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On April 9, 2013, Roger Gorley was ejected from the bedside of his partner Allen Mansell, who suffers from depression and was hospitalized at Kansas City's Research Medical Center. The incident arose when Gorley became involved in an altercation with Mansell's younger brother, who allegedly made homophobic comments. Ignoring both the requests of Mansell and the joint power of attorney Mansell and Gorley had filed with the hospital, and disrespecting the relationship between the men who entered into a civil union, a nurse ordered Gorley to leave. When he refused, she summoned hospital security and then the Kansas City police. He was subdued, handcuffed, then arrested on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct.
In a series of press releases in response to growing national and international outrage about the treatment of Gorley and the hospital's apparent violation of federal regulations regarding visitation rights for same-sex couples, the hospital has insisted that the incident had nothing to do with "gay rights." Instead, they say it was caused by Gorley's "disruptive and belligerent behavior," which affected patient care.
However, the hospital's version is directly contradicted by eyewitness accounts, including that of Gorley's daughter, Amanda Brown, who in an interview with John Aravosis at Americablog.com said that the nurse had her father removed because of a loud disagreement with his partner's brother over Mansell's care.
Rather than intervene and inform the brother that Gorley was in fact the designated representative of his partner, the nurse had Gorley removed. This, in spite of Mansell repeatedly saying from his hospital bed that he wanted his husband to stay in the room with him.
"Allen said he wanted dad in the room," Brown told Aravosis. "He said 'I want him here.'"
When Aravosis asked Brown if the nurse was possibly not aware of what the fight was about, she responded, "She knew what was going on."
Brown also told Aravosis that the nurse had treated Mansell on previous hospitalizations and knew that Gorley was his designated representative.
Moreover, Brown said that the brother was far more disruptive and belligerent than her father. "He was the one who was yelling," she said.
In a written account of the incident, Brown describes in chilling detail what happened when the police arrived and asked Gorley to leave the room.
"He said to them, 'No. This is my husband and I am going to stay with him.' The security personnel considered that a violation of a direct order, so they began to forcibly remove him from the room. My father held onto the rail of the gurney as well as his husband's hand with everything he had. The police responded with brute and excessive force. The officer began karate chopping his wrist to get him to release the gurney. Then they wrestled him to the ground forcefully enough to knock his glasses off of his face, his hearing aids out of his ears, and nearly break his wrist while they took him down. To handcuff him, they pushed a knee into his back and wrenched his wrists around."
"It didn't end there," Brown continues. "The police changed his handcuffs 4 times! They assumed because he was a gay man that he was HIV+. When they drew blood from accosting him in such a brutal manner they freaked out. One of the arresting officers was so offended by my father's presence that he would not touch him with his bare hands. He wore gloves the entire time and to make matters even more humiliating he didn't want his handcuffs back."
Additional information about the incident is available from Zack Ford at ThinkProgress, including the fact that Gorley was held for over 3 hours in jail and was fined $600.
As Ford observes, "At the foundation of the story remains the fact that Roger and Allen's relationship was treated as inferior. Because they did not have a state-recognized marriage, they were regarded as legal strangers despite even having set up the available legal protections for each other. Roger, in turn, was subjected not just to discrimination but police brutality and legal consequences."
As news of this outrage spread via blogs and social media, more than one hundred thousand people signed petitions protesting the treatment of Roger Gorley. Gay Marriage USA sponsored a petition at Change.org. So did activist John Becker. A petition was also launched at WhiteHouse.gov.
Chris Geidner at BuzzFeed reports that a Medicare/Medicaid spokesman said that federal officials are "aware" of the incident and "are working to gather the facts and determine what steps to take in a speedy manner."
In 2010, President Obama directed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to issue regulations mandating that hospitals that receive Medicaid or Medicare funds allow patients the right to have visitors of their choosing, regardless of sexual orientation.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) spokesman Brian Cook told BuzzFeed Thursday afternoon, "CMS is aware of this specific issue and we are working to gather the facts and determine what steps to take in a speedy manner."
"All Americans are guaranteed the right to receive hospital visitors that they designate, and there are specific protections in our rules for same-sex couples across the country," Cook added. "We take alleged violations of federal rules around hospital visitation very seriously."
Guidance issued by CMS on the regulations includes the following: "When a patient who is not incapacitated has designated, either orally to hospital staff or in writing, another individual to be his/her representative, the hospital must involve the designated representative in the development and implementation of the patient's plan of care."
Quite apart from the heartbreaking injustice done to Roger Gorley and Allen Mansell, this story is important because it illustrates the pervasive disrespect for gay and lesbian relationships in this country, even by institutions that claim not to discriminate.
(It may be worth noting that although Research Medical Center, which is owned by Health Care America, has been insisting that they do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, the nondiscrimination statement on their website does not mention either sexual orientation or gender identity.)
The story also illustrates the inadequacy of civil unions and of powers of attorney when institutions and individuals fail to honor them. If anyone is puzzled as to why the glbtq community insists on marriage rather than civil unions or domestic partnerships, this story should explain why.
The video below is the initial report on the incident by a Kansas City television station.