Wednesday, June 7th, 2023

A life-saving embrace

A Life Saving Embrace

by Harry Hay

Don Slater:
a gay rights pioneer remembered by his friends

©1997 by Homosexual Information Center, Inc.

Jim Schneider, Chairman

Pp. 18–19

Second Printing, revised
Assembled, edited, and composed by Joseph Hansen
Laguna Beach, CA

The first night I ever met Don and Tony, approximately October 10, 1952, as I remember, was on the front stoop of a one-story house up on old Bunker Hill, on the south side of Fourth street (but it could have been Second) and a few doors west of Hope street.

Don said to me, “You know, Dorr’s told me all about your Mattachine Society, but, me, I’m no joiner.” After a minute or two, he continued, “But that idea you sold Dorr on, when he came to your…meeting last month, the idea of publishing a journal as a separate homosexual entity, showing us growing on several fronts, and being strong enough to engage in dialog—is a great idea. It’s what I’m going to be discussing tonight.”

Later on that evening, when we were breaking up, Don came over and said, “Haven’t we met before someplace?

“Yeah,” I said, “cruising Pershing Square, back in the days when the big, old, overhanging trees, and the huge sprawling bushes were still in—and you were jail-bait.”

Don nodded and grinned.

But today I want to pay tribute to that wonderful, loving outreach side of Don, which not everybody in his life necessarily knew was there.

For John and me, it was a spiritually life-saving embrace, that Don and Billy Glover went way out of their way to perform, in the late autumn of 1973 when, unbeknownst to them or to any of our brothers and friends back in California, we were literally staggering, and still in shock, from having been wiped out by fire the previous summer.

Hay and Burnside
Harry Hay and John Burnside

1973, three years after John Burnside and I had left L.A. and moved into a trading post at San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico, had started out being a very good year. Morris Kight and Don Kilhefner had breezed through around Easter, stopping off to stay over with us one night, with a carful of young people, including Mina Robinson, on their way to a National Gay Health Conference at Estes Park, Colorado, 350 miles to the north. On July third of that year, the San Juan Pueblo Trading Post, built in 1863, burned to the ground—arson!—wiping out our Teleidoscope enterprise, and, along with it, many of our household valuables, stored in the Trading Post’s warehouse.

And, wouldn’t you know, that though the Mercantile and trading post were built on land the town Tribe had traded to the Spanish centuries earlier, the Trading Post Plaza’s little knoll was entirely surrounded by sovereign Tewa Indian territory across which no right-of-way had ever been negotiated. Therefore, the somewhat elaborate insurance the Mercantile had religiously paid over the years, and of which we had been a bustling part for three, [and which we thought had covered] furnishings, equipment, and goods, was totally inapplicable…in a shocking word, UNCOLLECTIBLE.

On a sere and sunless Saturday afternoon in early November of 1973, John and I heard our gate click, and looked up to see Billy Glover’s moon-faced, very welcome smile, and behind him the dancing, mischievous eyes of Don Slater, the rest of him hidden by sacks and packages sticking out in every direction. .

“Judging by that wreck we saw up on the hill,” Don said, “we stopped off and got some things along the way.”

“Wow,” said Billy, “that must have been some fire.”

We nodded glumly. “It was four months ago, but we still wake up mornings, thinking it’s going on today.”

And suddenly here they were, in our kitchen, all of us talking a mile a minute, like we hadn’t seen each other since day before yesterday. Except that Don is saying, “We’ve driven 375 miles from Dolores [Colorado] and we’re hungry, and this soup has to be heated up.”

Later Don said, “I’ve been feeling for some time that something was not quite right out here, around you guys. We just had to drop by and take a look.”

“We’ll make do, you sweethearts,” I said. “Just your coming all this long way to see us today makes all the difference.”

Bless you, old Friend…wherever you’ve gotten to now.

©1997, 2017 by The Tangent Group. All rights reserved.
The HIC is grateful to Stephen Brzoska for his help in digitizing this text.

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