Aristide J. Laurent moved to Los Angeles in 1964, after having served four years in the U.S. Air Force. For the first time in his life, he was freed from the authority of parents or a military regimen, and when he met a gay man by the name of Sam Allen through connections at this work in the scripting department at ABC, a whole new world became known to him.
These were the 1960s, when, as he put it, "life was beginning to change," and new possibilities seemed endless. Allen took him to a couple of movies that rattled his southern sensibilities-he had been raised in Alabama-and suggested in a relativistic way that "something that is, is, but how everyone sees it is quite different." Though he'd had same-sex encounters in the military, coming out in Los Angeles was like entering a brave new world indeed.
Laurent's first encounter with gay activism was the protest of the Black Cat bar raid in 1967. His first experience with romance was dancing with men at Gino's on Melrose, an after-hours club where same-sex couples could dance cheek-tocheek.
Through his friends at ABC, he had heard that someone had started a gay newsletter by which he was approached to get involved since he had experience in printing. His friend, Allen, had become one of the three editors. The other two were Bill Rau, who wrote as Bill Rand, and Richard T. Mitch, who became Dick Michaels. The first copies of the newsletter were created and printed in the offices of ABC. Then the editors secured an office on Western and hired Laurent to be the office manager. By this time they had decided to change the name of their Pride Newsletter to something catchier, and The Advocate was born.
While working in The Advocate's main office, Laurent became acquainted with the local gay activists of the day, such as Troy Perry, Jim Kepner, Don Slater and W. Dorr Legg. The first lesbian to write for the magazine was widely known GLBT activist Betty Berzon's partner, Terry De Crescenzo. Laurent began writing humorous pieces, in particular a column called "Mariposa de la Noche" ("Butterfly of the Night") under the pseudonym P. Nutz from a nickname he acquired in the Air Force.
Through his work, he became increasingly active in the movement and was present at many of the great moments in the local movement, such as being a monitor in the first gay Pride parade in 1970 and experiencing the police raid of Scotty's Baths on Melrose after the owner "Scotty" shot his business partner, Thomas Russell Hunter. "I'm sort of the Forrest Gump of the gay movement," Laurent quipped. "I just happen to be there when these things happen."
In 1975, Laurent moved with The Advocate to its new home in San Mateo, where he lived for nearly two years before moving back to Los Angeles and finding a job with NewsWest. While he was in San Mateo, there was a big clash in the San Francisco Assembly as to whether to pass a consenting adults bill. The Advocate had organized a huge phone bank, and Laurent called everyone he could think of to support the bill. Ultimately, the Assembly was at an impasse, and they had to fly in Lt. Gov. Mervyn Dymally to break the tie and get the bill passed. Laurent considers this to have been his most important contribution to the movement.
When asked what battles had yet to be engaged by the GLBT movement, Laurent replied that he had mixed feelings about it. He commented that for him there are two levels of gay pride. The first is when you initially come out of the closet and realize that you're different-that society doesn't accept you, but you want to be seen holding hands in public with a defiant attitude. Then you reach a level of acceptance, where you just say "F-- you. End of story. Not my problem." Laurent believes that the GLBT movement has also helped us to achieve the second level of gayness, where we don't have to make excuses for our sexuality, nor do we have to flaunt it. The dangerous part of the movement is that it has galvanized our enemies while lulling us into a false sense of security.
"Fundamentalist Christians and the Republican right believe in the struggle between good and evil," Laurent said. "Their whole existence is based on this struggle. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, we became their devil of choice and convenience."
If he is correct, then our advocacy must continue and we have much work to do to redeem ourselves in the minds of those persuadable moderates who have been voting against us and to defend the rights that we have fought so hard to secure.