By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Jeffery Lynn Blain, at 37, has heard more than one man's share of bad news, yet he does not give in to self-pity or succumb to depression. He fights on, tenacious, unyielding, a dead man who refuses to attend his own wake.
In 1991, Jeffery was informed that his brother had passed away. That same year, doctors treating Jeffery for valley fever discovered the young man was HIV positive. Later that same year, Jeff's boss abruptly fired him.
Just that quick--one, two, three--his life was ripped inside out.
Jeffery sued his employer, claiming he was fired because of the health insurance costs tied to AIDS treatment and because he was gay.
Last year, Jeffery sat in court and heard more bad news.
He listened to a judge instruct the jury, "An employee is not wrongfully terminated if he's fired for being gay." In other words, you can fire homosexuals in Arizona simply because they are homosexual.
Not surprisingly, given that instruction, the jury dismissed Jeff's claim. Seven weeks after the verdict, Jeff's lover, Richard, died as a result of AIDS.
And still this man refused to give up. He took his case up to the Arizona Court of Appeals.
On May 5 of this year, a three-judge appellate panel in Tucson ruled against Jeffery, effectively sanctioning the homophobic firing of gays and lesbians. The trio of jurists, to be sure, expressed its regrets, but said it is up to legislators to draft laws that specifically make it illegal to terminate homosexuals because of their sexual orientation. The courts could not act.
But Jeffery Blain refused to accept the appellate court's voice of cowardice. He took his case to the State Supreme Court.
Brown v. Board of Education shows clearly that courts can put an end to prejudice sanctioned by statute if judges have the moral grit to act. Jeffery's judges, and all Arizona judges, know that even if Jeffery were not HIV positive, he would still be dead, from old age, before the Arizona statehouse acted to protect homosexuals in the workplace, or any other place.
But old age is the least of this man's worries.
He has confronted the ultimate question: What do you do in the face of a terminal diagnosis?
But who chooses to spend his remaining days wrangling with lawyers, motions, interrogatories and the entire debilitating morass that is our system of justice?
Only a man of profound convictions and fundamental courage makes that choice.
There has been a lot of foolish talk surrounding the indictment of O.J. Simpson. We are told this "tragedy" represents the fall of a great national "hero." But there was much celebrity and very little that was ever heroic about this man who ran footballs and made car-rental commercials.
Jeffery Blain, a man who makes love to other men, is a true American hero. He asks only for the right to work.
Before attorneys Amy and Richard Langerman agreed to represent Jeffery, they asked him to take 30 days and consider whether he wanted to ruin his life with thankless litigation.
When Jeffery decided to press on, he immediately confronted his first emotional nightmare: He had to tell his young daughter about who her father really was.
Raised in the rural Arizona communities of Willcox and Safford, Jeffery grew up knowing he was attracted to men but also knowing that lonely, small-town homosexuals were routinely lured down desolate dirt roads to be beaten to a pulp by teenage toughs.
"The harassment tended to be quite severe," recalled Jeffery in an interview last week. "I was thin, nonathletic, creative and teased throughout high school about being a homosexual. No one in a small town stands up and says, 'This is who I am.' It scared me, scared the hell out of me. I kept thinking, 'I can't be gay.'"
And so Jeffery denied his most basic instincts and married a girl from Safford and moved to Phoenix. Six years later, when Jeffery finally admitted his homosexuality, the marriage crumbled. His wife also learned she was pregnant.
By 1991, when Jeffery was preparing for court, his daughter was 8. She'd been to his new home often enough to know the names and faces of the same-sex couples who often visited her dad.
"I explained to her, basically, what a homosexual was."
His daughter's response spread over Jeffery like a salve.
"I kind of thought something was different, but I sure like everybody,' was what she said. It was a very tearful, emotional time for both of us, the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life."
During their conversation, Jeffery explained to his girl that he was HIV positive and answered her questions about how he got it.
"She told me, 'We've got to do everything we can to keep you healthy, Daddy.' . . . Later that night, she told me, 'It's really sad to think HIV is so bad and comes from two people loving each other.'"
In 1991, when he had his heart-to-heart conversation with his little girl, it may well have been "the most difficult thing" he'd ever done. But two years later, Jeffery Blain was on his way to court, and the mental anguish was about to ratchet up several notches as his personal life and his legal life became indistinguishable, one from the other.