Don Slater (1923-1997) was a major pioneer of the Los Angeles homophile movement, continuing to be active after Stonewall.
Don and his twin brother Harvey were born in Pasadena on August 21, 1923. In February 1943 Don joined the military, where he underwent training as a ski trooper. Yet a bout of rheumatic fever led to his being discharged in October of the same year. Taking advantage of the benefits of the GI Bill, Slater enrolled at the University of Southern California in February 1944. About the same time he found the the young man who became his life partner,, Antonio ("Tony") Reyes. The pair met one night in Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles, where both they were cruising.
In the early 1950s Slater and Reyes attended several meetings of the Mattachine Society, but were not impressed. Instead, they joined an affiliated group that founded ONE. Among the association's goals, as enumerated in its Articles of Incorporation, were "to publish a magazine dealing primarily with homosexuality from the scientific, historical, and critical point of view, . . . to promote among the general public an interest [in], knowledge and understanding of the problems of variation, . . . [and] to sponsor research and promote the integration into society of persons whose behavior and inclinations vary from current moral and social standards."
The first issue of ONE Magazine--24 pages long-=appeared in January 1953. This first number included an article on harassment by police, other news stories, several book notices, a poem, and a letter to readers asking for their support. The magazine proved a great success, becoming the focus of a social and educational group, ONE, Inc., edging out the Mattachine Society, which largely relocated to San Francisco under the leadership of Hal Call.
Although his hard work and imaginative approach proved major editorial assets at ONE Magazine, Slater’s maverick tendencies surfaced early, leading to a personality conflict with W. Dorr Legg. Legg sought to make ONE's mission primarily educational, offering classes and lectures. Slater preferred to keep the emphasis on the magazine, which he felt was able to reach, enlighten, and give hope to many people throughout the country. Gradually intensifying. the spat between the two men led to a power struggle for control of the organization.
When Legg, as Chairman of the Board of ONE, replaced the other members of the Board of Directors with individuals of his own choice, Slater retaliated at Easter of 1965 with a daring, possibly unprincipled move; a midnight heist of the contents of ONE's offices and their transportation to a space that he had rented in a factory building.
There followed a long, bruising legal battle, the outcome of which was to divide the group’s assets. Yet the Legg faction retained the ONE name, while Slater and his group founded the Homosexual Information Center (HIC) in Hollywood, which for a time brought out a magazine called Tangents (hence “the Tangents Group”).
Slater’s personal philosophy has sometimes been described as conservative. Yet he had strong libertarian leanings, though these were reached in a kind of seat-of-the-pants fashion without consulting any of the relevant literature. In general he probably should be described as an eclectic. At all events his guiding principles remain hard to grasp. Blessed with an abundance of opinions on matters of the day, he tirelessly fired off letters to the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers. According to his close associate Billy Glover, “the problem with Don Slater and ONE and the Homosexual Information Center is that he and they did not fit the stereotype of "gay." [Don] was not queer enough. He opposed ghetto thinking. Much of his thinking was based on such material as that of Dr. Kinsey and Dr. Hooker. He was able to work with others in the movement who had different views.”
To those who knew him, Don’s immense personal charm, wit, and kindness went a long way to compensate for the somewhat improvisational character of his views and practice.
See: Joseph Hansen. A Few Doors West of Hope: The Life and Times of the Dauntless Don Slater. Los Angeles: Homosexual Information Center, 1998; and idem, “Don Slater (1923-1997),” in Vern Bullough, ed. Before Stonewall, New York: Haworth Press, 2002, pp. 103-14. Also: C. Todd White. Pre-Gay: A Social History of the Movement for Homosexual Rights. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009.
Don Slater’s legacy can be pursued in the online publication: http://tangentgroup.org/mediawiki/index.php/Main_Page.