His papers are held at ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives. Clippings, correspondence, manuscripts, publicity, academic papers, political flyers, newssheets, photographs, organizational lists, notes, and college course materials, 1976-1983, documenting the educational and political activities of Don Amador.
On the first day of class Don Amador always gave his California State University students a quiz. The subject of his course was homosexuality, and he expected few correct answers. (Sample true-false question: North American Plains Indians appointed homosexuals high priests or medicine men until around 1920. True.)
"Nobody knows much about gay history or sociology, and gays don't know any more than straights," Amador said. "This is the only minority group in the world that doesn't know anything about its roots."
Amador had been trying to change that since 1976, when Cal State asked him to start what was one of the few gay studies courses for credit at an American college.
Don Amador, his husband Tony Karnes and Harvey Milk
Don Amador served in the U.S. Navy. He was aide to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, and later he was a candidate for the California State Assembly in 1977 and for the Los Angeles City Council in 1980. Amador developed one of the first accredited college courses in gay studies. He was featured in People magazine on more than one occasion for his work in creating a Gay History and Education, and for his 10+ year relationship with Tony Karnes. Amador passed away in 1992 from an AIDS related illness.
Don Amador and Harvey Milk
Don Amador, his husband Tony Karnes (firsts from the left) and other friends.
At Cal State's Long Beach and Northridge campuses and at Los Angeles Community College, Amador digged back into history, claiming such figures as Alexander the Great, David of the Old Testament, Michelangelo and Tchaikovsky as gays. He pointed out that Thomas Jefferson, "who said all men were created equal," backed a 1776 Virginia bill that would have made homosexuality punishable by castration. Amador also drew some semantic distinctions: "Homosexual is merely what you do in bed; being gay is an entire life-style on its own." He even took his students—who he estimated are 40 percent gay, both closeted and open—on a field trip to a gay bar.
Born Donald Grace, Amador grew up in Troy, N.Y. knowing he was different. He once overheard his mother asking an aunt "why I was a sissy and didn't play ball with the other boys. It was very painful."
He had his first homosexual experience at 11 with a playmate and at 17, with his parents' consent, quit high school to join the Navy. He served in Vietnam and the 1961 Dominican Republic uprising. After an honorable discharge he spent a year in a monastery, having converted to Catholicism in the Navy, but left to work for an ecumenical council project in Boston. Then, reenlisting as a Navy recruiter in 1965, he served with Chief Richard J. Amador, a member of an old and wealthy San Francisco family. Amador's only son was killed in the Normandy invasion and his wife had just died.
"Don told me he was gay and I didn't care," Richard Amador recalled. "That is not the kind of thing I think is important." In 1971 Amador, then 70, legally adopted Donald Amador, 28. "My parents weren't surprised," Don said. "They'd already gotten a lot of shocks from me."
His new father insisted Don complete his education. Seven years later Amador had earned a master's in urban anthropology, for which he wrote a 400-page thesis on the L.A. gay community. Since 1970 he had considered himself "married" to Tony Karnes, who once worked for Hollywood agent-producer Allan Carr and was then a real estate salesman. They conducted their own wedding ceremony, exchanging rings on the steps of Hollywood's Blessed Sacrament Church, which was locked at the time so they couldn't go inside as planned.
Amador, his father and Karnes lived quietly in a mansion built in the '20s for silent film star Mary Miles Minter. It was decorated with memorabilia from the late director John Ford, whom the elder Amador met when both worked in the OSS in World War II.
Young Amador was named L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley's liaison to the gay community and, despite losing a bid for the California Assembly (he finished seventh of 18 candidates), he admitted to serious political ambitions. "I want to be a role model for gay people," Amador said. "Someday I hope there will be equal rights for all. We shall overcome."
Don Amador was featured in People magazine on more than one occasion for his work in creating a Gay History, Gay Education, and for his 10+ year relationship with his "husband" Tony Karnes. Amador passed away on August 13, 1992, from an AIDS related illness.
Amador briefly appears in the movie Milk, played by his friend, activist Cleve Jones.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=e
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=e
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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