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Lambda Legal’s Jon Davidson Remembers Warren Christopher

Lambda Legal’s Jon Davidson Remembers Warren Christopher

by Karen Ocamb on March 21, 2011

Forner Sec. of State Warren Christopher appearing on the Charlie Rose Show on PBS

(Editor’s note: Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher died Friday from complications of kidney and bladder cancer, CNN reported. He was 85.  “The cause of peace and freedom and decency have never had a more tireless or tenacious advocate,” President Bill Clinton said in 1996 when Christopher announced that he was leaving his post as the nation’s top diplomat.

Most Americans of a certain age remember Christopher as the man who negotiated the release of the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran for 444 days after the Iran Revolution in Nov. 1979. He was then  deputy secretary of state under President Jimmy Carter. But his career was deep and wide and, as his mentor Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas had advised, a life in which he got “into the stream of history” and swam as fast as he could.

I met Christopher very briefly at a major fundraiser he co-hosted in Los Angeles for presidential candidate Bill Clinton, where Clinton friend David Mixner and Access Now for Gay and Lesbian Equality (ANGLE) were publicly recognized for their contributions – an historic step. But as Lambda Legal’s Legal Director Jon Davidson remembers (very modestly, on his part) – Christopher was very important to LGBT history. – Karen Ocamb)

Remembering Warren Christopher

By Jon Davidson, Legal Director of Lambda Legal

Our community owes much to Warren Christopher.  After he urged Mayor Tom Bradley to appoint an independent commission to investigate police misconduct in the wake of the videotaped beating of Rodney King, he was made chair of what became known as the ‘Christopher Commission.’  Under his leadership, the Commission broadly examined the LAPD’s history of discrimination, harassment and violence, and decided to include that directed against gay people.  Warren Christopher brought in more than 100 staff to work on the investigation, including some who were openly gay, such as current Ambassador to New Zealand David Huebner.

The Christopher Commission’s 228-page report documented virulently anti-gay sentiments of LAPD officers, such as mobile digital police car transmissions referring to crimes against gay people as ‘NHI, “meaning ‘no humans involved.”  The Commission’s detailed examination of police records also proved false LAPD claims that anti-gay sting operations in Griffith Park were justified by frequent complaints.

When I and others pressed the Commission to hear testimony from current and former lesbian and gay officers, they agreed and took steps to protect those who were still in the closet.  That testimony showed a widespread pattern of discrimination and harassment based on perceived sexual orientation against both LAPD employees and civilians.

The Christopher Commission’s report helped rid the LAPD of homophobic Police Chief Daryl Gates.  In addition, while the LGBT community had complained about their treatment by the LAPD for years, having someone as respected as Warren Christopher endorse those complaints made a huge difference in efforts to bring about reforms within the LAPD.

I later met Warren Christopher when his law firm, O’Melveny & Myers, helped Lambda Legal represent a gay youth subjected to horrible harassment at his high school.  Christopher had stood behind his firm (which was long considered a conservative institution) taking on that case, and he expressed great pride in the result we jointly obtained — establishing a constitutional right of lesbian and gay youth to be out at school as well as the largest pretrial settlement ever of a case of this nature.

With all Hilary Clinton has done for LGBT people as Secretary of State, it may be hard to fully appreciate what it meant to have one of her predecessors standing up for the rights of members of our community two decades ago. We should remember Warren Christopher for the many reforms he helped bring about.  But, perhaps even more than that, our community should remember him for helping make tackling inequality based on sexual orientation a mainstream concern.

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Donna J. Wade March 21, 2011 at 5:59 PM

Jon, you are so right-on in your assessment of the assistance Warren Christopher and his staff gave to the gay and lesbian LAPD officers…had it not been for the recommendations of his Commission, we might still be waiting for the first openly gay and lesbian officers to officially come out. While our community was debating whether or not to call for Gates’ resignation, the Christopher Commission laid out the case for his dismissal backed with voluminous documentary and anecdotal evidence, proving what we’d long alleged…that the culture of homophobia prevalent in the LAPD was fact, not fiction…that sex stings and bar raids were not based on legitimate complaints but on our community being an easy mark for such selective enforcement actions…after all, at that time, who but our community would complain about it? And who in any position of power would listen if we did?

We owe Warren Christopher a great debt. He was a man of conscience and principle who saw a wrong and tried to right it. I am proud to have met him and to have been a part of the LGBT history (and LAPD’s) that followed.

I realize I’ve been “out of the loop” for a while, but I didn’t know David Huebner was appointed Ambassador to New Zealand. That’s so cool, and I’m delighted for him!

Donna J. Wade
former co-Chair
LA Gay and Lesbian Police Advisory Task Force

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