January 13, 2014
To the Editor:
Susie Day’s Perspective (Jan. 8) discusses Lynne Stewart, a straight lawyer who defended unpopular causes and was jailed for years, and asks, “Should Queers Care?”
In fact, decades ago, Lynne Stewart did stick her neck out for LGBT activists when few others dared to do so –– and was slapped with a $2.1 million lawsuit for her efforts. While anything would pale next to her cruel incarceration for many years, it was no joke to have the lawsuit and the threat of financial ruin hanging over one’s head for a year.
A little background. The LGBT rights movement that began at Stonewall soon faced a strong backlash –– including a “Save Our Children” crusade led by a Florida orange juice pitchwoman and a California ballot initiative to fire LGBT teachers –– based on the despicable, discredited blood libel that we are all child molesters.
On June 21, 1977, a New York politician who had been the Democratic party nominee for state attorney general jumped on this bandwagon of bigotry, with a dangerous new twist: he announced in the Daily News that he was heading a new “Liberals Against Gay Rights” movement.
At the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), we decided to pay this politician a midnight visit (a “zap”) at his posh suburban home. The only lawyer we found who would accompany us as a legal observer on this outing was Lynne F. Stewart. And it was a good thing she was there with us on the night of August 4, 1977, because she was most helpful in convincing the local police not to arrest the GAA protesters.
When the politician then filed a $2.1 million lawsuit against her and GAA, she remained steadfast and in good spirits. I recall vividly the tone of sarcastic mocking mixed with bemusement in her voice as she said the words, “The au-GUST New York Times!” after the paper ran an editorial on August 8, 1977, that began: “Late one night last week, about 50 homosexuals [sic], many of them with baseball bats and bullhorns, suddenly appeared around the Scarsdale home of …, a political figure, exploding firecrackers and shouting threats to burn down his house.”
A year later, on July 24, 1978, a State Supreme Court justice, finding that Lynne Stewart was a legal observer and not a participant in the protest, dropped her as a defendant in the lawsuit.
May history always remember and salute Lynne Stewart’s courage in standing with us at a time when militant LGBT activists were about as popular, and as likely to receive pro bono legal assistance, as Muslim sheiks would be a quarter of a century later.
The writer, who lives in Manhattan, chaired the Gay Activists Alliance’s political action committee for part of 1977. His book “Summer of ’77” can be read at gaynewsandviews.com.
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