The Queer Issue

1986

Bowers v. Hardwick

1986

Steven Weissman

The Queer Issue

Sometime in the summer of 1986, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that there was no constitutionally protected right to engage in homosexual sodomy.

While I read about the decision in the newspaper, I don't remember actually doing anything about it. The mid-1980s wasn't a particularly political time in my life.

I was young and lived a block off Broadway. My friends and I spent our mornings at the Body Nautilus, "the gay gym"; our afternoons at Madison Park, "the gay beach"; and our evenings dancing at Neighbours and the Brass Connection. We didn't have time for politics. We were busy living.

And we lived with death. We worried every day about dying of AIDS, or we were dying of AIDS, or we were improvising ways to care for our friends who were dying of AIDS.

We were not concerned about the legal test the Supreme Court applied to our constitutional rights, but with what we called at the time the "AIDS test."

The AIDS test was a nightmare. It took forever to get the results.

My friend Manny and I would get tested at the same time, and wait, calling each other every day to talk about our odds of dying young. Once, we decided that if we tested negative, we would go to St. James Cathedral and light a candle. Then we'd go out to Neighbours and find boyfriends. We laughed, but we were scared.

The facts of Bowers v. Hardwick, had we been fully aware of them, would have given us even more reason to be afraid.

Georgia police officers entered the bedroom of Michael Hardwick to serve a summons for throwing a beer bottle. Upon entering his bedroom, the police found Hardwick and a male companion engaged in mutual, consensual oral sex, which was a felony in Georgia. Both men were placed under arrest.

At the height of AIDS hysteria, in the gay and straight community, the Supreme Court upheld the right of the police to enter our bedrooms and arrest us for private, consensual sexual conduct. That should have terrified us.

But there wasn't room in our lives for more fear. The people I hung out with in my 20s and early 30s faced our fears and helped create the organizations that would fight AIDS, fight for our rights, and fight for our lives. And we wound up changing the world in ways we could not have imagined in 1986. Bowers v. Hardwick would one day be overturned. People would one day talk of living with HIV/AIDS, not dying of AIDS. And new generations of gays and lesbians would move into urban areas, go to the new gay bars and gay gyms, hang out at the same-old gay beach, and live less fearful lives.

My friend Manny and I got together recently and talked about all the young men we knew or wanted to know in the mid-'80s. We remembered the friends we would meet for brunch at Eggs Etc. on Broadway after a late night, the men we would see buying flowers for their boyfriends at the florist stand outside of Hana, and watching the gay softball league play at Bobby Morris Field.

Most of those men didn't live long enough to see how far we would come.

Ed Murray is the state senator for Seattle's 43rd District.

 

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