The Tyron Garner Memorial Fellowship for African-American LGBT Civil Rights

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February 14, 2015

Tyron Garner and John Geddes Lawrence were arrested the night of September 17, 1998, after police responded to a call claiming that a black man was “going crazy with a gun” in Lawrence’s apartment just outside Houston. No gun was ever found at the scene. The men were arrested, the police said, for having sex. They pled no contest to violating a Texas sodomy law, a Class C misdemeanor.

Tyron Garner, 31 at the time, was initially reluctant to fight the charges. He later told the Houston Chronicle, “I didn't think we'd win….I didn't enjoy being outed with my mugshot on TV. It was degrading to me."

Lambda Legal litigated the case Lawrence and Garner v. Texas all the way to the Supreme Court, where a 6-3 majority, led by Justice Anthony Kennedy, ruled that Garner and Lawrence were “entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government.” The ruling struck down all remaining sodomy laws in the United States.

Tyron Garner died in September 2006, at the age of 39, of complications from meningitis. In his memory, Lambda Legal created the Tyron Garner Memorial Fellowship for African-American LGBT Civil Rights. Through the Garner Fellowship, we seek to encourage and mentor recent law graduates dedicated to LGBT issues within African-American communities to become engaged in civil rights work on behalf of LGBT individuals and people living with HIV. The Garner Fellowship contributes to Lambda Legal’s work to serve communities of color and address the intersection of LGBT discrimination and racism  and poverty that affects African-American LGBT communities. The Garner Fellow, funded by Lambda Legal at $50,000 salary for a full year, may work in any of our five offices (Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles or New York).

Tyron Garner did not seek to be a celebrity, but he nonetheless helped achieve justice nationwide. It is our hope that the Garner Fellow’s work, done in his name will continue to do good for the people we serve.

The application period for the 2015-16 Lambda Legal Garner Fellowship recently opened.