Last edited: January 01, 2005

Activist Presents Immodest Proposal

Gay Militant Takes on Virginia Anti-Sodomy Law

Roanoke Times, May 21, 1999
P. O. Box 2491, Roanoke, VA 24010
Fax 703-981-3204

By Kimberly O’Brien, The Roanoke Times

A prominent Washington gay activist, in an effort to show his disgust with Virginia’s crimes against nature law, has publicly invited four of Roanoke’s top law enforcement officials to join him in a private act of sodomy.

Franklin Kameny said if the officials, which include two Circuit Court judges, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney and Roanoke’s police chief, don’t prosecute him, then they are wrong in prosecuting 18 men charged with seeking gay sex in Wasena Park.

Kameny, who founded the gay movement in Washington in 1961 and is known as "the father of American gay activist militancy," sent letters to the four individuals last week – similar to a letter he sent in 1972 to Washington officials. His 1972 letter was a 20-year prelude to the repeal of the D.C. sodomy law in 1993. Kameny drafted the repeal statute.

Last week’s letter was addressed to Roanoke Circuit Court judges Richard Pattisall and Robert Doherty, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Alice Ekirch and Police Chief Atlas "Joe" Gaskins.

Earlier this month, Pattisall and Doherty denied motions from the men’s attorneys to dismiss the charges on constitutional grounds; Ekirch is prosecuting the 18 cases in court.

Specifically, Kameny, a 74-year-old former astronomer, invited the four "to engage with me in an act or acts of sodomy of your choice and as defined by Section 18.2-361 of the Virginia Code, in some indisputably private place in the state of Virginia, at a time of our mutual convenience."

"This letter," Kameny continued, "will be published and publicized, with intent to embarrass each of you individually and by name, and to bring you into public contempt and ridicule nationally, as well as to make a contemptible laughingstock of your benighted, barbaric, backward state of Virginia."

All four officials, while acknowledging receipt of the letter, declined to comment because of the pending cases.

Charges against the 18 men stemmed from conversations they had with undercover police officers last year in Wasena Park. For years, Roanoke police had brought misdemeanor charges such as indecent exposure and assault against "cruisers" who sought anonymous gay sex in city parks or mall restrooms. But this time, police said complaints from citizens about blatant sexual activity in the park led them to seek felony indictments.

Among the arguments for dismissal of charges, defense attorneys said the state’s sodomy law violates the fundamental right of privacy afforded by the state and federal constitutions. But Pattisall, in his opinion, countered that the defendants allegedly never proposed that the sex they solicited take place in private.

Kameny, however, said in his letter that no distinction is made in law among solicitations for sodomy in public places, by word of mouth and those communicated by mail. If he is not prosecuted for his "instant" solicitations, he said, a precedent will have been set.

"It’s an effort to tweak the lion’s tail," Kameny said by phone this week. "Sometimes that tweaking can get you a productive outcome ... It raises the question that if they’ve been solicited and they don’t respond, how can they charge other people for soliciting?"

Also in the letter, Kameny urges people, individually or in groups, to "march into Roanoke police stations and solicit every police officer in sight." He then suggests that defendants and spectators solicit judges and prosecutors in open court. He also has published the names of the four officials on the Internet, and urges people across the nation to send signed letters soliciting for sodomy.

Kent Willis, director of the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the law doesn’t draw the distinction of how the solicitation is done, and said Kameny could, in fact, be charged with a crime. Willis said a man was arrested in Loudoun County about five years ago after someone was solicited through the mail and police arranged a meeting.

Ekirch would not comment on whether she will prosecute Kameny. He was not prosecuted in 1972 for his letter to Washington’s three top law enforcement officials. Nor was he prosecuted after he went on an Alexandria gay issues radio show in December and solicited the entire state of Virginia for sodomy. However, an anti-gay group filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission.

Most importantly, Kameny said he wants his letter to provide impetus for reconsideration and reform of Virginia’s crimes against nature law – implemented judicially through the disposition of the 18 cases.

However, Sam Garrison, a Roanoke attorney representing nine of the men, said he doesn’t think Kameny’s letter is a helpful approach and said he doesn’t plan to mention it when his cases go to court next month.

"We don’t really need people from Washington to get involved in the Virginia sodomy law," Garrison said. "But he’s free, like any other person ... to express his opinions."

Eight of Garrison’s clients, and four men represented by other attorneys, likely will accept plea agreements that allow them to plead no contest to the charges, Ekirch said. Each man who accepts will get a 12-month suspended sentence, along with a $1,000 fine. They also will be barred from Roanoke parks for five years.

Because the agreement is a conditional plea, the men will be allowed to appeal their cases to a higher court. Garrison said his eight clients already have indicated they intend to appeal, while the ninth wants to have his case heard in court.

Willis, meanwhile, does not think Kameny’s letter should merely be considered a publicity stunt. Rather, he said, if more people say what they think of Virginia’s sodomy law, which Willis also called antiquated, it might one day make a difference in the legislature in changing the law. Virginia is one of 14 states that prohibits consensual sodomy among adults.

"When you point out the ridiculousness of a law, you may not make headway in the courts, but you may make headway with the legislators," who are afraid to do anything because of re-election worries, Willis said. "Pointing out inconsistencies in the law should lend a helping hand."

Kimberly O’Brien can be reached at 981-3334 or

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