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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 4, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 44
The Advocate's founder Aristide 'AJ' Laurent dies
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The Advocate's founder Aristide 'AJ' Laurent dies

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Aristide J. Laurent, Gay rights pioneer and founder of The Advocate newspaper, died on October 26 after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was 70.

Of Louisiana/Creole ancestry, Laurent was born in Alabama to Duval 'Buck' Laurent, a farmhand, and Betty Weeks. He was reportedly an altar boy and choir leader at his local church.

After graduating from high school in 1960, Laurent joined the Air Force, where he served four years as a signals intelligence operator.

According to Laurent, his sexual orientation became an issue during his service. He was investigated by Air Force officials during his service in Turkey, and questioned by federal agents after his discharge, he said.

Despite threats, he refused to inform on other Gay service members and remained proud of his military service.

He later held a sign at the 1993 Gay march on Washington that featured a copy of his honorable discharge under the words, 'I Served My Country! Did Rush Limbaugh?'

After his discharge, he moved to California and came out. Between 1964 and 1967, he worked at KABC radio in Los Angeles.

Laurent always said he had participated in the 1966 Compton's Cafeteria riot, and the riots following the 1967 police raid on the Black Cat Tavern, both incidents preceding the more famous Stonewall riot in 1969.

In the wake of these incidents, Laurent joined Steve Ginsberg's PRIDE organization and co-founded The Los Angeles Advocate.

While helping to publish the early editions of the paper, he wrote a nightlife column ('Mariposas de la Noche') under the pseudonym 'P. Nutz.'

'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,' he wrote in a 2007 blog marking The Advocate's 40th anniversary.

In 1975, Laurent was one of 40 arrested in a police raid on Hollywood's Mark IV Gay Bathhouse following a mistaken tip that the 'slave auction' being held there to benefit the Gay Community Services Center was an actual, illegal slave auction.

The raid, which involved more than 100 officers and cost an estimated $150,000, became a public relations disaster for the police and a rallying point for the Gay community. Felony slavery charges against those arrested were later dismissed.

That same year, when The Advocate was sold and relocated to the Bay Area, he also moved there for a short time before returning to Los Angeles and founding NewsWest to fill the void left by The Advocate.

After NewsWest ceased publication in 1977, he bought a printing company and became active in ACT UP to advocate for people with HIV/AIDS. He also participated in the 1993 March on Washington.

In 1996, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Given only two years to live, Laurent managed to outlive those expectations by more than a decade.

'Thanks to the prayers and support of friends and family - and some highly qualified medical professionals - I have lived many years past the doctors' predictions,' he wrote in a letter released after his death.

He spent his final months in hospice care with several caretakers and 'my loyal band of crazy friends.'

In his posthumous letter he wrote, '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.'

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