Queer: April 2010 Archives

Harry was always an activist (here he is saying hello to the late Keith Cylar)

ADDENDA: I've now located* the original full image of the photograph I included above when I first did this entry, as well as the text which accompanied it, from a pre-summer issue of OutWeek published almost twenty years ago; this is Keith Cylar and Harry Wieder's reply to the photographer and activist Michael Wakefields's question about their ideal getaway:

"We would live in a world where we would then have the freedom to do more than just fantasize, where our fight to end AIDS has brought a reality, and there are countless sexual possibilities, especially for a militant sexual dwarf"

I've also added an image further into the entry, of Harry inside the maw of the beast, an ACT UP Monday night meeting

He described himself as a "Disabled, gay, Jewish, leftist, middle aged dwarf who ambulates with crutches", but Harry was much more. He was the essential activist, and he was much loved.

I first met him through ACT UP, where I sat next to him at a Monday night meeting, and after that he seemed to be everywhere, especially wherever there was something to be said to power. I was deeply proud to call him a friend.

I hadn't yet heard his own multifarious description of himself, but as I came to know better both the man and his work I watched his identity as an activist and as a man gradually enlarge in my own consciousness. Eventually I seemed to have assembled an image of all of his various hats and identities on my own, even adding "person of color" in my enthusiasm. I can't account for that add-on. Harry might have been a bit "swarthy", but I think it was his compassion and his natural affinity for the issues which affected blacks, or maybe there was even an ambiguous word from Harry himself. Then, only years later, when he told me where he then lived on the Lower East Side, in a home for the deaf, did I realize that his physical challenges included a hearing disability.

The news magazine OutWeek called Harry a "militant sexual dwarf" in a 1991 article which included the photo above. He's seen peeking into the swimsuit of Keith Cylar, one of the co-founders of Housing Works. Barry remembers, "he was [certainly] aggressively flirtatious".

We all loved him.

During all of his active life he worked to improve transportation for all so there was more than a little irony in the fact that he was struck down the night before last by a taxi on Essex Street, on the Lower East Side where he lived. It's one of the most dangerous of the stretches which had attracted his latest traffic-control activism, virtually up to the moment of his death. He was leaving a regular meeting of Community Board 3, one of several groups which has been concerned with the neighborhood's safety.

Board 3 will be joined by Community Board 2 at a public hearing scheduled by the NYC Department of Transportation for next Thursday on the issues of traffic and safety in the Village and the Lower East Side. Harry will certainly be a part of it.

Harry, waving from the front row during a 1990 ACT UP meeting [detail in a still from a video]

For more details: DNAinfo; The New York Post; Wall Street Journal (blog); the Lo-Down; Gothamist; The Edge (for starters)

When I first published this post I was unable to locate Michael Wakefield's original, uncropped image, but Bill Dobbs located it in the OutWeek archive and pointed me to it (it's on page 36); it now appears here at the top

[first image by Michaeld Wakefield from the OutWeek archive; the second from James Wentzy]


Today is the eighth anniversary of this blog.

I said it last year, and I'm delighted and incredibly privileged to say it again: This is also the anniversary of what turned out to be the most important event in my life, the night Barry and I met (now nineteen years ago).

Last year I also wrote, looking at the world outside our circle of close friends, that I was "more upbeat about the world" than I had been the year before, the eighth year of our second Bush, adding, "but only a bit". That hasn't changed, a bit.

And happy birthday, Paddy Johnson!

[the image is of a portion of the street number on the glass above one of the Art Deco entrances of the former Port Authority Commerce Building (1932), 111 Eighth Avenue the wall seen several feet behind the glass is covered with gold leaf]

[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]

This page is an archive of entries in the Queer category from April 2010.

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