While many of us associate the 1960s and 1970s with sexual liberation, mainstream films were still fairly buttoned up. But Pat Rocco made gay films when no one else dared take the risk.
His homocentric, erotic love stories and were the first films of their kind to be shown in public movie theaters.
Yet while the prolific gay beefcake photographer was defining modern male erotic film, Rocco in his spare time was documenting the fledgling gay rights movement. Rocco was behind the scenes, often working with his friends at The Los Angeles Advocate as a photographer capturing early pride festivals, rallies, and other historically important events from which images are rare. Rocco wasn't always behind the camera, though. He became the first official president of Christopher Street West Association, the organization behind Los Angeles's pride festival, and he helped launch the first festival in 1974.
A diva of the genre before the term "reality television" had been invented, the vivacious and lovably over-the-top Lance Loud made history when he came out as gay on the groundbreaking PBS documentary series An American Family in 1973. An instant gay icon, Loud went on to front the new wave band the Mumps, which became a staple of Max’s Kansas City and CBGBs during the clubs’ heyday. With an irrepressible personality and a tendency toward performance, Loud became a contemporary of Warhol superstars Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn and went on to become a celebrated columnist for the The Advocate as well as Details, Interview, and Creem.
Loud died in 2001, but his legacy as a pioneer and true advocate lives on. HBO’s Emmy-nominated film Cinema Verite, a behind-the-scenes look at An American Family, premiered in 2011 and starred Diane Lane, James Gandolfini, Tim Robbins, and Thomas Dekker as Lance, whose coming-out figured prominently in the film.
—Tracy E. Gilchrist
When Harvey Milk was assassinated, it was Dianne Feinstein who found his body. She announced to the public that he and San Francisco mayor George Moscone had been killed by former city supervisor Dan White.
“There was a bullet hole through Harvey,” Feinstein told The Advocate in 1998, describing the horrific scene she discovered. “I put my finger on his wrist to try to get a pulse. I knew he was dead. It was a terrible, terrible moment.”
Feinstein, who took over for Moscone as San Francisco mayor in 1978, memorably eulogized both of the fallen leaders. Then she set about calming and uniting the city after White was given a light sentence and riots broke out.
The tragedy changed the course of her life, and Feinstein went on to become one of the LGBT community's strongest allies. She is now California's senior U.S. senator and was among the few, for example, to oppose the Defense of Marriage Act when it was proposed in 1996. Feinstein has introduced the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA if passed by Congress.
— Lucas Grindley
Just as AIDS began to ravage New York City in 1981, Sheryl Lee Ralph starred in the original production of the Broadway smash Dreamgirls. That time in her life would be formative, as she watched many of her gay friends succumb to AIDS. Ralph soon became one of the earliest celebrity HIV activists, with her work chronicled in a 1983 edition of The Advocate. The actress — who would move on to roles in Moesha and Barbershop — has raised millions for HIV charities through her DIVA Foundation and her Divas Simply Singing events. While many have turned their back on AIDS-related work, Ralph continues to shout from the rooftops.
"A young man called me up yesterday to say, 'Miss Ralph, you told me to take the test ... and I'm positive,'" Ralph told us recently. "That call has never changed over 30 years — the same fear, the same apprehension."
Sir Ian McKellen came out as gay at age 49, in 1988, while debating on a radio show. McKellen and other, were fighting to stop legislation called Section 28 from becoming law in the United Kingdom. It prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” through gay-themed books, films, and artwork in libraries and schools. It passed in Parliament but was repealed in 2003.
McKellen went on to help found the British LGBT rights group Stonewall UK. He regularly visits schools when asked to advise on how to handle antigay bullying. And he sometimes talks to students during the visits and reflects on his years as an actor and activist. If he tells the story of coming out, McKellen might describe it as he did once in a newspaper op-ed about Section 28. "A bit late in the day, but it remains the best thing I ever did," he wrote.