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Courtney Wilson and Taylor Guerrero came to Hawaii as so many young lovers do — excited by the adventure, enthralled by the islands’ beauty, intoxicated to be able to spend time in our aloha paradise with one another.
We’ve all seen couples like them, walking hand in hand through Waikiki, perhaps embracing in the surf at Waimanalo, kissing at sunset at Kailua.
Since marriage equality became legal in November 2013, we’ve seen many more — same-sex couples to whom Hawaii is not just the gem of the Pacific, but a state that led the nation and to a significant extent the world in bringing legal recognition and equality to gay and lesbian relationships.
So when Wilson and Guerrero walked through a North Shore grocery store last March 3, it was perfectly natural that they did so occasionally holding hands and even exchanging a small kiss or two. But another patron not only didn’t appreciate it, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit, he took it upon himself to harass and order the women to stop, tried to coerce the store manager into issuing them a trespassing order and then started a scuffle with the two in the checkout line, resulting in both of them being arrested and held in jail for two days.
And because the other customer was a Honolulu police officer in uniform, Officer Bobby Harrison escaped any responsibility for the incident. Until now.
The women filed a civil rights case in U.S. District Court last week, alleging Harrison violated the Fourth and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and several state laws.
Shortly after Civil Beat broke the story last week and other media locally and nationally followed suit, HPD opened an internal investigation into Harrison’s actions. The incident was apparently already widely known in the law enforcement and legal community, so the department’s sudden interest in investigating the matter doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
It would be comforting at some level to think Harrison was a rogue actor — he was, after all, off-duty when the alleged incident took place, and no one is saying that his apparently flamboyant brand of homophobia is standard among the HPD rank and file.
But those who followed the marriage equality debate in Hawaii will likely recall that the president of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, Tenari Ma’afala, testified during public hearings that legislators would “have to kill (him)” to make him enforce a marriage equality law.
Lest anyone think those were merely passionate words spoken in the heat of the moment, Ma’afala and SHOPO took out a series of prominent ads a year later during last fall’s gubernatorial election in support of candidate Mufi Hannemann, arguing that the marriage special session “outcome would have been drastically different” had Hannemann been governor at the time.
Marriage equality opponent Hannemann, of course, finished a distant third in that election with less than 12 percent of vote. But early last summer, about three months after Harrison arrested Wilson and Guerrero on Oahu’s romantic North Shore, Hannemann was named president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association.
You know, one of the organizations principally responsible for our globally beloved Aloha brand.
Thousands of gays and lesbians have married in Hawaii over the past two years; even more have come here for the promise of a beautiful escape from other environs where neither their humanity nor their relationships are respected, pouring an estimated $26.6 million annually into our state tourism economy, according to one widely cited analysis.
How HPD and the tourism industry — both of which were remarkably silent on this matter last week — respond to this incident may determine to some extent how many gays and lesbians continue to visit our islands.
Hawaii for Clinton. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell endorsed Hillary Clinton on Friday, becoming one of 135 mayors nationwide now backing her candidacy.
Endorsements are critical measures by which a candidate’s strength and viability are judged, and Clinton’s performance is setting a new standard: Among endorsements from governors and U.S. senators and representatives, she holds a greater than 10-to-1 advantage over her closest competitor and has nearly three times more endorsements than all other candidates combined.
Those endorsements include nods from three of four members of Hawaii’s federal delegation: U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono and U.S. Rep. Mark Takai.
Schatz spent the past weekend in New England working for Clinton, taking part in a finance committee breakfast in Maine, a get-together with Wellsley Students for Hillary (Clinton is one of Wellsley College’s most famous grads), meetings with elected officials and LGBT group leaders and media interviews before flying back to Washington on Sunday evening. He described an energized atmosphere in the Clinton campaign.
“There’s certainly a spring in everyone’s step,” Schatz said in a phone interview Sunday from Massachusetts.
Schatz played a leadership role in Hawaii for the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012, but his work was largely limited to Hawaii and Nevada. As Hawaii’s senior senator, he’s already playing a larger role in Clinton’s effort.
“They want to have a presence everywhere,” said Schatz. “The candidates spend a lot of (early) time physically in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, so to the extent she has friends who can represent her in other places, it’s a help. I plan on being one of those friends.”
Hirono is stepping up, as well, serving as one of a dozen women senators who will host a high-profile event for Clinton in Washington later this month.
She and her co-hosts put together a web feature in support of the event depicting “what some of America’s most powerful women think about Hillary Clinton.” Hirono’s part shows her answering the question, “What would it mean to have a woman in the Oval Office?” Her response: “Girls can be and do anything.”
It’s far too early, of course, to tell whether that next president will be Clinton — primary voting doesn’t begin until next February, and we’re more than a year away from the general election. And Clinton still faces ongoing investigations of her emails and the Benghazi incident, as well as a surprisingly spirited inter-party challenge from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Schatz said Sunday that Sanders’ candidacy is “a good thing for the party” in that it forces a stronger debate of ideas and ensures that whoever wins the nomination will have earned it. “And there continues to be a lot of passion for Bernie Sanders.”
Hawaii has benefited immensely from having its favorite son in the Oval Office these past seven years. Forming a strong relationship with potentially the next president makes good sense for a state whose whose federal delegation serves in the minority party, and lacks the seniority to leverage as much as ranking members of the Republican Party.
Relationships built during the early, challenging days of a campaign have the potential to ultimately deliver more for Hawaii through partnership with the executive branch.
Given the stakes — Honolulu ranks second nationally among cities in the percentage of its workforce dependent on a federal paycheck, and the enormous U.S. military and intelligence presence in our islands represents additional impact — Schatz and Hirono are showing laudable initiative in getting involved in substantial ways now.