Arts & Culture

Fighting for LGBTQ people in 1986 could have ended his political career. He did it anyway.

Ernesto Scorsone talked about the landmark Commonwealth of Kentucky vs. Jeffrey Wasson case —  in which the Kentucky Supreme Court overturned the state’s anti-sodomy law — as two historic markers honoring LGBTQ history were unveiled on June 3 in Lexington, Ky.
Ernesto Scorsone talked about the landmark Commonwealth of Kentucky vs. Jeffrey Wasson case — in which the Kentucky Supreme Court overturned the state’s anti-sodomy law — as two historic markers honoring LGBTQ history were unveiled on June 3 in Lexington, Ky.

Shortly after he was arrested for inviting a man back to his home for sex, Jeffrey Wasson walked into Ernesto Scorsone’s law office and asked the lawyer what he should do next.

"You have two options," Scorsone told Wasson on that day in 1986. "You can pay a small fine and be on your way. Or we can challenge the constitutionality of this law."

Having recently won election to the Kentucky House of Representatives, Scorsone knew he would be risking his political career if he decided to represent Wasson in the case.

“I was out to my family and friends and so forth, but I was not officially out,” Scorsone said during an interview for "Out Here in America," a podcast by the Biloxi, Mississippi, Sun Herald and McClatchy that explores the lives of LGBTQ people in the Deep South and America’s heartland. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you find your favorite shows.

“I never made a statement that I was gay. And I had to appreciate the fact that this was going to hurt me politically and some people didn’t care much for it, you know, I knew that.”

Wasson and Scorsone decided to fight. And in 1992, the Kentucky Supreme Court overturned the state’s anti-sodomy law, decriminalizing homosexuality in Kentucky. Lexington recently unveiled Kentucky's first two LGBTQ historic markers, one of which commemorates the supreme court's decision.

Scorsone made history again in 2003, this time with four words woven into a speech about equality in the workplace: “as a Gay Kentuckian.” With that phrase, Scorsone became the first out gay politician in Kentucky.

"This just seemed like the right thing to do for me," Scorsone told a Herald-Leader reporter at the time. It was the right time too. Months later, the Kentucky general assembly would pass a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between and man and a woman. Scorsone was one of the few lawmakers to speak against it.

Scorsone has been an advocate for LGBTQ rights in Kentucky throughout his professional career. Now a Fayette County Circuit Judge and living with his husband in Lexington, Scorsone helped found JustFundKY, a nonprofit that supports fairness and equality.

“I think it’s pretty exciting to be a part of a movement for civil rights for any minority that has been left out and marginalized,” Scorsone said. “And I am incredibly optimistic because I think we’re making tremendous progress.”

In this episode, you'll hear:

  • The parking lot sting that eventually led to de-criminalizing homosexuality in Kentucky
  • Scorsone's decision to come out as the first openly gay lawmaker in the state
  • How Scorsone is leading the charge for LGBTQ equality in the Bluegrass area in the Deep South

New episodes publish every Monday. Have an idea for OHIA? Send questions and suggestions to jmitchell@sunherald.com.

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