Wednesday, June 7th, 2023

The Great Divide

The Great Divide

by Ross Ingersoll

Don Slater:
a gay rights pioneer remembered by his friends

©1997 by Homosexual Information Center, Inc.

Jim Schneider, Chairman

Pp. 11–13

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

In the 1950s, Mark Ingle and I were running a motel in Selma. We had several friends in San Francisco, and went there whenever we could get away. On one such visit, a friend gave me three copies of ONE.

I had never seen the magazine before, hadn’t even heard of it, and was amazed to find a publication, slight as it was, devoted to homosexuality. In one of those issues I found an announcement of an all-day conference on homosexuality, ending with a banquet in the evening, to be held in Los Angeles on a Saturday in January, 1958.

The streets of L.A. were pretty well deserted that morning, but I entered the building sure that the Police and FBI were hiding everywhere, taking pictures of everyone who entered. This was my first public overt admission of my own homosexuality, and I was both thrilled and scared.

All I remember of the conference was that in a long speech, Jim Kepner substituted the terms “baby-makers” and “baby-making” for straights and straight sex. There were other speakers, among them Evelyn Hooker. It was a full day.

At the end of the symposium, I had no place to go, nothing to do during the interim before the banquet, and was rescued by Don Slater, who sensed I was from out of town. He told me he had to go to the ONE offices for some reason, and asked if I would like to go with him to kill the time, and so I did. And soon met Tony, who was waiting there to meet Don.

When, later that year, Marc and I moved south, and were running another motel, out in the San Fernando Valley, I was able to take an afternoon off and paid a visit to the ONE offices in an old building on Hill street. Don remembered me, and greeted me warmly. Bill Lambert [W. Dorr Legg] was there that day, also, and Jim Kepner.

Kepner was particularly friendly, and I would have liked to know him better, but he worked nights and never seemed free for a drink or dinner or what-have-you. Perhaps he chose not to be. Everyone who worked on ONE seemed to have more than one name, to give the impression more people wrote for the magazine than actually did. Kepner was the real work-horse here. He had four or five different pen names, and his writing was apt to take up from a third to half of the space in every issue of the magazine.

A disastrous restaurant venture kept me occupied until the autumn of 1960, when I went back to the magazine’s offices again. Jim Kepner had left by then, why I don’t now remember, if I ever knew. I saw articles of his elsewhere, so plainly he had not left the movement. Anyway, perhaps to make up for Jim’s absence, Don asked me to become an editor. I was happy to accept. And almost at once was given work to do, including translations from the French gay magazine, Arcadie.

The tenth anniversary of ONE was approaching, and I was .asked to write a history of those ten years for the celebratory issue. I was the one person who had no first-hand knowledge of what had happened during those years and perhaps that is why I was given the assignment. I took home all of the back issues and went through them one by one, and then wrote a review based solely on what the magazine revealed about itself and its history. I think I did a good job, and wish I had a copy of it now, but I no longer have any of the pieces I wrote for ONE or for Tangents.

The Hill street building was slated to be demolished, and ONE moved to offices on Venice boulevard. These were much more spacious, with outside windows and lots of light, which the Hill street offices had not had. This was a much pleasanter place to work. About this time, Lambert announced that he and Don were dividing responsibilities, and that he (Lambert) was divorcing himself from the magazine to devote himself to the Institute and to the new Quarterly. This did not make me unhappy, since I had never particularly enjoyed working with Lambert. It must have been to take his place on the magazine that Don brought in Joe Hansen. I had read his stories in ONE, and looked forward to meeting him.

How much longer was it—not more than a few weeks, I think—before that crucial afternoon when everything came to an end? Slater, Hansen, Mac McNeal, and I were holding a regular editorial session, probably arguing, with Mac’s shrill, angry voice loudest of all. And suddenly Lambert stormed into the room, drew himself up in his imperial majesty, and began to lay down the law, letting us know that we were underlings, and were not empowered to discuss policy, let alone make it, and to tell us what we could and could not do, and what we would and would not be allowed to do.

Mac, who was wearing a stunning camel’s hair coat that night, jumped up, shrieked at Lambert that he wasn’t going to take any more of “that shit,” and slammed out of the room. Lambert went on, unfazed, and soon Hansen got to his feet, announced quietly that he too had heard more than enough, and walked out. I was just as indignant, but I simply sat there and said nothing. Don had sat through the whole thing without saying a word, and I didn’t want to do or say anything until I had a chance to talk to him.

The next day, Don rang me up to apologize for the embarrassment of the whole scene, and to tell me that he was working on a plan he thought would straighten things out and make it possible for us to work together again, but asked me not to do or say anything until he called me again, and of course I agreed to this.

And one afternoon some weeks later, I was at my restaurant in Downey, when Joe Hansen called me and asked me to come to a meeting at an address on Cahuenga Boulevard. When I arrived, I found Don Slater and Billy Glover, Joe Hansen and his wife, Jane, waiting for me. Don then proceeded to tell us gleefully of his great coup, and how he and Billy, had staged a midnight weekend raid on ONE’s offices, and carried off half the library, most of the files, and the all-important list of subscribers. The rest is history. But for me working on those magazines, and being in the forefront of what we thought of as the homosexual rights movement was a lot of fun, and sometimes exciting. Did it do any good? I wonder. Our long and serious discussions on what we might decently publish and what was demeaning and bad for the movement [cheap sex ads for example, that would have kept us going financially] seem pointless now, in the light of today’s gay magazines.

Were we then as foolish as we look in retrospect, as ineffectual? Certainly, violence, street parades and demonstrations have drawn wide attention to the cause we so decorously tried to forward. To use the current term, today’s gay activists are in the public’s face. No one had to read a quiet, thoughtful magazine. But people (and TV and other news outlets) cannot ignore the outlandish clowning of the gay parades, the savage shrieking of groups like Act Up. I suppose we must assume that without the gentle persistence of leaders like Don Slater, the later phase could never have evolved.

©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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