The Absolute Don
by Jeanne Chelsey Barney
a gay rights pioneer remembered by his friends
©1997 by Homosexual Information Center, Inc.
Jim Schneider, Chairman
Second Printing, revised
Assembled, edited, and composed by Joseph Hansen
Laguna Beach, CA
My introduction to Don Slater came in 1971, shortly after the first appearance in the old Advocate of my column, “Smoke from Jeannie’s Lamp.”
There was his wind-up: I like your work, he wrote in his letter; you help with a sense of humor.
Then there was his pitch: But I do wish you wouldn’t use the word “Gay,” he continued, explaining at great length why correct usage dictated the term “homosexual.”
His effort to re-educate me was not nearly as annoying as it might have been. After all, this was DON SLATER, a star in the activist galaxy, who was correcting me. That such a mover and shaker would spend the time and eight cents postage to communicate with me, a puny little columnist, made me feel pretty special.
Until the recent memorial, that is. In his remembrance of Don, Stuart Timmons recalled a nearly identical response to his first appearance in gay print. That’s when it occurred to me that Don may well have sent us form letters.
But once I recovered from the prick to my bubble of self importance, I realized that such a letter was absolute Don. This was a man who took a stand, however unpopular, and defended it against all threats, whether real or imagined. His philosophy was the same when he wrote to Stuart as when he had written to me years earlier. If his belief didn’t change, why should his letter?
Obviously, Don and I had our ideological differences—would it have been possible not to? But I never failed to respect his position, nor, I felt, he mine, no matter how grudgingly.
I treasured Don not for his wit nor his intellect, although both were considerable, nor for his wonderfully curmudgeonly approach to this farce we call life. Rather, I admired him as a true libertarian and a man who had the courage of his convictions.
©1997, 2017 by The Tangent Group. All rights reserved.
The HIC is grateful to Stephen Brzoska for his help in digitizing this text.