Aristide “A.J.” Laurent, who co-founded The Advocate in 1967 and participated in numerous important gay-rights demonstrations, died on Wednesday after a long battle with cancer. He was 70.
Born in Magnolia Springs, AL, in 1941, Laurent was of Creole descent. He joined the Air Force in 1960 and served as a instructor and signals intelligence operator for four years. Laurent then moved to California, came out and began his career as a gay activist. It’s believed he participated in the Compton’s Cafeteria riot in 1966, and in early 1967, he was part of the riots that followed the brutal police raid on L.A.’s Black Cat Tavern. (An early LGBT-right’s flashpoint which predated the Stonewall Riots by two years).
In the wake of the Black Cat incident, Laurent formed the gay group Personal Rights in Defense and Education (PRIDE) and, in 1967, he co-founded The Los Angeles Advocate—begun as PRIDE’s newsletter—with Sam Allen, Bill Mau and Richard Mitch. (It became the national newspaper The Advocate in 1969.)
“It was dangerous to be a ‘pervert’ prior to the liberation movement. You didn’t use your real name for fear of reprisals, not only harassment by the LAPD, but the ever-present possibility of losing your day job, family and friends,” Laurent wrote in a 2007 blogpost honoring the Advocate’s 40th anniversary.
In 1975 Laurent had another brush with the law: The police raided a charity “slave auction” benefiting the Gay Community Services Center at Hollywood’s Mark IV Bathhouse. The police misunderstood the event to actually be an actual slave sale and arrested 40 people on federal slavery charges. The raid, which deployed more than 100 officers and cost $150,000, became a rallying point for the gay community.
He purchased a printing company in the 1980s and worked for a time in real estate. Laurent remained active till the end of his life, despite being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer in 1996 and given two years to live.
Out in Jersey editor Tobias Grace wrote a touching eulogy of his friend and remarked that “his final message to us all ended with ‘if you are reading this, I’m dead. Deader as the saying goes, than vaudeville. But don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve had a truly blessed life.’”
We salute Mr. Laurent, who paved the way for both LGBT rights and queer journalism.