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What Terry Bean’s Arrest Means for the Gay Rights Movement

Friday, November 21, 2014


Michelle Obama, Terry Bean, Bobby Iwasaki, President Obama

The arrest of prominent gay activist Terry Bean has made headlines and given new ammunition for anti-gay rights groups. Some political experts believe the scandal won’t hurt the LGBT movement and activists say their mission can outshines allegations leveled at any one individual. 

The Bean scandal comes at what would appear a triumphal moment for the gay right movement nationally. Montana and South Carolina recently joined the District of Columbia and 33 other states in legalizing same-sex marriage

But the arrest of Terry Bean and Kiah Lawson for sexually assaulting a juvenile male has put a black mark on one of the nation’s most significant LGBT activists.

Bean was a leading figure and fundraiser for gay-rights in the U.S. He is perhaps best known for co-founding the largest LGBT group in the nation, Human Rights Campaign in 1980. He also helped establish the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, an organization that supports openly gay politicians. 

“It’s always embarrassing when someone prominent with an organization gets arrested for committing a terrible crime, but that should not diminish the work the organization is doing,” Julie Novkov, Chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Albany, said about Bean’s arrest and the gay rights movement.  

The Opposition's Reaction

His arrest for sexually abusing a minor has already given ammunition to anti-gay rights groups.  

“Groups that make money for the other side are going to be talking to donors, saying ‘hey we were right [about homosexuals]—send money,’” Political Consultant Craig Bergman of RGM Consulting Firm said. “All the marriage and family value groups are going to make a couple $100,000.” 

Dr. Paul Cameron, chairman of the pro-family organization Family Research Institute, said he was not surprised when he heard the news about Bean’s arrest. He said the case will serve as an example supporting his organization's research against homosexuality.  

Bean is not the first prominent gay rights activist to be involved in a sex scandal. Larry Brinkin, former commissioner for the San Francisco Human Rights Commission and famous gay rights activist, was convicted for child pornography in March 2014. Bergman said the case and others like it failed to influence the momentum of the LGBT movement. 

Some political officials Bean supported may give back funds he donated, depending on the verdict of Bean’s case, Dan Pinello, a political science professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, said. 

So far, no current politicians backed by Bean have made a public comment. 

The Portland gay and lesbian community has not officially spoken out about Bean’s arrest. GoLocalPDX contacted the Equity Foundation, Basic Rights Oregon, and The Q Center, all organizations that worked with Bean. They would not comment.   

The lack of comment from political and social figures so far is concerning to Randy Thomasson, president of the conservative group SaveCalifornia.com.

“It’s callousness and a lack of love for children,” Thomasson said. “These people should at least be speaking out against the sexual conquest of children and speaking in favor of consent laws. It’s proving corruption.” 

However, experts doubt the charges against Bean will impact public opinion of the LGBT movement. 

“The public is aware that social movements are on the one hand and individuals are on the other,” Pinello said. “Just as they wouldn’t say that a heterosexual person who is accused of assault with minors would be representative of society across the board.” 

Pinello said that the public usually doesn’t pay attention to these situations, especially if guilt has yet to be proved. 

Recent Sexual Assault Cases

Other sexual assault accusations against illustrious personalities have surfaced over the last few months. Bill Cosby was recently accused by five woman of sexual assault, after he refused to talk about previous accusations in a November 6 interview with the Associated Press. 

In October, investigations began into CBC radio star Jian Ghomeshi for sexually assaulting two women on different occasions.  

The aftermath of Bean’s arrest could leave a hole in funding and support for gay right activists, but Novkov thinks the movement will continue to grow. 

“I think organizations that have been depending on his work will have to find new people to step up and fill that role, but the agenda [of LGBT rights] is about equality and that message is sure to get out there,” Novkov said.


Related Slideshow: Timeline of Terry Bean’s Life and Political Activism

Below is a timeline of Bean’s civil and political activism and his ultimate criminal arrest. 

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Bean lobbied for a gay rights ordinance in Eugene that would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, public accommodation and employment.  The push for an ordinance provoked anti-gay rights backlash and ended in a signature drive that sent the measure to the ballot where it lost 2-1. Bean led the campaign to support the referendum. 

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Bean helped organize the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Thousands marched in support of gay rights, demanding a federal ban on discrimination. The march is largely credited for galvanizing and brining gay rights activists across the nation to start fighting as one. 

Photo: Terry Bean at the gay gights march in the 1970's, via terry-bean.com 

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Bean helped start the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT equal rights advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the United States. The advocacy groups works at equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. The group has about 1.5 million members and supporters nationwide, according to its website. Bean was also a board member and represented Portland. 

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Bean co-founded the Equity Foundation, a Portland-based philanthropic organization that gives grants to LGBT community groups. He is currently a member of the advisory board. 

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Bean helped found the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national political fundraising organization. The group works to get LGBT candidates elected to office by raising money and supporting candidates.

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Bean is instrumental in acquiring the headquarters building for the Human Rights Campaign in D.C. HRC officials credited Bean, who headed the fundraising campaign for the building, for getting it with his real estate experience. 

Photo: Human Rights Campaign headquarters in DC, via Wikimedia Commons. 

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Bean is recognized with an eight minute tribute video at the “Masquerade, Basic Rights Oregon 25th Annual Award Dinner” where former Vice President Al Gore made an appearance and called Bean his friend, according to the Willamette Week.

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Former Governor Ted Kulongoski declares Aug. 23 Terry Bean Day, recognizing the activists for his civil rights work in the 1970s and beyond. Bean was also awarded the Legacy Award for lifetime achievement in human rights advocacy by the Human Rights Campaign that same year. 

Photo: Former Governor Ted Kulongoski, via Wikimedia Commons

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Bean's real estate company hits hard times.  

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Bean works as a fundraiser for the Obama campaign. He is invited on Air Force One and donates $500,000 to the campaign. He is even thanked by Obama in a speech during a fundraising event in Portland.

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Nov. 19, 2014

Bean is charged with two counts of sodomy and the sexual abuse of a juvenile male, according to the Portland Police Bureau. Bean’s attorney argues that Bean is innocent and that his arrest was part of an “extortion ring” orchestrated by his former lover Kiah Loy Lawson. 

Lawson, 25, was arrested late Wednesday night after turning himself into police. Lawson was indicted by a Lane County grand jury on sex abuse charges and two counts of sodomy, according to police.


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