biggerstaff, filed a lawsuit alleging elder abuse, elder financial abuse, breach of fiduciary duty, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and other claims.

In addition to agreeing to pay a substantial sum, as a result of the lawsuit, the County has changed or modified a number of important policies in its Public Guardian’s Office, including requiring County employees to follow protocols before seizing private property, preventing County employees from relocating elders or others against their will, and prohibiting County employees from backdating information in their guardianship database.

“This settlement will allow Mr. Greene to finally have the quiet retirement he deserves,” said Anne N. Dennis, one of Greene’s attorneys. “Although nothing can undo the harm to these gentlemen, we believe the changes made because of the lawsuit will improve services to elders and other individuals who need the assistance of the Sonoma County Public Guardian’s Office.”

Plaintiff Jannette Biggerstaff, the executor of Scull’s estate and a longtime friend of the couple, added: “There is no possible justification for what happened to my friends Harold and Clay, and I still feel outraged and heartbroken that they suffered such a terrible tragedy, which was made worse by the county spreading such terrible lies about Clay,” she said. “But I am pleased that their rights have been vindicated, and I’m hopeful that their story will help to prevent this from happening to other vulnerable people.”


Margaret Marshall, Author of Massachusetts Gay Marriage Decision, To Retire

July 23, 2010

Margaret Marshall, author of Mass. gay marriage…, posted with vodpod

by John R. Ellement, Jonathan Saltzman, and Martin Finucane | Boston Globe

Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall, who led the state’s highest court as it reshaped the Western legal world with its historic ruling approving same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, announced this morning that she would retire.

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Argentina’s Gay Marriage Law Signed by President

July 23, 2010

by Deborah Rey | Associated Press

President Cristina Fernandez signed a new law Wednesday making Argentina the first country in Latin America to legalize marriage for same-sex couples.

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Montana Same-Sex Couples Sue State For Legal Protections For Their Families

July 23, 2010

from the ACLU

Seven Couples Seek Equal Protection Mandated Under Montana’s Constitution

Seven committed same-sex couples today filed a lawsuit against the state of Montana for failing to provide legal protections to same-sex couples and their families in violation of the Montana Constitution’s rights of privacy, dignity and the pursuit of life’s basic necessities and its guarantees of equal protection and due process. The goal of this lawsuit is ensure that same-sex couples are able to protect their families with the same kind of legal protections that opposite-sex couples are offered through marriage.

Because there is a constitutional amendment in Montana barring marriage for same-sex couples, the couples in the lawsuit are seeking the protection of state-recognized domestic partnerships, similar to those in place in several other states.

“Mary Anne and I are part of a family unit, bonded by love and mutual respect and a desire to share in a close relationship that benefits not only us, as partners, but our wider family and the entire community,” said Jan Donaldson, a Helena nurse, of her 27-year relationship with her partner, pediatric neurologist Mary Anne Guggenheim. “We depend on one another, in all aspects of our life together. We want to be able to do that with grace and dignity and to feel secure that our relationship will be respected. We want our relationship to be recognized for what it clearly is – a loving commitment of responsibility worthy of security and protection by the state.”

Montana law automatically grants married opposite-sex couples safeguards upon which they can depend in times of need. But, under Montana law, it is possible for same-sex couples to be barred from visiting their partners in the hospital and to be left out of conversations about emergency medical care. Montana inheritance laws refuse to recognize same-sex couples, and can leave surviving partners with nothing if their partners die without valid wills. Today’s lawsuit seeks a mechanism such as the domestic partnership laws adopted by several other states to provide similar protections for committed same-sex couples.

“It’s unfair for same-sex couples who have made commitments and formed families to be treated by the state like legal strangers,” said Betsy Griffing, Legal Director for the ACLU of Montana. “Lesbian, gay and bisexual Montanans are valuable and productive members of society who should be treated fairly if their partner is in the hospital or dies without a will.”

“Denise has stood with me through 56 brain surgeries and over 300 spinal taps, yet to Montana we’re nothing more than strangers. Knowing we have legal protections for our family sure would make it easier on both of us the next time I have a medical crisis,” said Kellie Gibson of Laurel, who is raising two children with her partner Denise Boettcher.

Plaintiffs in the case Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana are Mary Anne Guggenheim and Jan Donaldson of Helena, Stacey Haugland and Mary Leslie of Bozeman, Mike Long and Rich Parker of Bozeman, MJ Williams and Nancy Owens of Basin, Rick Wagner and Gary Stallings of Butte, Denise Boettcher and Kellie Gibson of Laurel, and Casey Charles and David Wilson of Missoula.

In addition to Griffing, the couples are represented by Elizabeth Gill, a staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project; James Goetz and Ben Alke of the Bozeman, MT, law firm Goetz, Gallik & Baldwin P.C.; and Ruth Borenstein, Philip Besirof and Neil Perry of the California law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP.

Additional information about the case, biographies of the plaintiffs and links to videos of the plaintiffs can be found at www.aclumontana.org and www.aclu.org/mtpartnerships.


S.O.M. (Save Our Magazine)

July 22, 2010

One of the great advantages of the dog days of summer, if you are lucky enough to get time away, is the chance to read for pleasure. Books and magazines get stacked up on my nightstand throughout the year and summer finally provides some time to make a dent in the stack. A few weeks ago, my family spent a week in heat and sunshine, and I spent many hours lounging with some of my reading favorites, which includes, of course, our community’s own Curve magazine.

This year Curve is celebrating 20 years of bringing the lesbian community news about and for us and our allies. Curve’s publisher and founder, the fierce and fabulous Frances Stevens, aka Franco, started Curve at age 22 because she was disappointed that there was no quality lesbian magazine in the U.S. From its humble beginnings as a ’90’s black-and-white magazine that Franco peddled on Castro streetcorners, Curve has grown into the nation’s best-selling lesbian magazine, read by more women than any other national gay or lesbian publication—all while remaining independent of corporate ownership.

For two decades I’ve relied on Curve to bring me stories and perspective that I don’t get anywhere else and I’ve always taken for granted that my magazine would arrive every month, like clockwork. But there may soon be a day when Curve doesn’t show up. Franco told me recently that Curve is in trouble. The economy has hit publishing hard, we all know that. Many newspapers and magazines have folded in the downturn. We know that being in this business is tough right now, but our community needs Curve to survive. There is no other national lesbian-focused magazine left. Curve is the last one. Our last magazine devoted to our lives, our loves, our culture, our future.

You can help save it. We hope. For the price of two weeks of coffee drinks at Starbucks, you can get a year of Curve. But new and renewed subscriptions may not be enough. So if you have the means and the interest to help Curve through this rough patch, you can make a contribution here. If we all step up and do what we can, it may be enough to keep alive this community treasure.

Next summer when I pack my bags with my favorite reads, I want that bag to include copies of our lesbian magazine.


Sadly, Gay Athletes Still Afraid to Come Out during Their Prime

July 21, 2010

by Greg Cote | Miami Herald

We hear about sacrifice in sports. Heard it a lot lately as Dwyane Wade spoke of the Heat’s superstars agreeing to take less money.

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Statement by President Obama on UN Accreditation of the ILGHRC

July 20, 2010

from the White House

I welcome this important step forward for human rights, as the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission (ILGHRC) will take its rightful seat at the table of the United Nations. The UN was founded on the premise that only through mutual respect, diversity, and dialogue can the international community effectively pursue justice and equality. Today, with the more full inclusion of the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission, the United Nations is closer to the ideals on which it was founded, and to values of inclusion and equality to which the United States is deeply committed.


Mississippi School Agrees To Revise Policy And Pay Damages To Lesbian Teenager Denied Chance To Attend Prom

July 20, 2010

from the ACLU

Agreement Marks First School Policy Protecting LGBT Students In Mississippi

Itawamba County School District officials agreed to have a judgment entered against them in the case of a recent high school graduate who sued her school for canceling the prom rather than let her attend with her girlfriend. The agreement ends a precedent-setting lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of 18-year-old Constance McMillen, who suffered humiliation and harassment after parents, students and school officials executed a cruel plan to put on a “decoy” prom for her while the rest of her classmates were at a private prom 30 miles away.

“I’m so glad this is all over. I won’t ever get my prom back, but it’s worth it if it changes things at my school,” said McMillen, who was harassed so badly by students blaming her for the prom cancellation that she had to transfer to another high school to finish her senior year. “I hope this means that in the future students at my school will be treated fairly. I know there are students and teachers who want to start a gay-straight alliance club, and they should be able to do that without being treated like I was by the school.”

As set forth in documents filed in court today, school officials agreed to implement a policy banning discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the first policy to do so at a public school in the state of Mississippi. The school also agreed to pay McMillen $35,000 in damages and pay for McMillen’s attorneys’ fees.

“Constance went through a great deal of harassment and humiliation simply for standing up for her rights, and she should be proud of what she has accomplished,” said Christine P. Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Thanks to her bravery, we now not only have a federal court precedent that can be used to protect the rights of students all over the country to bring the date they want to their proms, but we also have the first school anti-discrimination policy of its kind in Mississippi.”

In addition to today’s legal judgment against the school, an earlier ruling in the case set an important precedent that will help prevent other students from suffering the kind of discrimination McMillen experienced. In March, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi issued a ruling in McMillen’s case that school officials violated McMillen’s First Amendment rights when it canceled the high school prom rather than let McMillen attend with her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo.

“We’re pleased that the school district agreed to be held liable for violating Constance’s rights. Now Constance can move on with her life and Itawamba school officials can show the world that they have learned a lesson about equal treatment for all students,” said Kristy L. Bennett, co-counsel on McMillen’s case. “This has been about much more than just the prom all along – it’s about all of our young people deserving to be treated fairly by the schools we trust to take care of them.”

After IAHS’s original prom date was canceled by school officials in response to McMillen’s request that she be allowed to bring her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo, parents organized a private prom at which district officials told a federal judge McMillen and her date would be welcome. That private prom was then canceled as well, allegedly because parents did not want to allow McMillen to attend, instead organizing a “decoy” prom for McMillen and her date and another prom for the rest of the class. McMillen and her date then attended the event the school had told her was “the prom for juniors and seniors” on April 2, where they found only seven other students attending. Principal Trae Wiygul and several school staff members were supervising that event while most of McMillen’s classmates were at the other prom in Evergreen, Mississippi.

“We hope this judgment sends a message to schools that they cannot get away with discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. LGBT youth just want to be treated like their peers and do all the normal high school things, like going to the prom with the date they choose,” said Bear Atwood, Interim Legal Director at the ACLU of Mississippi. “We’re very proud of Constance for standing up not just for her rights but the rights of LGBT students everywhere.”

McMillen is represented by Sun, Bennett and Atwood, as well as by Norman C. Simon, Joshua Glick and Jason Moff of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, and Alysson Mills of New Orleans.

The case name is Constance McMillen v. Itawamba County School District, et al. Additional information is available at http://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/fulton-ms-prom-discrimination. There is also a Facebook group for people who want to support McMillen, “Let Constance Bring Her Girlfriend to the Prom,” at www.facebook.com/pages/Let-Constance-Take-Her-Girlfriend-to-Prom/357686784817.


Mugabe: No Gay Voice in New Zimbabwe Constitution

July 19, 2010

from Agence France-Presse

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe said the country will not listen to those who want gay rights to be mentioned in a draft of the new constitution, state media reported on Sunday.

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