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Wayne Healy v. Luis Spencer
T here is a new trend in how gay and lesbian lawyers and legal scholars are fighting for gay rights. To a large degree this legal tactic entails the use gay and lesbian history to help judges and jurors better understand not only the often homophobic reality that has shaped the past, but also how our basic ideas and institutions about sex, proscription, children, love, romance, and work have been constructed. Often what began as scholarly research has become a solid legal argument that can change unjust laws.
The first important case that relied on gay history was Lawrence v. Texas, which was argued in 2002. Lawrence was brought to the Supreme Court by the New York based Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. Along with the basic arguments—that sodomy laws were unconstitutional because they violated the right to privacy and were discriminatory—they also presented an amicus brief by such historians as George Chauncey, Nancy F. Cott, John D’Emilio, Estelle B. Freedman, John Howard, Mark D. Jordan, and Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy, among others.
These historians set out to prove that “no consistent historical practice” singles out same-sex behavior as “sodomy” and that “the governmental policy of classifying and discriminating against certain citizens on the basis of their homosexual status is an unprecedented project of the twentieth century.” By examining biblical sources, as well as U.S. history from colonial times to the present, they demonstrated how prohibitions against certain types of sexual activity were never universal or consistently regarded as immoral or illegal. They showed that sodomy laws, throughout what is usually called “western culture,” were really a grab bag of prohibitions far more reflective of historical, social, religious, and economic moments than a universally understood and accepted prohibition.
The defense of sodomy laws has always been that samesex sexual activity (also called “the detestable crime against nature” in many traditional statutes) is immoral and wrong and that prohibiting it is a safeguard against sexual anarchy and the destruction of personal integrity and family. The argument that sodomy laws are not universal, and to prove this historically, was a radical departure for many traditionalist thinkers. Justice Kennedy substantially referenced the historians’ brief in his decision to find Texas’s sodomy laws unconstitutional.
Historians also played a large part in Massachusetts’s Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) decision in Goodrich v. Department of Public Health in 2004, which stated that it was discriminatory and unconstitutional to ban same-sex marriages. In Goodrich , historians Chauncey, Cott, and others argued that marriage has been an evolving institution and has existed throughout European and U.S. history in a wide variety of forms, only some of them having to do with romantic love or raising children. This may seem obvious—the arranged marriages of medieval and renaissance Europe differ from companionate marriage—but antigay marriage rhetoric continues to asssert that marriage has always been a religious, divinely ordained union between one man and one woman for the purpose of raising children. Forget about the Hebrew Bible’s complicated system of concubines and polygamy (not to mention really easy divorce for men) and the fact that marriage has been one of the most protean social institutions throughout history. When the SJC wrote Goodrich, they relied on the historians’ brief and their decision to end the prohibition against samesex marriage was predicated on the idea that the civil institution of marriage had always changed and this was simply the next step.
This nightmare began on August 8, 1980 when Wayne Healy’s brother-in-law Richard Chalue was found dead at about 1:30 AM in his Holyoke, Massachusetts apartment. Because he was in his bedroom with his pants down around his knees and his hands tied behind his back, the police assumed, even before Healy was a suspect, that this was “a homosexual related homicide.” Healy had visited Chalue at 9:00 PM that evening for a few minutes and told police that he had then returned to the home he shared with George Roy by 12:10 AM.
Although there was no ill will between the two men, no physical evidence linking Healy to the crime, and no proof that Chalue was gay or bisexual, Holyoke police pieced together a scenario in which, for some unexplained reason, Healy had violently murdered Chalue during a sexual tryst.
This fanciful plot began to seem more reasonable after it was discovered that Healy, a licensed practical nurse and registered Emergency Medical Technician, did not tell the police that he had visited two gay bars after seeing Chalue and before arriving home, leading them to believe he was at Chalue’s apartment longer than he had stated. This theory was bolstered by cigarette butts allegedly left by Healy in Chalue’s apartment (which the defense claimed were planted there by the police after the defendant left them at the police station during questioning).
During the trial, John F. St. Clair, the assistant district attorney for Hampden County, introduced such circumstantial evidence as: a small two-day-old cut on the defendant’s hand, Chalue’s girlfriend’s statement that their sex life was dwindling, the contested cigarette butts, Healy’s concealing his visits to the gay bars, and posed photographs of Chalue’s corpse that emphasized his naked buttocks. When faced with the defense’s clear exculpatory evidence that Healy had no blood on his clothes, St. Clair countered that the defendant had been naked when he committed the murder.
What was not introduced in the trial were the findings of Dr. H. Paul Wakefield, the chief pathologist at Holyoke Hospital who performed the autopsy on Richard Chaule’s body. Wakefield found no evidence of any sexual activity. Also withheld was Wakefield’s memo that the Holyoke police were convinced that Chalue’s murder was connected to dangerous and deviant gay sex even before Healy was a suspect. In fact, the most persuasive argument the prosecution had was that Healy was a homosexual and that, well, homosexuals are violent deviants who murder their sexual partners.
Even without Wakefield’s pertinent evidence, it took 5 days and more than 30 hours to reach a guilty verdict and the deliberations were so stormy that even the prosecution asked for a mistrial. The judge considered the evidence “so delicately balanced that even in a small matter, if the jury found out about it, could tip the balance.” In the end, it was St. Clair’s homosexual psychopath narrative that persuaded the jury. In his closing arguments he showed photos of the naked, brutalized Chalue and asked, “What kind of activity was going on in that bedroom? Ask yourself that. Don’t leave your common sense at home.”
O n April 8, 1981 Wayne Healy was convicted of brutally murdering his brother-in-law and was sentenced to life without parole. Healy’s conviction was upheld in a series of appeals to state courts, including the Supreme Judicial Court. Finally, on January 18, 2005, U.S. District Court Judge Michael A. Posner ruled that Healy should be released or retried because state prosecutors used a blatantly homophobic strategy that emphasized a “homosexual element to the murder.”
To bolster Healy’s argument Boston-based Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) filed an amicus brief that detailed how entrenched cultural and political attitudes of the early 1980s set the stage for Healy’s conviction. GLAD’s brief uncovered a mostly hidden history of how gay people were historically conceptualized as dangerous criminals. This included the infamous “sexual psychopath” laws passed in the post-war years that existed in more than half of the states that allowed gay men to be arrested and labeled “sexual psychopaths” simply for being homosexual. More than 26 states and the District of Columbia passed these laws and they were essentially used to catch anyone who did not conform to accepted sexual standards, especially homosexuals. Often these laws allowed not only for arrests for behavior, but also for incarceration in mental hospitals for people (usually men) who were targeted as potential criminals.
The GLAD brief also tracked articles in magazines that described how homosexuality could lead to “drug addiction, burglary, sadism, and even murder” and how, especially for heterosexual men, “disgust” was an appropriate psychological response to homosexuality (nine of the jurors in Healy’s case were male). The brief illustrated with legal and social examples how the very idea that gay sex was dangerous permeated U.S. culture up to the 1980s and how this was prejudicial. It also discussed the films Deliverance (1972) and Cruising (1980) as promoting images of homosexual sex as equivalent to rape and murder. Relying on academic historians and theorists, the GLAD brief delineated how legal decisions are inextricably linked to the cultures in which they were formulated.
What distinguishes the amicus brief in the Healy case from those in Lawrence and Goodrich is that, while the latter cases relied on uncovering a distinct social construction of an institution—sodomy and marriage—GLAD’s historical argument explicated how entrenched homophobia made a guilty verdict a foregone conclusion in a case with almost no hard evidence. But before we get too excited about how history can change the present, Gary Buseck, GLAD’s legal director, expressed some somber thoughts. While he noted that Healy’s latest appeal had a good chance of vindicating him, vicious gay bashing is still with us.
A s of this writing, Wayne Healy remains in prison. Although Judge Posner called for his release, the state attorney general’s office filed, and was granted, an emergency motion to overturn the decision. The success of Healy’s First Circuit Appeal—they will announce their decision sometime later in 2006—depends on the court’s deciding that the suppression of the Wakefield evidence played an important role in the guilty verdict and in understanding how U.S. justice is as much a product of ingrained homophobia as it is the rule of law.
Michael Bronski is the author of Pulp Friction (St. Martin's ).
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.