UC Santa Cruz will present a lecture by Karen Thompson titled “Love is a Dangerous Promise” on Thursday, March 7, at 7 p.m., at the Second Stage Theater in the Theater Arts Center on the UCSC campus.

Admission is free, and the public is invited.

Thompson rose to national prominence after the 1983 car accident of her partner, Sharon Kowalski, who suffered a traumatic brain injury after a drunk driver hit her car.

After the accident, Kowalski’s biological family refused to acknowledge or accept Thompson’s relationship with Kowalski, setting off a nearly decade-long legal fight over guardianship and the rights of same-sex couples.

The litigation that followed soon became a rallying point for gays and lesbians around the country, tired of laws and social stigmas that treated them as second-class citizens.

The case was also closely followed by AIDS patients, who worried that they too might be legally deprived of their own partner’s care.

Finally, after an eight-year battle, Thompson was awarded legal custody of Kowalski.

Thompson’s legal battle for guardianship of Kowalski was the first known case of its kind for LGBT people and those with HIV, although many similar tragedies occurred, but were not reported.  

The high-profile case—Thompson was featured in Time, Newsweek, The New York Times and Washington Post, plus numerous TV shows including the Phil Donahue Show and CBS This Morning—demonstrated the vulnerability of the committed relationships of same-sex couples because of their lack of legal recognition.

It additionally drew attention to the importance of drawing up the proper legal documents that can protect LGBT people and those with HIV in times of tragedy.

The Kowalski decision was viewed as a victory by the gay community and several books were written about the case and its historical role in the gay rights movement.

Thompson, professor emerita of St. Cloud State University, is co-author of the 1988 book Why Can’t Sharon Kowalski Come Home?

She has received numerous awards for her work, and now speaks across the country to raise awareness for human rights issues, including the legal protection of LGBT relationships.

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UCSC presents Karen Thompson in a lecture titled “Love is a Dangerous Promise” on Thursday, March 7, at  7 p.m., in the Second Stage Theater in the Theater Arts Center on the UCSC campus. Admission is free, and the public is invited. Free tickets to the lecture are available at santacruztickets.com. For more information, call (831) 459-2698.

This event is sponsored by the UC Santa Cruz Feminist Studies Department, the Women Lawyers of Santa Cruz County, the UC Presidential Chair in Feminist Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, and UCSC’s Cantu Center.