This is one in a series of profiles marking the 60th anniversary of the ACLU of Kentucky’s founding. Each week through December 2015 we will highlight the story of one member, client, case, board or staff member that has been an integral part of our organization’s rich history.
“The only reason we have the rights that we do is because of those who went before us. If we stop working on the struggle those rights will disappear.”
Attorney Everett Hoffman led the ACLU of Kentucky as Executive Director during the 1990’s and established working partnerships with ally organizations on several issues that remain priorities for us today.
In the early ‘90’s, LGBT rights were emerging nationwide and the push for a non-discrimination ordinance in Louisville had formed. The ACLU-KY became an ally to the strong grassroots leaders that would soon form the Fairness Campaign and then the Kentucky Fairness Alliance. Hoffman wrote a brief to the city Human Rights Commission in support of the measure and remembers looking to civil rights leader Lyman Johnson at the time for guidance. Johnson was on the Human Rights Commission and took a stand for LGBT rights at a time when such a stance was still unpopular, but he recognized that discrimination is discrimination and that we must all stand together to bring forth equal rights for all.
The execution of Harold McQueen took place in 1997, the first execution in Kentucky in 21 years. Everett remembers the trip that several ACLU Board members took to the vigil outside of Eddyville prison prior to the execution. It was that moment that Carl Wedekind dedicated the rest of his life to the abolition of the death penalty. It was during this period the ACLU-KY became coalition partners with the Catholic Conference. The move was difficult at first because of our differences around Reproductive Freedom. In 1998, our joint efforts helped pass the Racial Justice Act, which allows a review of a death penalty sentence for racial bias.
The beating of Rodney King by police, which led to the Los Angeles riots of 1992, resonated throughout the nation, shining a spotlight on police abuse. Louisville was no exception and the 1998 death of Adrian Reynolds while in police custody ignited racial tensions locally. The Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and the Justice Resource Center approached the ACLU-KY to join them in their demands for the creation of a Civilian Police Review Board. “These were people I’d never known who lived in areas of the city that I’d never been a part of, but it was an issue of dire importance in the community at the time and we did partner,” recalls Hoffman.
One of the most trying moments of Hoffman’s tenure came when the KKK was granted a permit to demonstrate on the Jefferson County Courthouse steps, but were denied the right to wear their wide hoods, which cover their faces. Klansmen approached the ACLU-KY for legal representation. Though the ACLU-KY was a charter sponsor of the counter demonstration being planned in response to the rhetoric of the KKK, we did agree to represent their right to demonstrate and express themselves in accordance with the norms of their organization. We won the case, and then joined the protesters who opposed the substance of the speech being exercised. It is a great example of what the ACLU stands for. We can defend the speech rights of individuals or groups without endorsing the substance of that speech.