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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

If Only He Had Been in a Boy Band

posted by on October 18 at 10:19 AM

This just ain’t right.

Tyron Garner, the African American plaintiff in Lawrence v. Texas, the case that overturned sodomy laws in the United States (and prompted the Supreme Court to reverse Bowers v. Hardwick, an earlier, rabidly anti-gay decision), died on September 11, 2006. He still hasn’t been buried, as his family can’t afford to pay for burial. If money isn’t raised immediately, Garner’s body will be chucked into an unmarked pauper’s grave by officials in Harris County Texas. Keith Boykin reports

Ironically, it was a police officer in Harris County who barged into a private apartment and arrested Garner for having consensual sex with a male partner. And it was the state of Texas that spent an enormous amount of time and money in pursuing the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Thus, the state that sought to control his body while he was living may end up controlling it in his death.

So what’s the gay rights movement doing about this? Uh, not much.

Lambda Legal Defense Fund had previously announced a fund to be set up for Garner’s family to cover the cost of the funeral and burial, but apparently the funds have still not been raised. I don’t know the circumstances behind the fund, but Lambda is the second largest LGBT organization in the country and boasts an annual budget of $10.5 million….

Tyron Garner was a hero to the LGBT community. Without him, we would not be able to begin the conversation around marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples. So there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be buried with dignity and respect. His case, Lawrence v. Texas, was the most important U.S. Supreme Court case for the gay and lesbian community.

The gay rights establishment, dominated by white gays and lesbians, is often accused of being thoughtlessly racist. Sometimes the charges are baseless and self-serving. In this instance, however, if the gay rights establishment doesn’t get it in gear and raise the money needed to properly bury Garner, then the institutional racism could and should stick.

Keith Boykin is going to put info on his website about where you can donate a few bucks. As soon as it’s up, I’ll be sending off a check. You should too.

UPDATE: Too late.

I just received word from Mitchell Katine, the local attorney in the Lawrence v. Texas case, who informed me that Tyron Garner’s brother Darnell signed the papers just this morning releasing Tyron’s body to the county for cremation (at no cost). The fund which had been set up for his burial had raised only $225.00 in 6 weeks.

This should never have happened… This man was a hero to our community, and the community failed him. The group that created this fund could have written a check itself to cover the cost of this man’s burial. And the community that was solicited should have given up far more than $225, almost half of which came from the lawyer. Are the lives of black gay men disposable? Does no one care?

Although it is too late to preserve Garner’s body, it is still possible to preserve his legacy and to help his family. The family would like for Tyron’s ashes to be put in a metal urn (instead of a plastic bag), and they would like to print some obituaries for Garner. The total cost for the metal urn and the obituaries is $430.00, meaning they need an additional $205 from the $225 already raised.

Several people have already contacted me and offered to give more than that amount to the fund. I encourage anyone who is interested to make a contribution anyway. All excess funds will go to the family, the lawyer tells me. Contributions should be made payable to the Tyrone Garner Fund and sent directly to:

Preferred Bank
11757 Katy Freeway, Suite 100
Houston, Texas 77079

RSS icon Comments


This is fucking horrifying, and so damning..

Posted by David Schmader | October 18, 2006 10:57 AM

would have helped if they would have let people know about it. i get email crap from lambda all the time, and i never saw this.

Posted by konstantconsumer | October 18, 2006 10:59 AM

Yeah, this is the first I heard of it, too.

Seems like Lambda Legal dropped the ball on this one, both in raising money and disseminating information.

Still, what a nightmare.

Posted by David Schmader | October 18, 2006 11:10 AM

Who "should be dragged behind a pickup truck until there’s nothing left but the rope" for this, Dan?

Posted by tam | October 18, 2006 11:11 AM


I know of a former national co-chair of Lambda with a bunch of cash on hand and no opposition in an upcoming general election.

But I suppose developers don't pay to bury poor blacks...

Posted by Brian | October 18, 2006 11:12 AM

This is the first I'd heard about this. That in itself is pretty appalling. I don't live in a cave. I like to think I keep up with what's happening in the gay world. Why is it that when Ford pulls advertising dollars from the Advocate magazine, I heard about it from 4 different people and read it on half dozen blogs within a couple of days. Yet Garner's corpse rots for a month and a half, and I never heard about till now.

Lambda should be ashamed. Clearly, if they'd put more effort into it and made it a priority, they could have either (a) raised more money more quickly, or (b) paid it directly themselves, and worried about getting paid back later (even a somewhat lavish burial wouldn't have put a dent in their multimillion dollar budget). Even worse, I'm guessing that some of the other prominent elite Gay organizations heard about this, but did nothing whatsoever.

This is a fucking disgrace.

Posted by SDA in SEA | October 18, 2006 11:15 AM

I am also appalled. I regularly check the Advocate and Out websites (as well as a few gay blogs) for updates on what's happening and saw nothing about this. I'm glad I'm taking a break at work to look at your site Dan.

Posted by dan | October 18, 2006 11:43 AM

..and charles doesn't think we should cry..

Posted by riz | October 18, 2006 11:48 AM

I am also pissed at Lambda Legal, and I have written to them telling them so. I urge everyone else to do so as well.

Posted by AEleen Frisch | October 18, 2006 12:36 PM

Any word from our local Lamda Legal on this? Equal Rights WA? HRC? Anyone? There should be a memorial organized for Mr. Garner.

Posted by question | October 18, 2006 12:41 PM

Lambda folks have plenty of money to donate to pols:

1 . Adams, Michael
7/26/2004 $200.00
Jackson Heights, NY 11372
Lambda Legal/Director Of Education [Contribution]
[View Image]

2 . Cathcart, Kevin
8/6/2004 $1,000.00
New York, NY 10005
Lambda Legal/Executive Director [Contribution]
[View Image]

3 . Gasparini, Mark A
6/28/2004 $500.00
New York, NY 10011
Lambda Legal/CFO [Contribution]
[View Image]

4 . Goldstein, Frances
9/25/2003 $500.00
New York, NY 10011
Lambda Legal Defense Fund/Executive [Contribution]
[View Image]

5 . Goldstein, Frances
8/28/2003 $500.00
New York, NY 10011
Lambda Legal Defence/Deputy Directo [Contribution]
[View Image]

6 . Hill, Rick
10/18/2004 $500.00
New York, NY 10011
Lambda Legal/Dirtector of Events [Contribution]
[View Image]

7 . Logue, Patricia
10/15/2004 $250.00
Chicago, IL 60657
Lambda Legal/attorney [Contribution]
[View Image]

8 . Logue, Patricia Ms.
7/28/2004 $250.00
Chicago, IL 60657
Lambda Legal/attorney [Contribution]
[View Image]

9 . Senterfitt, Jack H.
5/28/2004 $1,750.00
Atlanta, GA 30306
Lambda Legal/Attorney [Contribution]

Posted by MPetrelis | October 18, 2006 2:41 PM

Here is information on how much the top people at Lambda Legal earn, as reported in the group's most recent IRS 990 form, as posted on This is the direct link: . Registration required, and well worth the time it takes! -mpetrelis

Kevin Cathcart
Executive Director

John Westfall
Development Director

Michael Adams
Director of Education/Public Affairs

Frances Goldstein
Deputy Director

Jon Davidson
Legal Director

Mark Gasparini
Chief Financial Officer

Posted by MPetrelis | October 18, 2006 2:43 PM

We suck. :-(

What did he die from?

Posted by Violet_DaGrinder | October 18, 2006 5:48 PM

I live in Seattle and am a member of the board of directors of Lambda Legal. Here is my unauthorized reply; hopefully tomorrow, when the office is open, someone on the staff will be able to respond more fully.
First, please hold your fire until you know the facts. The story reported above assumes a lot, including that some official of Lambda Legal was aware that Mr. Garner was in imminent danger of being sent to a pauper's cremation, and disregarded that possibility. You don't know that, I'm pretty sure it's not accurate, and I am amazed that so many of your readers are willing to assume it's true based on no evidence at all, and lash out at Lambda Legal in response.
Second, Lambda Legal is the organization that represented Mr. Garner and won his case. Lambda Legal HELPED Mr. Garner. The leaders of Lambda Legal revered him and made that clear publicly in a statement upon his death, and privately in many expressions of sadness at his demise. The idea that Lambda is somehow responsible for what is described on this blog is quite a stretch. Please consider that there is no doubt another side to this story. More later.

Posted by Dave Horn | October 18, 2006 5:57 PM

Thanks for jumping in, Dave. I'm a supporter of LL, and I would hate to think anything awful went down. Please keep us posted.

Posted by Dan Savage | October 18, 2006 6:25 PM


There is no reason to be ambiguous about this.

Posted by pony | October 18, 2006 6:32 PM

Mr. Horn,

I think people are just saddened that this person, who was such a pioneer, did not somehow get the support he (and his family) needed. It's not Lamda Legal's fault that he passed away. However, now that we know he did, let's do something.

Posted by wait | October 18, 2006 6:54 PM

How much do you make per year, Mr. Petrelis?

Posted by Boomer | October 18, 2006 9:33 PM

Hi David Horn, Just in case you're not on Rex Wockner's email list, here is a very brief statement from Lambda yesterday about Garner's burial and the costs associated with it.

Date: Wed, 18 Oct 2006 15:56:02 -0400
Subject: Lambda Legal Update re: Tyron Garner

"Within hours of being made aware of the unfortunate circumstances faced
by Tyron Garner's family regarding his burial, we raised the balance of
the funds through staff donations. Our sympathy is with the family at this
difficult time," said Kevin Cathcart, Executive Director of Lambda Legal.

Lisa Hardaway
Media Relations Director
Lambda Legal

Posted by Michael Petrelis | October 19, 2006 10:54 AM

Do I have this right? It's almost the end of business in NYC, where Lambda is based, and no one from the group has issued a fuller statement about Tyron Garner and his burial?

More than 24 hours after the issues were first raised by Keith Boykin, all we've heard from Lambda is the bland two-sentence statement, posted above. The corporate speak of the statment could have come from WalMart, it is so devoid of feeling.And that statement is not even on the Lambda site!

So what is the reason Lambda can't give the community more details? They need a bigger budget, more well-paid people, more time to craft a release or more ritzy galas before they can communicate with us on this?

For me, there are two questions Lambda needs to address, but I ain't holding my breath on them replying:

1. How did Lambda help with Garner's burial?

2. Why can't the group engage us in a dialogue about questions raised related to all this?

Posted by Michael Petrelis | October 19, 2006 12:31 PM

Thanks for the actual reporting which can actually lead to a change, which doesn't happen enough 'round these bloggy parts. I hope this also means that Dan, Eli, et al, will reference Keith Boykin's website and ideas more often, as you often do with A. Sullivan and others. Thanks again for the reportage.

Posted by stone | October 19, 2006 10:53 PM

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