Tuesday, March 21st, 2023

Aaron Swartz and Don Slater: Why They Weren’t Gay

Billy GloverFebruary 13, 2013.

Thanks for this, Mr. Duchamp. The last link about sexuality sounds a lot like Don Slater—it is an act, it is society, and its attitudes and laws that make us a minority, and there was no minority before the Kinsey/Mattachine era starting in the 1950s.

Before there were drag balls, but no effort to change or educate society or even homosexuals.


Aaron Swartz
Aaron Swartz in 2008. Photo by Fred Benenson.

Aaron Swartz committed suicide a few days ago; I’d never heard of him.  There’s plenty to learn, though, from a just-posted Wikipedia entry.

Swartz was only 26, but he had taken on many fights including one against JSTOR, an online database of scholarly material.

Federal prosecutors in Boston had brought an armload of charges against him for allegedly “hacking” JSTOR. JSTOR, however, did not want to press the case but U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz barreled right ahead. The trial was looming in just a few weeks.

All too often, the government quietly grinds people to dust in exercising its criminal justice prerogatives.

Alex Stamos, a defense forensics expert has some very interesting things to say here.

Swartz’s parents and partner have published a statement

There’s lots more online; FWIW here’s the New York Times obituary

And, finally, a 2009 piece from Swartz’s blog about sexuality, “Why I Am Not Gay.”

About The Author


  1. John O'Brien

    To state there were no Gay identified activist groups before the Mattachine—is factually wrong.Heteros have been actively erasing our existence for a very long time – so most of our people wouldnot have a way to learn their roots/identity/connections. We do not need to further assist them inre-writing our actual people’s history.I was a Gay activist many years before I met my mentor Jim Kepner – who helped broaden myknowledge and understanding of our history and goals. I like others, are uncovering the suppressedhistory and combining with our activism, to challenge homophobia AND heterosexism. Today’s U. S. LGBT Movement has a continuous line of groups that can be traced back to Harry Hay.But there were other groups and people engaged in efforts before Mattachine – and it would bean injustice to just erase their existence – as the heteros would like, to claim there were notearlier efforts. It challenges the lies and cover up efforts by the heteros who want to claim that earlier homophobia was more “understandable”, because no one was then challengingsuch!! I still have Don Slater’s letter to the Los Angeles Times denouncing the LA Pride Parade inthe early 1970’s, for their daring to march OPENLY as Gays. He stated it was a matter ofprivacy and there should not be parades to demand people come out, etc. Slater opposedmuch of our Movement’s activism after Stonewall – that is why his name was not with themajor events following Stonewall – and there are ample letters from him as evidence toshow his open hostility to the Gay Liberation Movement, which he became more and moreisolated from. Others fortunately welcomed the changes that GLF brought, that closed thetime period of the U. S. Homophile Movement (1948-1969). But there were certainly activists and groups before Harry Hay’s Mattachine.

  2. Billy Glover

    I was there, John. If you take Don Slater’s words and actions out of context, you are doing what extremists do everyday, on the left and right. They did it to Romney AND Obama. What you say and quote Don saying is true. BUT you ignore why he said it. The public, much less the Los Angeles GLBT community/movement, KNEW Don’s thinking, not just from what he did abut 50 years in the magazine, but in articles in local newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times and Herald Examiner.If you read his words about the issue of homosexuals in the military, you see clearly his thinking, which is apparently what many young lgbt people are thinking IF we are to believe a current article in The New York Times. Don said what we wanted was to be left alone, Not laws “helping,” us but NO laws. The military demanded that we choose our sexuality. With Dr. Hooker, lawyers, etc, he went into court to keep young men from being drafted even after they “checked” the box. The Army needed bodies for Vietnam. Don said, for the men, that they would be happy to serve—IF the policy was changed. And it was a privacy matter—the government and society had no right to know our sexuality, religious beliefs, etc.His thinking on Stonewall West was more complicated—and some of us disagreed. Joe Hansen did work with the parade, as a representative of the HIC. He worried about us being exploited as consumers—I never did. He thought that, as most people say today, the best way to “educate” society was to “live” as who we are. Not many people could do that in the 1950s or ’60s. He had his lover Tony Reyes to support him, as Dorr Legg had Johnny Nojima. Jim Kepner deserves credit as he did not have such support. I had family support—and a relatively friendly area to retire to. That, he said, was what the bigots wanted.We disagree, and many people agree with you that there was a movement before Mattachine. Facts are on our side. History did not hide a movement; it hid individuals. I’m sorry, but drag balls, no matter how much fun and well attended, including heterosexual gawkers, were NOT part of a movement and did nothing to promote understanding of homosexuality or seek our civil rights.

  3. Victor A. Salvo

    I agree in the general sense with Don Slater’s assertion that there should be “no laws at all.” That would be ideal… people free to be who they are. But it ignored the fact that almost all laws are enacted as a reaction to someones expressed complaint or outrage, or in response to a crime, or to assuage some political agenda. Face it – we started as a species without any written laws at all. Something inspired those laws to be written. This is especially true of laws that marginalized or criminalized homosexuality. They were a reaction to something. And the values that supported those laws, that made them possible, were fueled by homophobia, which itself was a result of society’s ignorance about gay people because they were invisible. To simply and naively assert “there should be no laws” is to ignore the social conditions that made them possible in the first place. That is why the Homophile Movement gave way to the dawn of the overt Gay Pride Era where gays flaunted their difference and demanded acceptance. The social and cultural evolutions that followed came about because those who flaunted it set the table for others to come out less flamboyantly, easier to accept than their colorful contemporaries. It was the accumulated experience of gay people coming out to their families, friends and co-workers over 30–40 years – driven by AIDS – that made it possible for people to see gay people as commonplace, not some tiny, foreign, invisible aberration of the social norm.Thus the place we have arrived at is far more a result of gay people “going public” than it is a result of the homophile’s quiet “just leave us alone” brand of political persuasion. That being said, I think the Homophile Movement was the best gay people could do at the time, given the consequences of coming out in the McCarthy Era. Its time came and went and the movement evolved – as it has continued to do right up until today. Curiously Harry Hay, so identified with the early homophiles, actually advocated that gay people simply be who they are and that society needed to deal with it. Today we are somewhere in between being accepted for who we are and assimilating – which makes sense considering that is sort of a common-ground hybrid of peoples various life-experiences, values and comfort levels.If I can briefly speak to gay activism in the pre-Mattachine era, particularly with regard to the Drag Balls that typified the Harlem Renaissance… I don’t really regard those immense social gatherings as being “activism” as much as they were socially pivotal benchmarks whose impact on society may have been to inspire a “Live and Let Live” mentality among the straight people who participated. One could imagine that without that era perhaps the isolation and marginalization and criminalization of gay people would have been worse than it was.History is well-marked by examples of eras when the world was decidedly more accepting of a complex social matrix that allowed for a lot more variety. But the world took a turn in the late 1920s, which led to Hollywood’s Hays Code and the wholesale excision of queer images from the media, and thus from social discourse – setting the table for J. Edgar and Joe McCarthy. And it was in that era that the homophiles had to make their way. It is all cause and effect. The point to remember is we all stand on the shoulders of people who did the best they could within the constraints they had to work with. It is pretty easy to carp from fifty years on. I don’t think I would have had the courage of those who founded Mattachine.

  4. John O'Brien


    I just sent a reply to Bill Glover challenging his lack of real knowledge of
    our peoples history and struggles. Perhaps he might permit me to send
    that email to you. I do not send emails to others without notifying
    people that I am – unlike Mr. Glover, who tends to still not operate in
    an open honest way.

    This is something I fear he learned from a local Los Angeles activist
    named Don Slater, who was involved for a decade or so in the LGBT
    Movement and that Bill Glover rates far higher in status than most
    activists who knew him.

    You likely are aware, unlike Bill Glover, of earlier LGBT history and herstory
    in Chicago (Gerber, Hart, etc.) and possibly elsewhere. I am glad you
    recognize the importance of social gatherings that offered support and
    built identity and support and countered homophobia and heterosexism.
    Fortunately many others do too!!!

    Please place me on your email list, since I always like to know what
    people are doing around promoting education and learning history.
    and their activism to make things better.

    I remain an activist, collector and archivist and welcome working
    with others and always seeking memorabilia from activist groups
    in the form of buttons, ribbons, post cards, pennants, sculpture
    and the many other forms, cause items have been issued in. My
    long time goal is to open a museum on progressive world history
    so I collect a wide range of subjects from Antiquity to the present
    from all regions of the world (including Chicago!)

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