The response to the horrific story of Clay Greene and Harold Scull has been very gratifying and inspiring. Clearly, their story struck a chord in all of us. To some degree we can’t help imagining ourselves in exactly this situation. Forty-eight hours ago, few people knew their names, and now a Facebook page in their honor has more than 5,000 fans. Quite simply, this case demonstrates how our relationships as LGBT people are so fragile, especially when we reach our later years. Just one small incident, in this case a fall down some steps, sends the world crashing down.
Harold and Clay were in a committed relationship for twenty-five years, and they lived together for twenty years. Both Harold and Clay had worked in Hollywood and were passionate collectors of film memorabilia. Harold had worked for MGM studios in the 1950s and was a favorite of Louis B. Mayer in the studio’s heyday. At the same time, Clay worked in television with many popular stars of that period. In addition to his film industry career, Harold was an accomplished artist and avid collector, especially of Mexican and Central American Santos religious art and artifacts. Art, heirlooms, and memorabilia graced the walls of their leased home, in which they planned to live together until their deaths.
Several folks have commented about the legal status of Clay and Harold’s relationship. These tragic events began in April 2008, one month before the California Supreme Court’s historic marriage ruling. By the time the California Supreme Court ruled and marriages began for that brief six months, Harold was already hospitalized and Clay imprisoned in a nursing home. The two men had not registered as Domestic Partners, and they may not have even known that option existed. But they had filled out all the paperwork that attorneys advise same-sex couples to create, including wills and powers of attorney for health care.
In every case our clients are human beings, and they are not perfect, which is why we all identify so fiercely with those we represent. At the time of Harold’s fall he had already been experiencing some degree of mental impairment, and had been drinking. He fell down the stairs and became angry when Clay wanted to call an ambulance because he was afraid of what the result might be. (And as it turned out, he had good reason to be.) The paramedics who arrived on the scene suspected the possibility of abuse. But that suspicion was false. What happened over the next two months is when the nightmare truly began. Once Harold was released from the hospital to a nursing home, the county refused to tell Clay where Harold had been placed, forced Clay into a nursing home where he did not need to be, auctioned all of his possessions, including treasured and valuable works of art and family memorabilia, and took away his two beloved cats. The level of inhumanity is staggering.
After 25 years of a rich and shared life of devoted commitment, a couple at least deserves being able to be at each other’s bedside at the last moments of life. Not only was Harold denied that comfort, and Clay denied the ability to be there to say goodbye to his life partner, but Clay was stripped of everything that mattered and gave him stability in his life.
We can’t change what happened to Harold and Clay, but we can do what we try to do every day: to create a world where what happened to Harold and Clay never happens again.