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Lesbian Visibility Shines Through in Memoir by Federal Prop 8 Plaintiffs

“Ordinary” lesbian couple came to represent same sex couples everywhere

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Sandy Stier and Kris Perry. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

A joyous celebration occurred May 13 in Highland Park as lesbian and straight women artists and performers launched an exhibition of archived work from the historic Women’s Building, the one-time “feminist mecca” for women’s culture in downtown Los Angeles. Already marginalized by mainstream society, the artists refused to be invisible even unto each other.  

Kris Perry and Sandy Stier would have loved it. One of the most famous couples in LGBT history as plaintiffs in the historic federal Prop 8 trial, they have nonetheless had their share of lesbian invisibility, even, as they reveal in their new memoir, “Love on Trial: Our Supreme Court Fight For the Right to Marry,” unto themselves.

In “Love on Trial,” Perry and Stier emerge from behind their famous “odd couple” lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies and trial leader Chad Griffin, now President of the Human Rights Campaign, and sidestep their fellow plaintiffs Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami to share how this “ordinary” lesbian couple came to represent same sex couples everywhere. But unbeknownst to them, the couple would each be forced to face unsettling deep dives into their own lives when that lawsuit was filed in May 2009.

Perry shares that she always felt “different” but didn’t know why until her late teens; Stier had always been straight until, inexplicably, she fell in love with Perry. That would be a point Brian Raum, the attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, would harp on until turning red with frustration deposing the former church-going Iowa cheerleader.

“I was not the lesbian he expected to see,” Stier writes, as Raum pummeled her for answers about her relationships.

“I answered truthfully. I performed well under oath, and, frankly, I have nothing to hide. Yes, I dated men, or rather, boys, in high school and college. Wonderful guys. Yes, I cared about them. Yes, I married a man in my mid-twenties. Yes, I had loved him. All true. The other thing that was true was that I now loved a woman, and I wanted to marry her; I was in love with Kris.”

Raum asked for intimate details. Stier would only say they were “romantic.” He started using baseball terms: “What ‘base’ was reached in each of those relationships?” she writes. “We have more of our parents in us than we may realize. I gave him my best Iowa deadpan stare and restated that the relationships had been romantic. And I stopped there. My people don’t talk about ‘bases’ to lawyers. It’s not dignified.”

Stier understood that she was being probed for the “immutability” argument.  She finds the argument offensive. “Being gay is not wrong and it’s not bad. It’s not. Love is not harmful; hate is. Rejection is. Growing up immersed in religion and spending most of my career in the field of human services, nothing could be clearer,” she writes. “Love and acceptance are what matters and are worth fighting for.”

For Perry, pre-trial preparation was tough as she was forced to come face to face with coping mechanisms after her beloved sister’s death and how those fed into an endless cycle of self-protection from perpetual discrimination as the “other.” That included the pain and humiliation of knowingly refusing to even think of being happily married because, as a lesbian, it was not available to you—and everyone else knew it.

“After we had meandered around the core question for hours,” Perry writes, “Ted asked me, ‘How does it feel to be different?’ I burst into tears. All that heartache was closer to the surface than I had thought. I’d tried to put distance between myself and Bakersfield and how I felt there, but it hadn’t worked. I told Ted that ‘I knew who I was, and it had made me stronger,’ but I didn’t like that I had been forced into being strong by building walls or hiding my feelings. Hiding was a necessity, and it had changed me, permanently.”

The awareness hit her even harder on the witness stand. “I suddenly thought, ‘Enough. Enough coping. Enough settling. Enough making me easier for everyone else,” Perry writes.

“I could picture the three-year-old me, the eight-year-old me, the sixteen-year-old me, every one with a huge weight on her shoulders,” she continues. “Keeping a secret she didn’t know or understand, afraid of losing the love of her family, of being rejected by her friends. By fighting to be unseen and unheard, I didn’t grab love when others did. I didn’t hold my head high—I looked down. I didn’t see a future with my children and spouse; I thought I’d always be single and alone.”

Perry couldn’t even imagine what was possible. “I had covered up my embarrassment and humiliation for years, and it was painful for my loved ones to hear these experiences without censoring or sugarcoating,” she writes. “I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from me—but I knew well there was still so much more to come.”

“Love on Trial” is a kind of catharsis for all LGBT people who haven’t realized the pain of internalized oppression. Additionally, it humanizes the “Prop 8 plaintiffs.”

“It’s as if we weren’t people until the trial,” Perry tells the Los Angeles Blade. “The world projected a lot onto us. We were one dimensional. But we knew we have very complicated lives.”

“The case was no way the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” says Stier, noting the difficulties they’ve faced and the losses they suffered. “Blending families is hard,” for instance, especially when her two sons didn’t accept their parents’ divorce and rejected Perry. It got better when “Kris took her foot off the gas and wasn’t so authoritarian, becoming more like an aunt than a parent.”

Television station KQED filed a motion April 28 with the U.S. District Court for Northern California to unseal the videotapes of the Prop 8 trial. It might be useful to read “Love on Trial” first to understand how much Perry and Stier’s love story matters in shedding light on lesbian visibility everywhere.

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Federal Government

Risk of monkeypox infection not high, but ‘numbers may increase’

Fauci said the current outbreak is predominantly among men who have sex with men among individuals who have had sexual contact

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases & Chief Medical Advisor to the President (Screenshot/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, who has been at the forefront of the battles against the HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 epidemics, downplayed Wednesday the idea gay and bisexual men are at high risk of contracting monkeypox as the outbreak begins to spread, but cautioned “the numbers may increase.”

“Given the numbers I would not say right now at this particular point, that it is a quote, high risk, but the numbers may increase, which means we just have got to be careful and pay attention,” Fauci said.

Fauci made the remarks in a conference call with reporters from LGBTQ news outlets on the heels of the Biden administration’s announcement that it would ramp up efforts to confront the emerging spread of monkeypox.

On Monday, the Department of Health & Human Services, announced a nationwide vaccination strategy against monkeypox, which consists of providing nearly 300,000 vaccines with priorities for individuals at risk and areas with high rates of infection. An estimated 750,000 vaccines are expected for delivery by the end of summer, according to HHS.

In response to a Blade question about the risk of gay and bisexual men contracting monkeypox, Fauci said that was difficult to quantify and he “wouldn’t say low, because then…that can be taken out of context,” but went on to express there’s a minimal risk of infection if precautions are taken.

“What we’re seeing given the number of cases and the rate in which they’ve accelerated, it’s clearly out there,” Fauci said. “But when you talk about the large number of gay and bisexual men who have sex with men, that on any given individual contact I think if one is careful, and make sure that both parties in a sexual interaction are aware of lesions that might go unnoticed, then you can go a long way in pure prevention to prevent that from happening, but I think it would be risky to classify it as low, medium or high.”

The U.S. has confirmed 306 monkeypox cases across 27 states and Washington, D.C., the Centers for Disease Control announced Tuesday. That represents a surge of 63 cases from the previous week.

Fauci said the current outbreak is predominantly among men who have sex with men among individuals who have had sexual contact. Monkeypox is technically not a sexually transmitted disease, Fauci said, because it’s spread through skin-to-skin contact, but “because of the close skin to skin interaction that occurs in sexual contact, that appears to be the modality spread.” Monkeypox, Fauci said, is “not fundamentally a lethal infection.”

Raj Panjabi, senior director for global health security and biodefense on the White House National Security Council, was also on the call and said the Biden administration’s monkeypox plan consists of “three pillars” of testing, vaccines, and outreach.

“In terms of outreach, there is no effective response to an outbreak without a community based response,” Panjabi said. “And so we’ve worked to ensure an open dialogue with leaders and stakeholders in the LGBTQIA+ community. What we’ve been doing is to try to understand from those most affected by this outbreak, learn from them, help them stay vigilant within the community to protect themselves from the disease and try to adjust our response according to the gaps that they’ve raised.”

The rise in monkeypox infections comes during Pride month, a time when LGBTQ community is engaged in celebrations and oftentimes in close contract and intimate settings, including sexual activity.

Asked by a reporter with NBC News whether this weekend’s Pride celebrations may have fueled the spread, Fauci said in theory “the risk is probably increased” in Pride activities “because people tend to get involved in sexual networking there,” but precautions at the end of the day would mitigate new infections.

“You don’t want to panic people but you want to get people to appreciate, particularly with the Pride activities that are going on now, to be aware and to just be careful,” Fauci said. “And being careful can be very practical, but making sure that you’re aware of things like skin lesions or lesions around areas of the body, particularly when you’re having a sexual encounter. Those are the things we’re trying to do.”

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Illinois

Exclusive: Chicago’s Out mayor describes Roe ruling as ‘gut punch’

Lori Lightfoot in 2019 became the first Black lesbian woman elected mayor of a major U.S. city, the nation’s third largest

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (Photo courtesy of the Lori Lightfoot campaign)

CHICAGO – Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade was a “gut punch.”

“It wasn’t a surprise,” she told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview. “This had been a 50-year quest for people who don’t want to recognize our rights and want to take us back to 1950s America, when our community was pushed very decidedly into the closet because we didn’t have protections — we certainly didn’t have marriage. That was inconceivable back then.”

“We didn’t have protections on employment, on housing and the basic rights of citizenship that we’ve come to really embrace and expect as Americans,” added Lightfoot.

Lightfoot in 2019 became the first Black lesbian woman elected mayor of a major U.S. city.

She noted Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion in the Roe decision said the Supreme Court should reconsider its decision in the Obergefell, Lawrence and Griswold cases that guarantee marriage equality and the rights to private, consensual sex and access to contraception respectively.

“Fuck Clarence Thomas,” said Lightfoot on Sunday when she spoke at Chicago Pride.

“I woke up yesterday morning feeling pretty sad for all the reasons that you would expect,” she told the Blade on Monday. “It was still inconceivable that we are now living in an America where all of us who have been empowered to teach and live our own authentic lives are now at risk in this country by the stroke of a pen and a radicalized right-wing majority on the court with seemingly little regard of the consequences.”

Lightfoot said the ruling’s “immediate impact” will be on women in “red states” and “states that have trigger laws” that ban abortion. Lightfoot added women of color and low-income women will be disproportionately impacted.

“You got to play the long game here,” she said. “Clarence Thomas clearly signaled what his intent is, which is when you talk about reconsidering Griswold, that’s the right to contraception access. They talk about reconsidering Lawrence in Texas. We know what that is. Well really, are gay men going to be in a position where they have to worry about cops breaking into their bedroom and try to haul them off to jail by engaging in a natural act of intimacy between consenting adults?”

“We are very much in the target, and the sights of this right-wing mob that feels like the only way that they can exercise their power is by taking ours,” added Lightfoot.

‘We’re going to respect your rights’

Lightfoot in May announced a “Justice for All Pledge” after Politico published a leaked draft of the Roe decision.

Her administration and the Chicago Department of Public Health pledged an additional $500,000 to “support access to reproductive healthcare for Chicagoans and patients seeking safe, legal care from neighboring states that have or ultimately will ban abortion if the Supreme Court decides to strike down Roe v. Wade, as outlined in the leaked decision.” The “Justice for All Pledge,” among other things, reaffirms Chicago will “fight for the rights of all people regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, age, religion, disability, national origin, ancestry, or sexual orientation.”  

“We will fight to ensure that no person will be attacked, assaulted, bullied, or discriminated against because of who they are, the choices they make regarding their bodily autonomy, or who they love,” reads the pledge.

“We have to be a beacon of light and hope across the country and particularly in the Midwest region,” said Lightfoot. 

She also encouraged LGBTQ people from Florida, Texas and other states that have passed homophobic and/or transphobic laws to consider moving to Chicago.

“We’re going to respect your rights,” said Lightfoot. “We’re going to allow you to live in an environment where you can live your true, authentic life without the worry of some radicalized right-wing legislature cutting off your rights. People have to start making choices.”

Lightfoot also challenged corporations to do more to support LGBTQ rights and their LGBTQ employees.

“Corporations have to start making choices,” she said. “All those nice little value statements on a corporate website, if you value your employees and their rights, you cannot be situated in states that are attacking everyone in our community.” 

“When you look at the fact that many of these states are attacking children and their families, that tells you there’s no floor, there’s no floor to which they will sink,” added Lightfoot. “It’s open season on us and we’ve got to respond.”

Mayor lacked role models ‘that looked like me’

Lightfoot lives in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood with her wife, Amy Eshleman, and their daughter.

She told the Blade that she met a transgender teenager from downstate Illinois during Chicago Pride. Lightfoot said she hugged her and her parents and she “just felt such joy.”

She said she “didn’t see any role models that looked like me” and “didn’t see a lot of gay and lesbian leaders on a national level or even at the local level” when she was younger. Lightfoot told the Blade in response to a question about how she feels about being the first Black lesbian mayor of a major U.S. city that there are now “so many more of us who are living our authentic lives.”

“One of the greatest gifts that we can give is to say to those young people, you’re going to be great,” she said. “Be who you are, embrace, embrace your authentic life. Because there’s always going to be a home for you. There’s going to be a village, a community that’s going to be supportive. That’s one of the things I think the most powerful statement that I can make as mayor, using my platform as mayor of the third largest city, to say to our young people, you’re always going to have a home here.”

Lightfoot earlier this month announced she is running for re-election in 2023.

Crime and the response to protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020 are among the issues over which Lightfoot has faced criticism.

She referenced efforts to make “real meaningful, permanent progress on public safety that we are doing here in our city against a lot of different headwinds” and economic development in low-income neighborhoods as two of her administration’s accomplishments. Lightfoot said she decided to run for a second term because “the work’s not done.”

“We have been through a lot, as every major city in the country has in these last three years, but we’ve persevered and continued to do really good work on behalf of the people and made a lot of progress,” she said. 

“I liken it to being a gardener,” added Lightfoot. “You till the soil, you plant the seeds, you want to be around to reap the harvest. And I want to make sure that the work that we put in place, that those roots are deep and strong and they continue to bear fruit for years and years to come, long after I fade from the scene.” 

Lesbian super PAC again endorses Lightfoot

LPAC endorsed Lightfoot’s initial mayoral campaign. The super PAC that supports lesbian candidates has once again backed her. 

“I am just grateful that they are ready to re-up for round two,” said Lightfoot.

“When we are present in those corridors of power, we bring a life of experience that is different than traditionally the straight white men that have populated these corridors of power,” she added. “We show up and we show up importantly for our community and that is critically important.”

LPAC Executive Director Lisa Turner in a statement to the Blade praised Lightfoot.

“When I think of the Black LGBTQ leaders serving in office like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, I am filled with pride about the work LPAC has done to uplift women and support their campaigns,” said Turner. “We were the first national organization and LGBTQ organization to endorse Mayor Lightfoot in 2019, and we are proud to be the first again as she seeks re-election. LPAC’s unwavering support shows our commitment to not solely electing more LGBTQ women to office, but to elect LGBTQ women who represent the full diversity of our community.”

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The White House

White House says U.S. made clear WNBA’s Griner ‘unjustly detained’

The U.S. government “is actively engaged in trying to resolve this case and get Brittney home,” the White House said

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Air Force One arrives at Torrejón Air Base outside Madrid, Spain June 28, 2022 (Screenshot/YouTube VOA)

MADRID, Torrejón Air Base, Spain – White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday he has spoken in the last few days with the wife of Brittney Griner as part of a larger effort within the Biden administration to secure the release of the Out lesbian basketball player in Russia whom supporters say is being unlawfully detained.

Sullivan made the comments speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One during President Biden’s trip to Europe in response to a question about efforts within the Biden administration to bring Griner home ahead of her expected trial in Russia.

“So first, Brittney Griner is wrongfully detained, unjustly detained, and we have made that clear as an official determination of the U.S. government,” Sullivan said. “Second, the Russian government should release her and allow her to be returned and reunited with her family and come home safe and sound.”

Sullivan added he — as well as Secretary of State Antony Blinken — have spoken with Griner’s wife Cherelle, to “convey our very deep sympathy, to convey that, you know, we just can’t even begin to imagine what the family must be going through, what Brittney — what Brittney must be going through.”

Griner, a professional basketball player for the Phoenix Mercury within the Women’s National Basketball Association, was detained in February by Russian Customs on allegations that cartridges of hashish oil were found in her luggage. Griner had gone to Russia to play with the Russian Premier League during the WNBA off-season.

Sullivan said the U.S. government “is actively engaged in trying to resolve this case and get Brittney home,” but added he’s constrained in what he could say because of confidentiality about the sensitive issue.

“But I will tell you it has the fullest attention of the president and every senior member of his national security and diplomatic team,” Sullivan said. “And we are actively working to find a resolution to this case, and will continue to do so without rest until we get Brittney safely home.”

The Biden administration, Sullivan added, is additionally working to return all unjustly detained Americans and hostages being held overseas,” including detainees in Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, Venezuela, and China.

The Washington Blade has placed a request with the State Department for a readout on Blinken’s role in the Biden administration’s talks with Griner.

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