CONCEIVED IN LIBERTY AND DEDICATED TO WHAT?
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?
If you are Magic Johnson, you coach the Los Angeles Lakers, you purchase a piece of the franchise and you live out your warmest desires with the time God has left for you.
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.
He was gay and he was fighting for gay rights, but the reality of being a homosexual in the midst of an epidemic was inescapable. As the opposing sides in the suit deposed each other and fought for leverage in April of 93, Jeffery's lover, Richard, lay dying. "He was running a fever with a temperature of 104 to 105. There was no getting it down. He was on an IV drug treatment that I administered every eight hours. I had to warm the drug to room temperature an hour before it was to be administered, then I'd clear the IV line. On top of that, I was watching his daily medication, six or seven pills three times a day.
"I spent days in the kitchen cooking this fat-free diet a nutritionist had worked out, but his diarrhea was so bad and he was throwing up. Richard had developed cytomegalovirus, which meant he was going blind. He had a tumor behind his right eye that was hemorrhaging."
At this precise moment, in defense of Jeffery's suit, his former employer succeeded in forcing Jeffery to endure psychological testing to determine if he was crazy, or prone to lawsuits, or who knows what.
Severely distressed over his lover's condition and suffering from sleep deprivation, Jeffery submitted to two days of mental and emotional prodding by his ex-employer's psychologist.
In May, Jeffery went to trial accompanied by what was left of Richard.
During the two-day trial, Richard, who had lost 120 pounds to the final ravages of AIDS, propped himself up in the courtroom. He had to be helped into and out of his seat.
Emaciated and blinded, Richard listened and lent moral support as Jeffery's attorneys explained their case to the jury.
Jeffery had joined Golden State Container at the end of January in 1991. In May, Jeffery was diagnosed HIV positive while he was out sick with valley fever. Though he missed a little work because of his illness, the company was not suspicious. In fact, it was very impressed with the job he'd done up to that point. Upon his return to work, Golden State, eager to keep this young hot shot, promoted him to office manager and gave him a 37 1/2 percent raise in violation of a company policy that allowed for no raises in an employee's first year. In July, Jeffery was transferred by Golden State to a newly purchased company that was in total disarray.
Somehow--and a thoroughly convincing explanation was never made in court--Jeffery's insurance reimbursement forms ended up in his personnel file at Golden State. The paperwork showed Jeffery's bosses that their employee was receiving AIDS treatments, not a small matter for a company whose insurance policy obligated it to pay the first $30,000, yearly, of a worker's medical bills.
The confidential insurance claims made their way into his file in late September or early October.
On October 18, Jeffery Blain was fired by the company boss, a man who was described in court by one of Golden State's own witnesses as having disparaged Jeffery behind his back for being a homosexual.
There was not a single written complaint in Jeffery's file on his job performance.
But Golden State put on a string of witnesses who testified that Jeffery, the company star, was actually someone whose attitude they did not care for at work.
On May 11, 1993, the jury dismissed Jeffery's claim.
Seven weeks later, on June 30, as Jeffery's appeal was being prepared, Richard passed away.
Jeffery had to carry on his legal struggle as he balanced the loss of his lover.
It wasn't easy.
Richard and Jeffery first met through a New Times classified in the mid-'80s. They did not initially hit it off. Years later, following an AIDS benefit, Jeffery hosted a party and Richard was a guest.
It was the fall of 1992 and Jeffery was already a year into his litigation when his daughter decided to play matchmaker.
"She picked him out. 'Now, Dad, there's a nice guy. You need to go for him.'"
His daughter knew her dad.
The two men would have less than a year together before God intervened, but the impact of Richard's death was not lessened by the brevity of the relationship.
"We weren't just lovers, or partners," explained Jeffery. "We were soul mates. . . . I believe he waited until I got home from a counseling session to die. He'd already decided, no more IV, no more treatment. His death was really a very spiritual experience for me, seeing a blind man, unable to speak, lying in bed. His eyes were open and blinking and I wished that I could see what he was seeing."
And one day, Jeffery Blain will.
But first this remarkable man is determined to take his campaign for the right to work through the court system.
The Court of Appeals wrote, "He makes the claim that the state is somehow required to proscribe private discrimination . . . [a] novel contention."
Yes, that is exactly what justice demands. There is nothing novel here. It is no more judicially daring than outlawing discrimination against blacks at the lunch counters of Woolworth's.
The appellate court ducked the issue and said we must wait for legislators to act, which is a deplorable cop-out.
Only eight statehouses in America have made it illegal to fire homosexuals because of their sexual orientation.
This is a nation that tolerates homophobia today the way we once tolerated slavery. Often the tolerance moves into obsession. The Children's Television Workshop keeps a prepared statement on hand that it mails out to adults who routinely inquire about whether the Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie might be gay.
And even though our state legislature has demonstrated not one bit of interest in protecting gay rights, those who are obsessed by homosexual nightmares cannot rest.
Today, July 7, Frank Meliti, a local businessman, will submit petitions to the Secretary of State's Office. Meliti and his network within the state's Christian churches want an amendment to Arizona's constitution that would prevent legislators from ever drafting any laws that would protect gay people from discrimination. Meliti claims he has at least 50,000 more signatures than he needs to put his measure on the ballot.
So, yes, the courts must act.
Like Rosa Parks, whose personal courage humbled white people who'd looked the other way as blacks were humiliated, Jeffery Blain has dedicated himself to correcting an obvious wrong. He is a hero.
But I don't understand why a man with a death sentence is forced to carry such a weight. In the face of national and palpable homophobia, in the presence of a plague, why aren't lesbians and gays protected from discrimination?
What kind of people are we that we force homosexuals to endure such grotesque treatment?
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.