Activist Presents Immodest Proposal
Gay Militant Takes on Virginia Anti-Sodomy Law
May 21, 1999
P. O. Box 2491, Roanoke, VA 24010
By Kimberly OBrien, The Roanoke Times
A prominent Washington gay activist, in an effort to show his disgust with
Virginias crimes against nature law, has publicly invited four of Roanokes 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 commonwealths attorney and Roanokes police chief, dont
prosecute him, then they are wrong in prosecuting 18 men charged with seeking gay sex in
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
Last weeks letter was addressed to Roanoke Circuit Court judges Richard Pattisall
and Robert Doherty, Assistant Commonwealths Attorney Alice Ekirch and Police Chief
Atlas "Joe" Gaskins.
Earlier this month, Pattisall and Doherty denied motions from the mens attorneys
to dismiss the charges on constitutional grounds; Ekirch is prosecuting the 18 cases in
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
Among the arguments for dismissal of charges, defense attorneys said the states
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.
"Its an effort to tweak the lions tail," Kameny said by phone
this week. "Sometimes that tweaking can get you a productive outcome ... It raises
the question that if theyve been solicited and they dont 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 doesnt 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 Washingtons 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 Virginias 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
doesnt think Kamenys letter is a helpful approach and said he doesnt
plan to mention it when his cases go to court next month.
"We dont really need people from Washington to get involved in the Virginia
sodomy law," Garrison said. "But hes free, like any other person ... to
express his opinions."
Eight of Garrisons 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 Kamenys letter should merely be considered a
publicity stunt. Rather, he said, if more people say what they think of Virginias
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 OBrien can be reached at 981-3334 or email@example.com
[Home] [News] [Virginia]