HIC’s Rogues Gallery Portrait
Don Slater (obituary)
Editor of ONE Magazine and Tangents • Founder of HIC
This obituary was written by Jim Kepner and printed in Don Slater 19231997: A Gay Rights Pioneer Remembered by his Friends. ©1997 by Homosexual Information Center, Inc.
A PIONEER PASSES:
Donald Rutherford Slater
Photo of Don Slater
Movements often forget most pioneers. Donald Rutherford Slater proudly marched out of step and acidly criticized those who ignored his ideals.
as printed in the Aug. 1966
Cruise News & World Report
Don died in Los Angeles on February 14, 1997 from an infected heart valve implant. Survived by Tony Reyes, his partner of 51 years, by many friends and Homosexual Information Center board members, Don pioneered on many fronts.
Impatient with Mattachine discussion groups in 195153, he insisted we need to get our message out. In November, 1952, Don helped found ONE, America's first openly distributed homosexual magazine. When the editor, Ann Carll Reid resigned in poor helath in 1957, Don took over as editor. [In his obituary, the Los Angeles Times called him a "journalist," and he was a good one. Ed.]
A USC graduate in Library Science, Don had helped many skid-row Gays, and [delighted in] ignoring traffic tickets, spending time [two weekends] in jail for this. He denied the government's right to regulate his life, or that of ONE Incorporated, and sued the postmaster who held up ONE Magazine's October 1954 issue as obscene. His victory in the Supreme Court cleared the way for today's Gay and Lesbian press.
By Spring 1965, Dorr Legg had gained control of ONE, Incorporated. To break that stifling control, Don, on an attorney's advice
cleaned out ONE's offices and moved them to new quarters. Said the attorney, this would put the burden of proof on Dorr, who had just forced ONE's editors to resign. Most of these editors joined Don.
Rival copies of ONE Magazine appeared on news stands for several months. Don's were bright and creative, Dorr's dull. Suits and counter suits followed. Don, adroit and flexible in court, came out [keeping] much of the original collection [library and archives], but had to change the name of his magazine to Tangents, and incorporate as the Homosexual Information Center. Tangents carried exciting news of the late 1960’s, while Dorr’s ONE carped at new trends. Don's HIC newsletters in later years took up that carping [until last November].
Don helped launch the National Conference of Homophile Organizations and the Western Regional Conferences [in] 1966. He worked to reverse the anti-Gay bias of the American Civil Liberties Union. That same year he led a motorcade through the streets of Los Angeles, protesting exclusion of Gays from the armed forces. One of our first skilled draft counselors, he pushed a don't ask, don't tell policy, which backfired when [inductees opposed to the Vietnam war] claimed to be Gay to avoid service.
He considered the word Gay a cop-out, insisted we protect our right to privacy at all costs, and jokingly called "coming out" simply "parading our perversion before the public. To those who considered homosexuality a perversion,Don pointed out that Kinsey had shown that most men engaged in some kind of "perverted" sex at some point in their lives, and we had a right to express our preference, if we drew our blinds.
He picketed the L.A. Times, when they refused ads for the early 1969 play Geese, and organized after-the-act discussions with the audience. [The play dealt with the conflic between two gay male lovers and their parents, and often the young men were naked on stage. Ed.] He encouraged politicians to seek our [the Gay] vote, and picketed a meeting of ONE that supported a homophobic councilman. He hosted the first Gay Liberation Front meetings in L.A. at Tangents offices in Cahuenga Pass.
Photo of Don Slater
When [under the leadership of Morris Kight and Troy Perry] we picketed Barney's Beanery [in West Hollywood] to protest its notorious "Fagots Keep Out" sign, Don supported the owner's right to choose his customers
Don defined movement goals narrowly, and when the movement changed, his criticism was relentless, in testy pieces written for the op-ed pages of the Los Angeles Times. After Health Department epidemiologists used police to trace VD contacts, Don chastised [Gay] groups which worked with the Health Department, denying that any ailments could affect only Gays.
©2003 by HIC
Don was mugged and badly beaten leaving the Hollywood Boulevard offices of HIC one night. Heart implant surgery in 1979 brought him a brush with death. He scorned films and computers, shared a Victorian house with Anthonyand pets, tended his tree-shaded garden, went up to Colorado to ski, and despite his heart, climbed to his steep rooftop to make repairs.
His trailblazing should be honored, though the movement has downgraded the principles he valued. Don was knowledgeable, charming, and fun, one of the last of our true pioneers.
Joseph Hansen was the original editor of this text, as published in 1997.
Editor's note: Once in a teasing moment, Don stated to quizzical Jim Kepner that his middle name was Rutherford. Slater did not really have a middle name, though he allowed the rumor to endure. The prank has been long-lived; led by Dorr Legg, ONE Inc. filed a lawsuit, after the 1965 split, against "Donald Rutherford Slater." Kepner thought this Don's proper name to the end of his days. The prank has in interesting corollary, though: Slater, and accordingly Joseph Hansen, was convinced that W. Dorr Legg was the pseudonym and William Lambert the "real" name, when indeed, it seems to been Lambert that had been the pseudonym all along. Jim Schneider first alerted me to the "Rutherford" error, and Vern Bullough is confident that Dorr was indeed a Legg.
Slater's bachelor's degree was in English, not library science as indicated. Also, the use of the word "Gay" in the text reflects Kepner's parlance more than Slater's. Slater always preferred the word "homosexual" to "gay."
See also: "Homosexual Pioneer, Don Slater, Dead at 78," by Jack Nichols
at Badpuppy Gay Today
Posted by C. Todd White • 3/7/04
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