A few years ago the County of Sonoma in California showed its despicable and ignorant hand when it physically separated and isolated Clay Greene from his injured partner Harold Scull, seized the men's possessions, sold those items at auction, forced them into separate nursing facilities and denied them their due legal rights and protection. As this story went viral in April 2010, the general response both here at change.org and around the country was palpable and appropriate outrage. A lawsuit against the County of Sonoma, along with Agua Caliente Villa, the nursing home where Greene was forced to live, commenced immediately, alleging about 50 counts of various, heinous crimes.
And now, months later, Sonoma County has tucked its tail between its legs and skulked away from what was surely going to be a terrible trial, and settled out of court. In retribution for all their sins, the County will pay $600,000 to Harold and Clay's estate (with almost half of that going to attorney's fees ... why do I not practice law again?). Agua Caliente will pay an additional $53,000.
So that's all well and good, I guess. Money can't ever erase the three tortuous months the two men spent apart, stripped of their home, their dignity, and their partnership before Harold died alone in a nursing home. It can't replace the possessions, gathered over a 20 year relationship, that the county wrongfully seized and then sold at auction. It can't undo the emotional hurt. At this point, all Sonoma County has to give is money, so it'll have to do.
But Sonoma County has learned the error of its ways — either to simply cover its ass in the future or to be a kinder, gentler county, who knows? — and is also implementing new procedures for its workers to avoid this kind of intolerant behavior in the future. This is, perhaps, the best news. They can't really fix the enormous injury they inflicted upon Clay Greene, but they can damn sure never inflict it on anyone else.
Wouldn't it have been nice if Sonoma County had an inclusive policy already in place? Sure. It would have been nice if Jackson Memorial had a gay friendly visitation code long before Lisa Pond was admitted. It would have been great if the Itawamba School District had a strict no bullying policy way before Candace McMillan was even a student. It would have been even better if the Defense of Marriage Act was a thing of the past. But we don't live in that world. Yet.
To Clay Greene I say this: I am so sorry you had to go through what you and Harold had to go through. I can't imagine the level of pain and sorrow you both felt. Perhaps, because of you, and those like you who were boldly empowered to speak out at a time when the system beat you down, I won't ever know it.