Raised in Vallejo, California, and educated in Vallejo public schools, Laird's parents were both educators. He graduated from Adlai Stevenson College in 1972 with an A.B. in Politics - and general college honors, honors from the Board of Politics, and honors on an undergraduate thesis on the history of water development in California.
Laird served for two years on the district staff of Representative Jerome Waldie, and worked during the summer of 1974 for Rep. Bill Gunter of Florida in his run for the U.S. Senate. He joined the staff of the Santa Cruz County Administrator in 1974 and later served in the personnel and social services departments. He was a manager for the County Personnel Department for the seven years prior to his election to the State Assembly.
In 1981, Laird received the most votes in a field of eight to be elected to a seat on the Santa Cruz City Council. He was re-elected as top vote-getter in 1985, serving until term limits ended his Council service in 1990. He was elected by the City Council to one-year Mayor's terms in 1983-84 and 1987-88 - being one of the first openly gay Mayors in the United States upon his first election in 1983.
Laird has been active in the Santa Cruz community, serving as Vice-Chair of the City Charter Review Committee, a founder of the Santa Cruz Community Credit Union, and a board member of the Santa Cruz Area Chamber of Commerce. He has been active on a variety of community boards.
He has been active with the lesbian and gay community, as a columnist for the Lavender Reader, a commentator on "Closet Free Radio", a founding member of the International Network of Gay and Lesbian Officials--and was an original board member of BAYMEC, the gay and lesbian political action committee for San Mateo, Santa Clara, Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties.
He also has served on the Santa Cruz Community Foundation's Advisory Committee for the Lesbian and Gay Grants Partnership. Laird lives on the westside of Santa Cruz with his partner John Flores.