Any celebration of the The Advocate’s founding in 1967 must honor the heroes for LGBT rights that we’ve covered for 45 years. With one honoree named per year, the list will be announced in parts and culminate in an event in Los Angeles this month.
When Frank Kameny was dismissed from the Army Map Service in 1957 because he was gay, it started a long argument.
In 1961 a lawsuit that Kameny filed arrived at the U.S. Supreme Court, decades before it even declared sodomy laws unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas. It was also the year he cofounded the Mattachine Society of Washington, which lobbied aggressively for gay rights. Kameny picketed the White House in 1965, the first time a demonstration was ever held there by LGBT rights supporters. And in 1969 he testified before the Department of Defense, delivering a speech titled “We Throw Down the Gauntlet” that propelled his charge against “the de facto denial of security clearances to homosexuals as a class or group.”
The next year, 1970, when Kameny was still speaking out, it was clear he would never stop. People praised Kameny when in 1973 the American Psychological Association stopped classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder, which had been used as an excuse by the military to deny gays and lesbians the right to serve. It seemed people might start agreeing with Kameny, that “Gay Is Good.”
But it wasn’t until 2009 when the Civil Service that had once kicked him out finally issued a formal apology. When President Obama signed a repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in 2010, Kameny was among the honored guests. So many contributed to that moment, but Kameny set it in motion.
Kameny died just weeks after the repeal went into effect and gays and lesbians began serving openly in the military.
“Never forget that we are American citizens, with all that is implied by those two words, as well as homosexuals, whatever you may think is implied by that word,” he said during that 1969 hearing. “We stand our ground. We throw down the gauntlet.”
On September 22, 1975, a 33-year-old former Vietnam veteran named Oliver Sipple saw Sara Jane Moore pointing a gun at President Gerald Ford outside a San Francisco hotel. Sipple lunged at Moore and the bullet missed its target, instead hitting and slightly injuring a taxi driver. For saving the leader of the free world, Sipple was branded a hero, but the story got complicated when the media discovered he was gay. The press picked up the angle and the news caused major friction between Sipple and his family — he would later unsuccessfully sue several newspapers for invasion of privacy.
In a 2001 interview, Ford denied giving a fig about Sipple’s sexual orientation, but after the assassination attempt the president simply sent a thank-you letter to Sipple — no ceremony, no award, no phone call.
California governor Jerry Brown, in his second run for president, appealed explicitly to LGBT voters. He called himself a “comrade in arms” in their movement. And Brown had certainly used his political career to further extend rights in California, in 1976 signing a repeal of a law that had criminalized homosexuality and in 1979 appointing the first openly gay judge in the United States. Brown had also spoken out in 1978 against the Briggs Initiative, which would have made it legal to fire any school official or teacher who openly favored gay rights. During his newest term as California governor, he signed a law in 2011 requiring the history of the LGBT rights movement to be included in school curricula. “History should be honest,” he said in a statement after signing the law.
David Goodstein, the influential former publisher of The Advocate, died in 1985 after transforming the local Los Angeles newspaper he had bought into a national newsmagazine covering the LGBT rights movement.
Goodstein’s career seemed set after he founded a computerized investment company and then joined Wells Fargo Bank, which Goodstein said fired him when executives realized he was gay. Goodstein used outrage and his financial success on Wall Street to help fund a long list of causes for the expansion of LGBT rights. He bought The Advocate; founded the Whitman-Radclyffe Foundation, a gay rights organization devoted to educating the public; and he cofounded the group Concerned Voters of California to defeat a proposed law that would have banned supporters of gay rights from teaching or working in schools.
Goodstein is the creator of the Advocate Experience, a weeklong empowerment conference for gays and lesbians, a central mission of his life.
Bill T. Jones’s choreography has been performed all over the world, often by the dance company he founded in 1982 with his late partner Arnie Zane, who died of AIDS in 1988. Jones himself has been HIV-positive since 1985, never hiding the diagnosis. After Zane’s death, Jones choreographed a tribute to his partner. And in 1990, Jones was on the cover of The Advocate urging gay men to never stop loving.
Jones’s provocative piece Still/Here drew attention in 1994 to the casualties of the AIDS pandemic. In it, dancers wearing blood-red costumes moved against a backdrop of projected images of the people Jones had met while leading “Survival Workshops” across the country.
Jones is writer and director of Fela! and the recipient of many major awards, including two Tonys and a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, also known as the “genius” grant. With all that audiences have seen of him, Jones still told The Advocate in 2009, “I am mystery to myself and I am certainly not an open book to you.”
Roseanne Barr’s real-life gay brother and lesbian sister were what inspired her to fight with producers and network executives to include realistic portrayals on her hit television sitcom. And so Leon marries his partner, Scott; Sandra Bernhard plays Roseanne’s bisexual best friend, and Roseanne threatened to switch networks when some called for the episode “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to be skipped because it included her kissing another woman. Roseanne was named The Advocate’s Person of the Year in 1994.
Figure skater Rudy Galindo revealed in 1996, just before winning a national title, that he is gay, becoming a rare role model for being out in sports. Then the champion revealed in 2000 that he is HIV-positive, and ever since he’s used his story to raise awareness about prevention and life after being diagnosed. He’s received numerous honors off the ice, including the 2001 Ryan White Award. “If my story can help people — anybody at all — it is positive,” he told The Advocate in 2000. “I’ve always tried to help people, whether it be as a gay man or a Mexican-American or now, as someone who is HIV-positive.”
When Melissa Etheridge was named The Advocate’s Person of the Year in 1995, she admitting knowing why: “I’m sort of a gay success story.” Etheridge came out during President Clinton’s inaugural ball and went on to sell hit records.”What happened to me is exactly the opposite of what closeted people fear: They think they’ll lose everything if they come out. This did not happen to me at all. In fact, everything came back tenfold.” Then when Etheridge publicly fought breast cancer in 2005 and won, her story once again became a tale of hope. “Let my life have been an inspiration to anyone — gay, straight, breast cancer, woman, mother — any human being,” she said after her star was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2011. “Believe in your dreams, my friends, believe because they do come true.”
The public has followed Chaz Bono since birth, really. He was born Chastity Son Bono in 1969 to very famous parents, Sonny and Cher. And on the day in 2010 that he legally changed his name and gender the TV cameras were there once again. A documentary about his transition called Becoming Chaz aired on Oprah Winfrey’s network, and a memoir titled Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man told his story so others couldn’t do it for him.
Bono sensed, or hoped, the public was finally ready for a story like his. But he has since become a lightning rod for attacks on transgender people, heightened by his casting on the family-friendly, prime-time reality show, Dancing With The Stars. “All I can do is share my experience, and you’re either going to relate to it or not,” Bono told The Advocate in a 2011 cover story before the show. “It wasn’t my job to make other people feel OK about this. It was time to take care of myself. When that clicked it was full steam ahead.”