Aristide J. “AJ” Laurent, the openly gay co-founder of The Advocate newspaper, died on October 26, 2011, at his home in Los Angeles. He was 70 years old and had been ill for many years. Born in Magnolia Springs, Alabama, Laurent grew up helping his father with farm work and being an altar server at his local parish. Following high school, Laurent served in the Air Force for four years, living in Turkey and later in Mississippi. Both during his service and after he was honorably discharged, Laurent was questioned about his sexual orientation by Air Force officials and federal agents, but refused to inform on fellow gay service members.
After moving to California, Laurent joined Richard Mitch, Bill Rau, and Sam Allen in creating a gay newspaper, The Los Angeles Advocate, in 1967. Working at ABC Television at the time, Laurent would print early issues of the newspaper in the studio’s basement. He wrote a nightlife column under a pseudonym, a practice he later commented on in a 2007 blog honoring the publication’s 40th anniversary, saying, “You didn’t use your real name for fear of reprisals…the ever-present possibility of losing your day job, family and friends.” The paper later became a national magazine, was renamed The Advocate, and was sold and relocated to the Bay Area. Laurent initially moved with it, but soon returned to L.A., where he helped start NewsWest, a gay-related newspaper that folded in 1977. Beyond the newspaper, Laurent was an advocate for LGBT equality, attending marches, speaking out against police harassment, and, in the 1980s, joining the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).
In 1996, Laurent was diagnosed with prostate cancer and was told he had only a few years left. He remained active though, corresponding with friends, pursing his interest in gardening and exploring his family history. He is survived by two nieces, a nephew, and countless friends. Memorial services will be held on November 5 in his hometown of Magnolia Springs, Alabama. GLAAD joins those mourning the loss of Aristide J. Laurent and appreciates and remembers his work to elevate LGBT voices and advocate for equality.