Albert L. Gordon dies at 94; attorney fought for gay
A heterosexual whose twin sons were gay, he battled
bigotry in law enforcement and successfully argued for
the revocation of laws against consensual homosexual
By Elaine Woo
September 6, 2009
Albert L. Gordon, an attorney who helped advance gay
rights in the 1970s and '80s by challenging
discriminatory practices and laws, including a
successful effort to decriminalize consensual
homosexual acts, died Aug. 10 in Los Angeles. He was
He died of natural causes, his son Harold said.
Gordon, a heterosexual whose twin sons were gay,
became a lawyer in his late 40s and devoted most of
his practice to defending the rights of homosexuals
and battling the bigotry of law enforcement. Often
working for free, he became known as "the leading
pro bono lawyer to L.A.'s gay community," historians
Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons wrote in their
2006 book "Gay L.A."
"Before there was a straight-gay alliance in
America, there was Al Gordon," the Rev. Troy Perry,
a longtime activist and founder of the gay-friendly
Metropolitan Community Churches, said in an
interview last week. "When other people wouldn't
touch us, he did. He was a hero."
One of Gordon's most memorable cases stemmed from a
notorious raid on a gay bathhouse on Melrose Avenue
in 1975, when scores of Los Angeles police officers
broke up a mock slave auction staged as part of the
entertainment for a gay community fundraiser.
Apparently not amused by the gimmick, the police
treated the event as actual human slave trafficking,
a felony, and arrested 40 participants. Gordon
helped win their release.
He supported a second mock auction, organized by
Perry to raise defense funds, by going on the
auction block himself. He went for $369 to his wife,
He also represented gay activists in another cause
celebre: a 10-year battle to force Barney's Beanery,
a popular West Hollywood restaurant, to remove an
offensive sign. The misspelled sign, "Fagots Stay
Out," was taken down in 1984.
Born in Pittsburgh on May 29, 1915, Gordon moved to
California with his parents when he was an infant.
He attended Los Angeles City College, where he met
Lorraine. They were married in 1937 and their twin
boys, Harold and Gerald, were born later that year.
Lorraine died in 1987 and Gerald died in 1996. In
addition to Harold, Gordon is survived by his second
During World War II, Gordon worked as an efficiency
engineer at Lockheed but was fired because of his
pro-union activities, Harold Gordon said. He
subsequently started a janitorial service, which he
ran with his first wife for about 15 years.
At the urging of a friend, he enrolled at the San
Fernando Valley College of Law. He passed the bar in
1962 when he was 47.
While Gordon was in law school, Gerald was arrested
for soliciting a vice officer. "My whole world just
fell apart," Gordon told The Times in 1974. "I'd
always had the normal stereotype of a homosexual as
a child molester or somebody effeminate. When my own
son was arrested, I just couldn't believe it was
true because he was neither of those things."
Gordon and his wife separated under the strain
caused by the arrest, and he was on shaky terms with
his son for several years."He was homophobic,"
Harold, who later came out as gay, said of his
father in an interview last week.
What softened Gordon's attitudes toward homosexuals
was getting to know several of Gerald's gay friends
when they came to him for legal advice. One night he
summoned the courage to ask his son if he was gay.
When Gerald answered yes, Gordon broke down and
asked his outcast son to forgive him.
"I was the one who changed," Gordon recalled in the
That year he joined with gay liberation leader
Morris Kight to devise a challenge to the 1915
California law that made oral sex a felony. They
recruited a gay male couple, a lesbian couple and a
heterosexual couple to sign affidavits stating that
they had broken the statute against oral copulation.
Gordon then informed the LAPD that the "felons"
would present themselves for arrest at the Los
Angeles Press Club. As he expected, no police showed
up but a media circus ensued, guaranteeing coverage
of a law he regarded as hypocritical.
"He loved antics. He liked to really stir things up
and fight for the little guy," said Los Angeles
lawyer Thomas F. Coleman, who was a UCLA law student
when he began working on gay rights issues with
Gordon in the early 1970s.
Undeterred by the absence of police, Kight made a
citizen's arrest and drove the three couples to the
Rampart police station, but the station commander
refused to bite.
The next stop brought the offenders no closer to
jail. At the office of the assistant district
attorney, they were told no charges would be pressed
because prosecuting private sexual acts between
consenting adults was against the district
Armed with this statement, Gordon and Kight argued
that the state penal code was misleading and should
be changed. In 1975, the state Legislature agreed by
revoking the laws against consensual homosexual
acts. The change removed a major tool of police
harassment of gays.
"He helped change the legal system in California,
particularly in Los Angeles," Coleman said. "The gay
and lesbian community really owes him a debt of