Posted by: maboulette | May 3, 2017

They Lived As A Gay Couple In Mississippi For 20 Years. The Worst Indignity Came In Death, Lawsuit Says.


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For most of the 52 years he was in a relationship with Robert Huskey, Jack Zawadski doesn’t remember much in the way of anti-gay discrimination.

NORMAL LIFE

Not while they were trying to grow apples on a farm in Wisconsin. Not during the decades they spent as special education teachers. Not even when they moved to Mississippi 20 years ago to retire someplace warmer and more lush, or after they married in 2015, when the Supreme Court stated that gay couples have as much of a right as heterosexuals to marry.

LAWSUIT

But in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Pearl River County, Miss., Zawadski said that bias finally reared up when he was most vulnerable: last May, when Huskey died at age 86 after a long illness.

14 PAGE COMPLAINT

In a 14-page complaint, Zawadski, 82, said the funeral home that had been prearranged to pick up and cremate Huskey’s body refused at the last minute, telling the nursing home that they don’t “deal with their kind.”

PICAYUNE FUNERAL HOME

In a response filed with the court in March, the owners of the Picayune Funeral Home in Picayune, Miss., deny the events as described by Zawadski and his nephew, who made the arrangements and is co-plaintiff.

ATTORNEY FOR FUNERAL HOME

Silas W. McCharen, an attorney for the owners of the funeral home, Ted and Henrietta Brewer, said in an email that the firm has never discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation. Henrietta Brewer denies she made reference to not serving “their kind,” he said, and the firm never refused to pick up the remains. But he declined to elaborate further.

ATTORNEY FOR ZAWADSKI

Zawadski is being represented by Lambda Legal, an LGBT rights law firm and advocacy organization based in New York. Because neither Mississippi law nor federal law clearly forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, the suit is relying on “other state laws that hopefully will provide a remedy for the terrible actions that happened here,” said Beth Littrell, the attorney handling the case.

THE CLAIM

“The essence of the claim is that they both breached a contract and denied services at the last minute to a grieving family based on the fact that the man who had passed away was gay and was married to a man,” said Littrell, whose organization is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from a jury.

 RARE ACTIVIST MOMENT

For Zawadski, the suit is a rare activist moment. He said he and his husband lived unassuming lives and were rarely open with their friends and neighbors about their sexual orientation. “We lived our lives quietly,” he said in an interview. “We didn’t hit the bars or anything like that.”

MET IN 1965

The pair met in 1965 in California. After moving around and traveling to pander their interest in Civil War history, they decided to settle down in the small town of Picayune, not far from the Louisiana border. Zawadski grew camellias, and Huskey served for a time as president of the homeowner’s association.

“And that’s how we lived,” Zawadski said. “We just enjoyed each other.”

They never mentioned their sexual orientation, and nobody asked, he said — not even after the two were married by a judge in nearby Hancock County on Aug. 17, 2015.

 

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