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American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law




The gay moment is unavoidable. -Andrew Kopkind

Gay activist, journalist and political commentator Andrew Kopkind made this profound observation at a critical moment in the queer rights movement, in the midst of the March on Washington, pride rallies, queer organizing and the ever strengthening movement to address the AIDS crisis within the queer community. The moment, however, meant different things to participants in the movement. Over the years, the queer or sexual liberation movement transformed itself into a much more equality-based movement with the most energy focused on securing recognition of gay marriage and equal access to the military. As such, and even with the constantly increasing strength and visibility of the mainstream gay rights movement, many queer issues and queer people remain marginalized, avoided or excluded.

One such issue is the impact of sexual orientation bias in the legal system. Today's long overdue discussion comes after the court reforms of the 1970s and after the courts, at the insistence of the American Bar Association, began to examine gender and race bias in the courts in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Despite an apparent willingness to revamp and reconstruct the courts and judicial system, in some regards, to fit our more inclusive society, there is still incredible reluctance to probe for bias based on an individual's either real or perceived sexual orientation.

If Andrew Kopkind were alive today, he might agree with the statement that we are at an important "gay moment," but he might also question whether or not it is unavoidable. The public, still reeling from the misdeeds of public officials and betrayals of trust by important institutions like corporations, the government and religious institutions, are reluctant to examine deficits in our justice system. Is our legal system accountable, or for that matter, fair? Do we need to craft an inquiry into fairness or accountability that will give information about the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersexual and transgendered persons?

It is understandable then when one thinks about how specific individuals within certain categories (race, sexual identity, gender and class) might experience the criminal justice system, there may not be popular support for inquiry or critique. This is precisely why the decision to publish the presentations and papers from the symposium, Homophobia in the Halls of Justice: Sexual Orientation Bias and its Implications Within the Legal System, is such an important first step. This decision is necessary in order to transform an important moment into an unavoidable one.



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