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Allen's death will help Oklahoma tie neighboring Texas' record of eight executions in a month.

Related Gully Coverage

5 Reasons to Oppose the Death Penalty.

Gay Mundo
Our ultra-queer coverage.

wanda jean allen
Wanda Jean Allen, 41, executed Jan. 11 by the state of Oklahoma. Jerry Laizure

United States

Oklahoma Kills Black Lesbian

by Ana Simo

JANUARY 15, 2001 While relatives of the two women she killed more than a decade ago watched behind tinted windows, Wanda Jean Allen was put to death by Oklahoma state employees last Thursday night. Allen, 41, was a black lesbian. She was also poor, and reportedly had an IQ of 69 and brain damage. She had spent 13 years in death row, more than half of her adult life waiting to be killed.

A Distinctive Death
In death, Allen holds a number of doubtful distinctions: first black woman to be executed in the United States since 1954, first woman ever killed by the state of Oklahoma, and first lesbian legally killed in the United States in the twenty-first century.

Allen's death will also help Oklahoma tie neighboring Texas' record of eight executions in a month. After Texas, Oklahoma is the state that kills the most. Proportionally, it was ahead last year: while Texas snuffed 40 people, Oklahoma, with only 1/6 of the Texas population, killed eleven.

Every Tuesday and Thursday in January, Oklahoma will kill. Two men are slated to die this week: Floyd Medlock on the 16th, and Dion Smallwood on the 18th. Two more in Inauguration week: Mark Fowler, on the 23rd, and Billy Ray Fox, on the 25th.

Okie Governor Frank KeatingJesse Jackson, who has called Oklahoma a "killing machine," spent a night in jail in protest for the planned Allen killing, and then pleaded for mercy with Governor Frank Keating, an ardent death-penalty partisan. He got nowhere.

A Lesbian Coffin
Allen's race and mental deficiency made news around the world. Not so the fact that she was a lesbian. Outside the gay media, this was rarely mentioned directly, although it was often said that she had killed her "lesbian lover." Allen's supporters soft-pedaled the l-thing, rightly fearing that it would be the last nail in her coffin. And the legal system happily obliged, as silence and invisibility allow rabid homophobia to continue unchecked there: after all, homophobia can't be identified in the courts of law if there are no open homosexuals.

At Allen's trial, the prosecutor regaled the jury with dyke stereotypes. According to her last attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the prosecutors repeatedly portrayed her as the "dominant member" of the relationship, an aggressive "male"-type, and therefore more prone to violence.

Allen was charged with premeditated murder, a capital offense, in part because she was a lesbian. Joann Bell, Executive Director of the Oklahoma ACLU said that had Allen been part of a straight couple, she would probably have been charged with manslaughter, as is more usual in domestic killings.

Instead, the history of domestic violence between Allen and her lover was not taken into account. Overall, Allen's defense was so "alarmingly inadequate," the ACLU contended, that her trial attorneys and juries never even knew she had a mental deficiency.

Queers and the Death Penalty
If you're black, or poor, or live in certain southern or western states, the odds of being electrocuted, poisoned, or gassed by the government for certain crimes practically jump off the charts, as a number of studies show. While there is empirical evidence that being queer is another strike against you, in-depth research on this is lacking. An obstacle is the unwillingness of most of the accused, and their lawyers, to come out—a Catch-22 that will only be broken by a high-profile, patently homophobia-driven death penalty case won by the accused on those grounds.

Major queer groups like the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Lambda Legal Defence and Education Fund were among the 23 organizations that urged a stay of Allen's execution. Nevertheless, gays may be more divided about the death penalty than is commonly thought, especially if the Log Cabin Republicans are right, and a million gays voted for George W. Bush (and even if it was only half that number). Such divisions are bound to be, unpleasantly, along racial lines.

Wanda Jean Allen was killed by lethal injection. It took her six full minutes to die after the poison entered her body. Behind the tinted windows, her dead lover's relatives watched her die. They were seeking "closure," one of them said later.

Related links:

To demand a national moratorium on executions, including in Oklahoma, go to the ACLU anti-Death Penalty site.

For the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

For Complete Coverage Gay Mundo

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