Harold and Clay: bond annulled, separated, effects seized

[still from the documentary, "Before Stonewall"; it is not a picture of Harold and Clay]

UPDATE: County settles with Clay out of court

ADDENDUM: This is a link to a page on the NCLR site which includes a picture of the couple and more of a background on what they had together, and what was taken from them. Note also that Harold and Clay had taken the precaution of naming each other both beneficiaries of their respective estates and agents for medical decisions, and the authorities still proceeded as if they had no personal or legal relationship.

This is the basic story: Harold Scull, 88, and Clay Greene, 77, a couple for 25 years, and living together for 20 years, were physically and permanently separated, forcibly, when Harold was injured two years ago in a home accident. Clay was not permitted to see his partner or have any say in his care. Their property was summarily seized and auctioned off to pay for Harold's medical care and for the cost of the separate nursing homes to which the county had assigned them. Harold died a few months later and Clay was only informed of the fact days after. Neither had seen the other in the interim, and the home, possessions and virtually all property and personal mementos they shared had been disposed of by the county.

When I heard about these horrors via an email from a friend I first thought was that the account must be an invention, perhaps a cruel scam, but then, registering the integrity of my source, and seeing the story verified elsewhere, I was horrified and revolted. My stomach turned.

This is the kind of thing many might have thought could only exist as an invention, a hypothetical worse-case scenario constructed to help advance an understanding of the importance of securing the human rights of a large portion of humankind in this country, and beyond. It certainly wasn't something that happened in a civilized society today, to people like, well, us.

So, are we really living in post-Stonewall world?

The nightmare for Harold and Clay began only two years ago, and it didn't happen in, say, . . . Arkansas. I'm picking on that state because, for me, there the political is personal: Arkansas is where my partner Barry was born and grew up, but we refuse to visit friends and family there, for a number of reasons, many of them related to the primitive laws and customs it uses to condemn and endanger relationships like our own.

No, this story unfolded in California, and in fact in the San Francisco Bay area. Moreover, the local media, in the form of the Sonoma County, New York Times-owned paper, the Press Democrat, has refused to cover the story or the legal case being advanced by the surviving partner, Clay Greene.

It's pretty clear that queers still aren't safe anywhere in this country.

I'm copying here the account which appears on the site of the NCLR [National Center for Lesbian Rights]:

Greene v. County of Sonoma et al.

Clay and his partner of 20 years, Harold, lived in California. Clay and Harold made diligent efforts to protect their legal rights, and had their legal paperwork in place—wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives, all naming each other. Harold was 88 years old and in frail medical condition, but still living at home with Clay, 77, who was in good health.

One evening, Harold fell down the front steps of their home and was taken to the hospital. Based on their medical directives alone, Clay should have been consulted in Harold’s care from the first moment. Tragically, county and health care workers instead refused to allow Clay to see Harold in the hospital. The county then ultimately went one step further by isolating the couple from each other, placing the men in separate nursing homes.

Ignoring Clay’s significant role in Harold’s life, the county continued to treat Harold like he had no family and went to court seeking the power to make financial decisions on his behalf. Outrageously, the county represented to the judge that Clay was merely Harold’s “roommate.” The court denied their efforts, but did grant the county limited access to one of Harold’s bank accounts to pay for his care.

What happened next is even more chilling: without authority, without determining the value of Clay and Harold’s possessions accumulated over the course of their 20 years together or making any effort to determine which items belonged to whom, the county took everything Harold and Clay owned and auctioned off all of their belongings. Adding further insult to grave injury, the county removed Clay from his home and confined him to a nursing home against his will. The county workers then terminated Clay and Harold's lease and surrendered the home they had shared for many years to the landlord.

Three months after he was hospitalized, Harold died in the nursing home. Because of the county’s actions, Clay missed the final months he should have had with his partner of 20 years. Compounding this tragedy, Clay has literally nothing left of the home he had shared with Harold or the life he was living up until the day that Harold fell, because he has been unable to recover any of his property. The only memento Clay has is a photo album that Harold painstakingly put together for Clay during the last three months of his life.

With the help of a dedicated and persistent court-appointed attorney, Anne Dennis of Santa Rosa, Clay was finally released from the nursing home. Ms. Dennis, along with Stephen O'Neill and Margaret Flynn of Tarkington, O'Neill, Barrack & Chong, now represent Clay in a lawsuit against the county, the auction company, and the nursing home, with technical assistance from NCLR. A trial date has been set for July 16, 2010 in the Superior Court for the County of Sonoma.

[there is a pdf link to the complaint filed in Clay Greene's name at the bottom of the NCLR page itself]

Suggested media contacts:

Catherine Barnett, Executive Editor, The Press Democrat

Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Chairman & Publisher of the New York Times

Richard Berke, Assistant Managing Editor of the New York Times

Adam Nagourney , the chief national political correspondent for the New York Times

[image from flickr]

Thanks for covering this story. So far the mainstream media has not. Here is another link with more information about what happened to them. Even their pet cats were confiscated. http://www.nclrights.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_enewsletter_041310#3

Well said. Onward for human rights!

Horrible story! Can hardly believe this happens in America.

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Published on April 19, 2010 1:11 PM.

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