The story of Harold Scull and Clay Greene has reached tens of thousands of people, and in its telling has raised many questions. Since we announced our involvement in the case a couple of weeks ago, many readers have emailed the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). We have been touched by the outpouring of support for Clay, who literally lost everything after his partner of 25 years fell on the front porch of their home. We also have been disappointed by Sonoma County’s attacks on Clay—a deflection of the true issue in this case, which is the County’s appalling and unlawful conduct toward Harold and Clay. Clay Greene is not on trial. The County of Sonoma is, and they have yet to address the actual charges raised in this case.
In attempting to defend the indefensible, Sonoma County has accused Clay of domestic violence and claimed that he and Harold—despite their 25 years together—were just “roommates.” We believe the accusations are untrue, as does Jannette Biggerstaff, a long-time friend of Harold and Clay and the executor of Harold’s estate. She is joining Clay in suing Sonoma County on Harold’s behalf. Because Harold is dead, Jannette is the only one who can speak for him. In a letter to the editor that just ran in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Jannette spoke out about the county’s allegations:
“I am outraged at Sonoma County’s false accusations that Greene abused Scull. Since he is unable to correct these claims, I feel that I must speak out about the county’s accusations.
In the decades I knew this couple, I never witnessed abuse, and I am firmly convinced that no such abuse took place. What I have witnessed is the diabolical behavior of the county, which treated this couple shamefully and robbed them of their home, lifetime of treasures, freedom and what should have been their loving last days together.I am confident that Greene will be vindicated, despite the county’s efforts to malign his reputation in the press. The full story will come out at trial.”
The accusation of abuse arose out of the initial circumstances surrounding Harold’s fall. By the day of that fateful injury, Harold, then 88 years old, had endured open heart surgery, was on a number of medications that made him unsteady and uncomfortable, had suffered an earlier fall from which he was still bruised and recovering, and was in seriously declining physical and mental health. In 2004, my own father had been in and out of the hospital and told me that he never wanted to go back “no matter what.” My dad had, in his own words, “had a gutful.” We honored his wishes and he died at home three weeks later. Like my dad, when Harold fell on the front porch steps of their home, he did not want Clay to call an ambulance. But Clay knew that the fall was serious and that medical attention was required. He did what any of us would do—he called the paramedics. When Harold, in a fury, told the paramedics that Clay had pushed him, they reported the allegations and the County responded. We do not take issue with their initial response.
It is what happened in the weeks and months following Harold’s fall that is so disturbing and for which the County has no viable defense or response. By the time the County was done, Harold had died in a nursing home without Clay by his side, and Clay had been removed from his home and placed in a facility against his will and without legal authorization. Virtually all of the couple’s belongings, including numerous pieces of art, Hollywood memorabilia and collectibles, had been sold at auction or had disappeared. In an early visit by County employees to review the contents of the home, workers remarked on the couple’s treasures, with one noting how much his “wife would love” a piece and a second commenting how “great that would look in my house” on another. When Clay objected he was told to “shut up.”
The vulnerabilities faced by the elderly in our society know no gender, race, class, or sexual orientation. But when our relationships and lives are not fully understood, embraced and protected by the larger culture and by common experience, those universal vulnerabilities grow exponentially. The Center for American Progress just released a comprehensive report, Out of the Shadows: Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults, which outlines the unique circumstances that make successful aging more difficult for LGBT elders than for their heterosexual counterparts.
NCLR joined this case because we want to make sure that what happened to Clay doesn’t happen to others. In 1999, NCLR launched our groundbreaking Elder Law Project, which advocates for policies and legislation to protect the medical and financial rights of LGBT elders, and educates the professionals (health care providers, lawyers, case workers) who are charged with assisting them. Last summer, we released Planning with Purpose: Legal Basics for LGBT Elders, which we strongly urge every member of our community to read. What happened to Harold and Clay is a sobering reminder that we must take extra steps to protect our interests and rights.
The fact that what happened to Harold and Clay occurred in Sonoma County is perhaps the larger lesson in this cautionary tale. Sonoma County was one of a handful of counties in California to vote against Proposition 8. We do not believe that the people of Sonoma County are anti-gay. We do ask that people take a hard look at how and why Harold died alone and Clay is left without any closure or chance to say goodbye to his partner of 25 years, and why Clay has also lost his lifetime of belongings, his beloved cats, and the home he shared with Harold.
Many people have been moved by Harold and Clay’s tragedy and the outpouring of support has been incredible to witness. I’ve received emails and messages from residents of Sonoma County who are dismayed that this happened where they live. But I have also seen calls to boycott Sonoma tourism and businesses. I strongly urge against any boycott of Sonoma.
I spent this past weekend in Sonoma County with family and friends, celebrating my 50th birthday. I rode my bike, we went wine tasting, ate in great restaurants, shopped in wonderful shops and markets and brought back some of the fruits of our adventures to enjoy later. I did all this in the midst of the drama and intensity of the terrible saga involving Harold and Clay. What happened to this couple was an injustice. They were mistreated by a number of officials in a County system that must be held accountable. But the people and businesses of Sonoma County are not the wrongdoers here. Those who made decisions regarding the disposal and sale of Harold and Clay’s lifetime of possessions and who placed Clay, against his will, in an assisted care facility must be called to account. That is why they are defendants in a lawsuit brought by Clay and the executor of Harold’s estate, and why we at NCLR are assisting local counsel in bringing attention to this nightmare.
Lastly, many of you have asked how you can make a direct donation to Clay. A trust has been set up in his name and checks can be made out to “The Clay Greene Trust Fund” and sent to the following address:
The Clay Greene Trust Fund
720 Gravenstein Hwy. North
Sebastopol, CA 95472
Also, you can visit any of the Exchange Bank offices and make a deposit. The trust is researching options for those interested in making online gifts.
Thank you for your support and questions. This is a case that has touched many hearts. While we can never give Harold and Clay the peace they yearned for in their final days, we will continue to work for justice—not just for Harold and Clay, but for all LGBT elders.