Steven C. Childers vs. Dallas Police Department

 

Steven C. Childers vs. Dallas Police Department

 

By Steven C. Childers

Grand Marshall 2016 Fresno Rainbow Pride march.jpg

In 2015 at the “Out & Equal Workplace Summit” held at the Anatole Hotel in Dallas, I saw a film called “Gay Pioneers,” the story of Franklin Edward Kamney who was the chief strategist and father of the gay and lesbian civil rights movement.

Frank Kamney was a Federal Employee who worked as an astronomer for the Army Map Service. He was fired for being gay.  By executive order of President Eisenhower in 1953, gays and lesbians were prohibited from serving as federal employees.

After the film was over we had an open discussion about the film, and I shared how I had lived through those times of homosexual discrimination and about my historic lawsuit against the City of Dallas Police Department back in the 1970’s. 

I was born Steven Craig Childers and this is my story.

I grew up in a devout Christian home where we attended church Sunday morning and evening and Wednesday night. You should see the black and white photo in church with my Dad holding me as a child in his lap next to my mother, grandparents and an aunt.  I was just a really cute child that was brought up with 2 older brothers: my middle brother Wayne who is 8 years older and Gene who was 10 years older.

My parents were married for 24 years and divorced when I was 10 years old. By then my older brothers had moved out and were living lives on their own. My Dad’s day job was working for the City of Dallas Water Department.  Dad was a deacon in the church and also the church janitor. I remember many Wednesday nights how I hated staying after services to help him clean the church. Now I fondly look back on that “bonding” time with him.   

The only reference to sexuality in our home was heterosexuality. The first time I heard the word homosexual was in church.  It was on one of those rare occasions when one of the elders of the church would do a sermon mentioning scriptures about homosexuality written in the Old Testament by Moses or the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.  Christian churches chose to talk mostly about homosexuality as an abomination, even though there are other abominations listed in the Bible. It is very interesting that no one can list the chapter and verse of what Jesus himself ever said about homosexuality – because Jesus was silent on the issue.

Back then homosexuals in society, you know, “those people,” were classified as having a mental disease/disorder by the American Psychological Association.  You could even be institutionalized involuntarily for being homosexual.  It was also a criminal offence, and you could be refused employment or harassed without any protections.

My natural tendency toward the same sex became very evident in my early teenage years. I won’t deny that I did my very best to try to be straight or heterosexual, but that’s another story. I was one of “those people.” I was a homosexual, and had to pay a heavy emotional price for being one when I came out to my family. I was no longer ‘welcomed’ in the church I grew up in, and it got worse with my family.

When my brother Gene and his first wife Diane had a child, they decided I was unfit to be an uncle, because I was a homosexual. Their decision meant that I was never to have any contact with my nieces due to my abomination lifestyle. 

My mother never approved of my lifestyle, but she did disagree with the decision to deny me being an uncle, so one night when she was babysitting my oldest niece Laurie, she called me and asked me to come over to meet her.  When I tried to argue that Gene and Diane wouldn’t like that, mom insisted, so I went.   When I walked in, Laurie started crying because she was scared of me, but Mom told me to relax in a chair away from them. Then, as Mom played with her, she motioned for me to come closer. Pretty soon Laurie noticed the “peace” necklace I was wearing. She was fascinated by it, so Mom put my niece in my lap so she could look at it.   Mom had a camera nearby and captured that moment. Soon after, my sister-in-law Diane arrived to pick up Laurie (sooner than expected), and when she saw me all hell broke loose with her screaming at my mother saying, “If I had of known you were going to invite him over, we wouldn’t have let you babysit her.”   As I was making my exit I heard my mother get angry in return, which was totally uncommon for her. That was the last I saw of Laurie as a child. All that I had was the photo Mother had taken that evening. My brother went on to have another girl, Valerie, who I was also not allowed to know me while she was growing up.

My Dad died when he was 54 and I was 19. In order to settle my Dad’s estate where he left one-third to each of his 3 sons, my oldest brother Gene, who was the Executor of the will, discovered that, in order to settle the estate, they had to go to court to make me a legal adult (“emancipation”).  So, they did and in 1969 at the age of 19 in the state of Texas, I became a legal adult.

What my family didn’t realize was that, as a legal adult, I could also legally drink even though the drinking age was 21.  In the late ‘60s you had to be careful entering a gay bar because the police would take down license plate numbers. If your employer found out you were homosexual you could be fired.  You could also be arrested for going home with an undercover police officer in the bar. Police often showed up to check ID’s and when they saw me drinking a beer they believed they could shut that bar down because I looked younger than 19.  However, the bar owners kept my court papers to show the police I was there legally, and there was nothing they could do.

Right out of high school, in May 1969) my Dad had got me a job working for the City of Dallas Water Dept. I started as an unclassified laborer and then worked my way up to a storekeeper civil service job “Grade 5.” So, I would work in the day then go to the bars after work.  Since my family had rejected my lifestyle, the only family I had were the friends that I made when I went to the bars.  It was a very joyous time to be with other gay men, but it was also very lonely without family support and no church. 

There were underground gay publications like the Advocate Magazine in the bars where I noticed an ad for the startup of a Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Dallas.[1]  It was like God saying “Hey, want to come back to Church?”

I see life as being mental, physical and spiritual.  Being denied the right to worship God as I had been raised to do was hurting me emotionally.  When I discovered MCC, a new joy emerged, and I quickly became very involved in this ‘new’ church.  MCC was a lifesaver. Finally, I was able to be with gay people outside of the bars (not that there is anything wrong with bars).  We also had police protection because we were part of a new “denomination.”

In the early morning of June 28, 1968, in NYC, a riot broke out in a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn.  The mostly homosexual patrons of that bar were revolting against the police for the frequent bar raids. They had simply had enough of it. They fought in a riot that lasted for 3 days, and it became a groundbreaking part of the gay rights movement. That same year in 1968 Metropolitan Community Church was founded in Los Angeles by a gay man, the Reverend Troy Perry. MCC was started as a special outreach to the gay and lesbian community. Back then bisexuals and transgender people were not commonly referred to, even though they were always welcomed in MCC. MCC quickly opened churches in other major cities. 

There is a vinyl record album called “One God,” and it was recorded live at the dedication of our Mother Church of MCC in Los Angeles with over 1,000 people in attendance.  Rev. Troy Perry was not only the founder of a new denomination, he was also the gay activist that has inspired my life the most.  By the way, this album was recorded by Dub a Lusk Studios in Visalia, California, a city I had never heard of.

Steven Childers served as secretary for Rev. Richard Vincent at the MCC's first location on Ross Avenue in Dallas.

Steven Childers served as secretary for Rev. Richard Vincent at the MCC's first location on Ross Avenue in Dallas.

Dallas MCC moved into its first building in Dallas at 3838 Ross Avenue The building had been built as a hospital in the 1920’s.  Our Worship services were at 11:00 AM and 7:00 PM on Sundays, and at 7:30 PM on Wednesdays. Our church sign read “A Church in Christian Love for All God’s People”.

In early 1972 the Board of Directors of Dallas MCC was asked to participate in a Gay Pride Parade. We knew that if we were to have an outreach to our community we needed to be a part of it.  I decided to represent MCC by marching in the first Dallas Gay Pride Parade on June 24, 1972.  We were all very nervous and there was an atmosphere of fear that day because we had been warned that, even with police presence, there had been reports of possible snipers shooting from buildings.  Even though we had no idea what to expect, we headed out and just marched.  I was carrying my sign, and as I recall on one side it said “Metropolitan Community Church for All God’s People” and on the other it said “I’m not prejudiced, I like heterosexuals”.  We were making history and quite an impact according to the Dallas Morning News.

The Internet is a fascinating tool in researching history.  Here is what I found out about when I Googled it on September 5, 2014.  It said the following:

 “Today in History. 1972, Dallas’ First Gay Pride Parade – His Big D”:

   “Drawing the most response from the spectators was a grandmotherly-looking woman, Mrs. Addie Barlow Frazier, marching last and having a hard time keeping up.

     ‘God’s Word Demands Legal Execution of Homosexuals,’ proclaimed a sign she carried.  The crowd cheered her on as she walked the whole two-mile route”.

“This came years before the first official gay pride parade in Dallas in 1980, which later moved to September in 1983. However, it is the first time the LGBT community gathered to march for acceptance and equal rights, and it happened 41 years ago today.

I had no idea how marching in the parade was about to change my entire life. There was a City of Dallas Water employee who spotted me in the parade and then “outed” me at work.  They wanted to fire me; however, because I was a Civil Service Employee with good yearly performance ratings, they couldn’t.  Instead they tried to make me quit. They changed my work schedule to work at two different locations and three different daily work schedules each week. 

Part of a group shot taken at the Dallas Water Utilities offices, November 1972.

Part of a group shot taken at the Dallas Water Utilities offices, November 1972.

Because I was young, I was able to ride the waves of open discrimination, but I knew my future with the City of Dallas Water Department was dim.  I knew that I was not being promoted or considered for promotion within my own department.  I saw a notice that a “storekeeper 7” position was opening, but it didn’t specifically list which department the job would be in. I took the Civil Service test and made the highest score.  That put me on the register of the Dallas Police Department, and I was called in for an interview. 

When I went in for the interview Mr. Lochenmeyer invited me to go into what was like a break room, and we sat down to have a cup of coffee. The very first question Mr. Lochenmeyer asked me was “Tell me a little about your sex life and your religion.” That was his number one question, to which I replied that I am an ordained deacon and involved in Metropolitan Community Church.  He replied that he didn’t know what type of church that is, and I said “Well, it’s a Christian Church with a special outreach.” He then proceeded to say that he didn’t care what I did in my personal time, but that I should realize that if I worked for the department that I would be under a lot of pressure. I would have to have a lot of patience facing possible ridicule on the job, et cetera, et cetera.

He then took me on a tour of the storeroom where he pointed out such things as the Linda Lovelace film (Deep Throat) which kept going in and out of court.  He also showed me things that were confiscated in homosexual raids. He said I would have to shave off my beard and trim my sideburns to be about even with the end of my ear lobe.  I said I was willing to do that.

The next year I found out another position was available, so I took the Civil Service Test again and again made the highest test score to qualify for another interview.   I was very upset because I had not been notified from the previous year as to why I had not gotten the job. I had called and I had asked whether or not they had reached a decision and was told that Mr. Lochenmeyer was still interviewing people.  Mr. Lochenmeyer started telling me the qualifications for the job. He clearly didn’t remember me from the year before. I had cut off my beard, trimmed my sideburns and hair.  I informed him that I knew all the qualifications of the job and met every one of them and wanted to know why I was not hired the previous year. He said, “We didn’t give you a reason then, but we will now. It is because of your activist gay activities at Metropolitan Community Church.”   

I emphasized how I felt that my own personal life and religious beliefs had nothing to do with the job or my performance on the job.  He just re-emphasized that there would be pressure in working with other police officers.

They had to give me a reason for not hiring me at my second interview, so Mr. Lochenmeyer introduced me to his supervisor, a police captain, and then they went into another room to talk.  When they returned, they said the reason they were not hiring me was because of the emotional stress and strain that it would put on me and other police officers.

I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock, and then it became anger. It took almost a year and a half after that to find someone willing to listen and to help me fight that discrimination.  Finally, I found that Susan Time was the president of the local ACLU and that her husband Fred Time was an attorney.  After meeting with Mr. Time and explaining all the details of what happened, we filed a $105,000 lawsuit against the City of Dallas Police Department on the basis of “Religious Discrimination.”

News spread quickly after the suit was filed, and even “Good Morning America” contacted me and wanted me to be on their show. I had to decline because I couldn’t do it alone. I had no support. When the Board of Directors of Dallas Metropolitan Community Church found out about my lawsuit they voted not to support me.  Remember it was still a criminal offence to be a homosexual because of Texas Penal Code Section 21.06, and if they were on record as supporting me perhaps their livelihood would have been at stake. Who knows?  When they informed me of their decision I hit rock bottom.  I had not marched in the first Dallas Gay Pride Parade as an individual; I had marched representing MCC.

After the news of the Board’s decision I went home to my apartment on Cole Street and my lover at the time Donald Armstrong automatically knew and sensed what was going on and how I felt. Donald told me he had just received his IRS check and told me to take it and do what I needed to do.  I called the airlines and booked my first flight to California because I was headed to the Headquarters of Metropolitan Community Church. 

Even though we had no computers and no internet the word of my coming to LA got there before me, and I was greeted at the airport by Elder Richard Vincent who, by the way, was the first elected pastor of the Dallas MCC, and I had served as his volunteer Personal Secretary.  Rev. Vincent allowed me to stay at his place overnight, and then the next morning took me to the Universal Headquarters of MCC to meet with Rev. Troy Perry.

 Meeting Rev. Troy Perry was like meeting the Pope. Difference is Rev. Perry was not just a spiritual leader, he was already a legendary activist.  Rev. Perry welcomed me in with the best smile and broadest hug before sitting down to talk.  I really didn’t have to say much because he already was well aware of the court case and the Board of Director’s Action.  As we were talking about being openly homosexual in Dallas and all of the things happening in MCC churches around the USA and in a few countries around the world, he was having his personal secretary Frank Zerrilli draft a letter.  When Frank brought in the letter for Rev. Perry to sign he then handed it to me and said I could read it. It was addressed to the MCC Dallas Board of Directors.  It said that “Whereas the Dallas Metropolitan Community Church Board of Directors voted not to support Steven Craig Childers in his lawsuit against the City of Dallas Police Department, he has the full support of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.”

Beyond that letter I had no support within the gay and lesbian community of Dallas.  Remember it was the 1970’s and, other than the church and the bars, there was no organized group to go to for support. I remained a City of Dallas Water employee, and it was really difficult.

After my lawsuit hit the news my family was very ashamed of me. My oldest brother took me to lunch and told me that if I were to continue my activism I might be assassinated.  That didn’t hurt nearly as much as his earlier decision to refuse me as an uncle to his children because of my homosexuality. My mother informed me that she didn’t want me to tell anyone on her side of the family that I was a homosexual.  My middle brother Wayne could only quote me scriptures of why I was going to die and go to hell.  I stayed in Dallas until I couldn’t handle it anymore.

I decided to move to Seattle, Washington. 

The day before I left I met my mother for lunch. Mom often told me that I wasn’t really gay. She honestly believed that I was a “latent heterosexual.”  At that lunch Mom told me that she was going to start working for a brand-new company called “Mary Kay Cosmetics” and that if she did well and became a Director in 6 months they would give her a pink Cadillac. Funny because she made Director in 5 months and they had to ship a Cadillac to have it painted pink. Sidebar note, over the years my mother rose in the ranks of the Mary Kay Corporation to the point that her License plate said “Mary Kay 3”. Mary Kay’s daughter was Mary Kay2 and of course the original Founder was Mary Kay1. Mary Kay Cosmetics is headquartered in Dallas, Texas.

In Seattle, I met a German-born man whose name is Ralph Josephs.  He was studying to become a watchmaker in his family jewelry store in a place I had never heard of called Porterville, CA.

In 1976 I moved to Porterville so we could start our new life together.  Upon leaving Dallas, I had moved to Seattle and then to Phoenix, Arizona, before moving to Porterville. So, it’s very interesting that one day I got a letter in Porterville from my attorney Fred Time stating that the City of Dallas Police Department was offering me $9,000 to settle my case out of court. 

Ralph and I talked about it.  We were a new couple starting out together in our early 20’s, and even though he had a watchmaker’s job, I was searching for a job and we really needed the money.  In Ralph’s infinite wisdom, he wanted to know if I accepted that offer would I ever regret the decision when I got older for settling out of court instead of seeing it through.  The answer was to decline that offer and keep on fighting.

On November 18, 1977, I had to fly back to Dallas for a deposition. IN THE UNTED STATED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRIC OF TEXAS, DALLAS DIVISION :: STEVEN C. CHILDERS VS. DALLAS POLICE DEPARTMENT, DONALD A. BYRD, and TOM LOCHENMEYER.   Appearances: MR FRED TIME, 600 Jackson Street Dallas, Texas 75202 for the PLAINTIFF. MR. JOSEPH G. WERNER, Assistant City Attorney, 501 City Hall Dallas, Texas 75201 for the DEFENDANTS. 

We met at office of Mr. Werner. I still have the original 73-page Deposition notarized by Wes R. Perryman, a Notary Public.  It is now a very historic document that I hope to get archived.  Here are a few of the excerpts:

On page 8 Mr. Werner asked if had ever been married, had children or been in the military. The answers were all no, and that I had been rejected from the military. He asked why and I said it was based on my being gay. 

This is a quote directly from the disposition of Mr. Werner’s next question: 

WERNER: “All right. Because you are homosexual. I don’t mean to embarrass you by my questions, and let me explain this as we go through. The subject matter of the lawsuit necessarily involves some that I was which may be embarrassing, but my questions are required by the allegations that you’ve made in your lawsuit and by your own description of yourself, and I don’t mean to attach any stigma to that, but I think it is necessary to go into these, and you can discuss with Mr. Time how you should answer these questions, and whether, but I do need to establish, so that there will not be any misunderstanding about the terminology, that what you mean by ‘gay’ is homosexual.

 “Now, if you prefer, for the purposes of this deposition I can use the word ‘gay” it makes no difference to me, but let me simply ask you this question. When you say you say “gay” and describe yourself as gay, do you mean by that homosexual?”

My reply was “Being gay is more than being sexual. It includes affectional preference”.

WERNER: “All right. Let me ask you this way. What do you mean when you use the word ‘gay?”

 “That I have an emotional and physical attraction to another member of the same sex.”

WERNER: “Okay. Now, do you prefer that I use the word “gay” in referring to you?” 

“Yes, I do. ‘Gay’ signifies pride in what I am.”

After establishing that I was gay and that it was okay to use that word (apparently new to him), he went on to ask other questions before getting into the interview with Mr. Lochenmeyer of the Police Dept.

The elephant in the room was the fact that I was considered a criminal due to the existing Texas Penal Code, Section 21.06, which provides as follows: A person commits an offense if he engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex.

 When that come up my reply was: “I have never been found guilty of that, and I also object very strongly to the term ‘deviate’ sexual intercourse. Why? The American Psychiatric Association has claimed that gay people are no longer deviants or sick. And I also object very strongly with paragraph G of the [police] personal conduct which says, ‘No employee shall cohabit with any type of sex pervert of the same sex.’ That does not in any way, form or fashion have any relationship to me.” 

WERNER: “All right, but you don’t regard yourself as a pervert?” 

“I do not.”

The next line of questions was as follows:

WERNER: “How do you feel about prosecuting people for homosexual conduct?”  

“I believe— “ … and then Mr. Time stated, “I object to that question. It’s not in the purview of his business. He’s not a prosecutor or police officer or anything, never has been.”

WERNER: “Do you think you should be prosecuted for homosexual conduct?”

TIME: “Objection He’s not an attorney. He’s not going to answer that question.”

WERNER: “Do you think that homosexual conduct is immoral?”

TIME: “Objection, again on the same grounds. It’s not relevant to this issue.”

 WERNER: “How does the Metropolitan Community Church feel about homosexuality in general?”

TIME: “I object to that. He can’t speak for that church”. 

Mr. Werner pressed on that issue until he rephrased the question:

WERNER: “How does the Metropolitan Community Church feel about being gay?” 

I answered about Jesus being silent on the issue of homosexuality and that Jesus never said “come unto me if you are heterosexual and you can be my true and faithful servant”. 

He wanted to know if MCC is exclusively gay.

“It’s a church like any other church. It’s open to anyone and everyone.”  And then I pointed  out that ten to twenty percent of our membership universally is heterosexual.  I found it very interesting that at one point on page 34 he asked this question:

WERNER: “Is everybody homosexual or heterosexual? Is there any middle ground?”

CHILDERS: “Sure. A person could be bisexual, asexual.”

I had to explain that an asexual person is a person who does not have sex, like a priest or a nun. It’s amazing how much of that deposition was sex education 101 and how much pertained to religion when the whole issue at hand was a storekeeper job with the Police Dept.

It was four years following the date of that deposition before I returned to Dallas, on the evening of Ronald Regan’s inauguration January 20, 1981. The next day I arrived in the United States District Court.

Present in court that day were the prosecutor Mr. Joseph G. Werner who had only one witness, Mr. Tom Lochenmeyer, my attorney Fred Time and me.  The case was heard by the Judge presiding and no jury.  There were no family members and no one from the gay or lesbian community present to support me that day. 

On March 30, 1981, the Judge handed down his decision. A copy of it can be found online in the archives of the ACLU website. It’s difficult even now to talk about that decision after reading on page 2 regarding my first interview:

 “Lochenmeyer claims that he did not react to Plaintiff’s admission, but at that point (that he found out I was gay) he determined that Childers was disqualified from the job. Lochenmeyer based his decision on the fact that Childers was telling him he was a habitual lawbreaker. Lochenmeyer said that he believed Childers would be a security risk because of the kind of contraband that the property room controls, and because Childers might warn other homosexuals of impending police raids. Lochenmeyer disqualified Childers without checking his work or arrest records.”  Regarding the second interview, the judge wrote: “Plaintiff asked why he had not been hired before and Lochenmeyer told him it was because of his activist gay activities at the MCC.”

The conclusion of the judge’s opinion reads: “Because of the sensitivity of the issues surrounding homosexuality and the fact that homosexual behavior conflicts with the deeply ingrained moral standards of most of the community, courts have been reluctant to deal with the issues with which this Court has been confronted. I am acutely conscious of the tensions between strongly felt, conflicting moral values. This awareness, however, cannot obscure the Court’s obligation to address the issues squarely in light of the Constitution. It is in this context that the rights of Steven Childers have been examined, and it is in this context that I hold that no rights of Childers have been violated. In accordance with this holding, and the reasons given above the Court finds all the controlling issues against the Plaintiff and in favor of the Defendants. The Plaintiff is not entitled to and is denied all his requested relief.”

I was devastated. I had spent so many years of my life in a lawsuit and had lost.  It went to the 5th Circuit of Appeals, and they let the lower court ruling stand. I didn’t have the money or support for my attorney to appeal the case beyond that up to the Supreme Court.

"Slade" Childers, years later, beside the bust of Harvey Milk in San Francisco City Hall

"Slade" Childers, years later, beside the bust of Harvey Milk in San Francisco City Hall

 Later on there would be other cases from Texas, including Lawrence v Texas, that did make it to the Supreme Court and they had a major win – having the sodomy laws overturned nationwide.

When I moved to California I changed my middle name from “Craig” to Slade and Slade is the name I go by.  Ralph and I have celebrated our 41st Anniversary on January 12, 2017 and we are still in love. We live in Visalia, CA the same city I had never heard of that had recorded “One God.” For the past 31 years I have been a Federal Employee and openly out as a gay man which is a chapter I should write about if I ever author a book.

 

 

[1] That “Dallas MCC” on Ross St. is now the Cathedral of Hope. Google the history of Dallas MCC.