Wednesday, June 08, 2016

ACLU of Georgia: LGBT Rights

This is the first in a series of posts about the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia Records, which were processed in 2015 and are now open for research. These records document the ACLU of Georgia's litigation, lobbying, and public education efforts to protect civil liberties for all Georgians. Their work, which began in 1963, involves issues such as freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, due process of law, and opposing discrimination against many groups. This series of posts was written by Shaniqua Singleton, a student at the University of Georgia's School of Law, who was instrumental in processing these papers.

Map of ACLU cases concerned with LGBT rights, 2002.
Source: Series I, Box 9, Folder 8
Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, decided Obergefell v. Hodges and recognized a constitutional right for individuals identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender to marry. As many cities ready for their annual Pride celebration and individuals across the country reflect on the impact of Obergefell, researchers may want to review the ACLU of Georgia’s records on the history of LGBT rights litigation and legislation.

The ACLU’s records feature one of the seminal cases in LGBT rights litigation, a case that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court and into the annals of constitutional law casebooks. That case is Bowers v. Hardwick (1982-1986). The plaintiff was arrested for violating a Georgia law that criminalized sodomy. The act in question took place in the privacy of the plaintiff’s home with a consenting male adult. After several years' worth of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court sided against the plaintiff and ACLU and held that Georgia’s sodomy statute did not violate the fundamental rights of LGBT individuals. The decision was later overturned in Lawrence v. Texas.

ACLU staff and supporters at a demonstration for the founding
of the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, holding a sign protesting
the Bowers v. Hardwick decision, 1987.
Source: Series 1, Box 9, Folder 9.

Researchers interested in gathering information on LGBT rights will have access to legal documents filed by the ACLU and opposing counsel in state and federal courts and a copy of the parties’ arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. Researchers will also find several news articles, press releases, and internal ACLU memoranda covering the development of this case. Additionally, researchers will find numerous other cases in the records related to child custody, same sex marriage, free speech rights in the case Gay Guardian Newspaper v. Ohoopee Regional Library System, and many other areas of LGBT rights.

The ACLU has also been involved in advocacy for LGBT rights outside of the courtroom. For example, the records contain materials for their "Sticks and Stones" educational program to equip schools to address harassment of LGBT students and pamphlets discussing political and social developments in LGBT rights and support for organizations like the Atlanta Gay Center. Researchers interested in understanding issues of concern to the LGBT community and comparing the development of LGBT rights to more modern movements will find value in conducting research in these records.

Publication of the Atlanta Gay Center, 1988.
Source: Series I, Box 6, Folder 11.
Flyer for the "Making Schools Safe"workshop, part of the Sticks & Stones project, ca. 1999-2002. Source: Series I, Box 8, Folder 47.