Don Slater: The Forgotten Gay Hero (1923–1997)
Impatient with the Mattachine discussion groups in 1951–53, Don Slater insisted that we needed to get our message out. In November, 1952, Don helped found ONE, America’s first openly distributed homosexual magazine.
A social movement has to have a voice beyond its own members,” he said. For the first time, ONE gave a voice to the “love that dare not speak its name.” Nobody had ever done that. The magazine was the beginning of the movement.”
As the magazine’s editor, Slater began one of his most significant contributions to free expression in 1954, when FBI and postal officials charged that ONE could not be sent through the U.S. mail because it contained obscene material. To a modern-day reader, the material is barely titillating. But FBI officials concluded that the magazine was obscene because it was lustfully stimulating to the average homosexual reader.”
Along with other staff members, Slater hired a lawyer and fought the charges. After losing in lower courts, they took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, despite having to pay legal expenses of more than $2,000 out of their own pockets.
In January 1958, the editors triumphed when the highest court in the land unanimously reversed the decision of the lower courts. Although the justices did not issue a written opinion, the landmark decision established that the subject of homosexuality is not, per se, obscene. LGBT publications could legally be distributed through the mail.
Despite its historical significance, the magazine was not a moneymaker. ONE never paid for itself, Slater recalled after its demise.
“It wouldn’t have survived if we editors hadn’t put our own money into it continually. We wanted it to work. So we all just pitched in.”
Don Slater also 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.
Don died in Los Angeles on February 14, 1997 from an infected heart valve implant. Survived by Tony Reyes, his partner of 51 years.
A true hero of the LGBT movement and one that must always be remembered.
FEBRUARY 14th GAY TRIVIA: On this day in 1974 Rolling Stone magazine reported that David Bowie who was going through his Ziggy Stardust phase turned down a Gay Liberation Front who asked him to compose the world’s first Gay National Anthem.