Meanwhile, on the West Coast. . .

by David Link

While tens of thousands of people were marching in DC for gay equality, a few of us were in Los Angeles piecing together the events on this coast that made all this possible.

The occasion was the book release party for Tom Coleman's memoirs, The Domino Effect. Tom is one of the key figures in gay history who fought tirelessly in L.A., first to eliminate our state sodomy law, then to chip away at the other vague laws which the police used to harass us, and most significantly to find a way for the culture and the law to include same-sex couples within the definition of family.

That effort put California in the nation's forefront in having our elected leaders reshape the law before the courts needed to. If you want to know how important California is in gay rights, ask yourself why the State of New York, which has had an organized gay community for about as long as California, continues -- to this day -- not to have even so much as domestic partnership for the state's same-sex couples. My answer: They lacked a Tom Coleman.

As Tom was briefly recounting his career, I could not help but notice how many of the key figures in the room he was thanking were heterosexuals whose role in our movement is both essential and unrecognized: State Senator David Roberti; Attorney General John Van de Kamp; L.A. City Attorney Burt Pines (absent due to a hospitalization, but definitely in everyone's mind); L.A. City Councilman Mike Woo; Wallace Albertson; Dr. Nora Baladerian; Judge Arthur Gilbert. Whether you know their names and contributions or not, these are what fierce advocates of gay equality look like.

But they had to be coaxed into action by gay advocates with farsightedness, political wisdom and sheer common sense: Jay Kohorn and Chris McCauley, and, of course, Tom, were at the head of that list. This small band of people came together and used the freedom and tools our political system offers to turn a world that had no place at all for same-sex couples into one where our chief complaint is that the compromise they devised and then implemented -- domestic partnership -- is viewed by some people as good enough, at least for us. It was a fine compromise for the world that existed in the 1980s and 90s; but it is a step toward equality that arose from political necessity; it is not equality itself.

If what you know about the history of gay rights in California is Harry Hay and Del Martin and Harvey Milk, there are entire chapters left to understand. Tom's book will not be the last word on these people's place in our history. But it is a good start.

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