STUART TIMMONS, who passed away on January 28th of this year at the age of sixty, was an award-winning journalist, activist, and historian who loved telling a great story and exposing the truth. He is best known for two books, The Trouble with Harry Hay, a biography of the cofounder of the Mattachine Society and in the 1950s and the Radical Faeries in the late ’70s, and Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians, which he co-authored with historian Lillian Faderman.
What set Timmons apart from many historians was that the story he recounted was one that he had witness firsthand. He was very much a part of the L.A. community about which he wrote with such passion and clarity. Indeed it was his engagement with this community that gave meaning and purpose to his life, and ultimately helped him weather the storm to come.
In the winter of 2008, in the midst of working on an LGBT walking tour of West Hollywood, Timmons suffered a debilitating stroke that severely affected his speech and motor skills. After years of therapy and attention from family and friends, he recovered some of his motor function to the point that he could speak rather effectively and get in and out of a car (via his wheelchair) without a great deal of assistance. However, he never regained his ability to live independently.
The late Mark Thompson, longtime editor of The Advocate and author of the groundbreaking Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning, introduced Jason Jenn to Timmons in 2013. Thompson thought it would do Timmons some good to have a few younger, energetic gay friends to visit him regularly and provide fresh connections to the world outside of his care facility.
Jenn admits their initial meetings were a bit awkward, but the opportunity to work together to complete the tour allowed their friendship to deepen greatly. In 2014, Jenn heard that The City of West Hollywood’s One City One Pride LGBTQ Arts Festival was offering grants to projects that celebrated the city’s 30th anniversary in 2015. He recognized the potential in completing Stuart’s tour for this event.
So, a small team of dedicated volunteers, including Timmons’ longtime friend, Bill Fishman, worked to complete the research and transform the rough draft into a self-guided walking tour document and map. During a walk-through reading of Timmons’ draft, the idea developed of incorporating costumed performers stationed at each location as an entertaining way to express West Hollywood’s unique essence.
The 2015 tour attracted approximately 200 people, was documented in a short film, and adapted into a mobile app. The tour, and the praise garnered for it, was an emotional balm for Timmons’ final days. He was honored for his service to the community by the City of West Hollywood, and was able to watch his work unfold vibrantly around him. He enjoyed the fact that he played a role in informing LGBTQ WeHovians about their heritage.
Unfortunately, Timmons did not live to see the third installment of the tour. Two weeks after his 60th birthday he passed away from a heart attack. A memorial, complete with performances and music, was held for him at ONE Archives at USC Libraries, where he was once the executive director. A garden that he and Mark Thompson initially planted at ONE is currently undergoing renovations by a garden club assembled by Jenn, and it will soon be dedicated in the honor of Thompson and Timmons.
Timmons refused to let the history of queer Los Angeles be forgotten, because he understood the intrinsic value of these stories. Despite recent advancements, many LGBTQ people are still forced to deal with the damaging narratives created by an oppressive and outspoken moral minority. Being told the truth about their gay heritage may not be an option, nor is it presented as a necessity for their well being, which it certainly is.
Events such as the Stuart Timmons’ City of West Hollywood LGBTQ History Tour give community members the chance to be active participants in the telling of their own stories. When they walk the streets of their city, they get a sense of the many great queer folk who were there before them, paving the way for a better future, and arehopefully inspired to do the same.
If you’d like more information on the tour please visit stuarttimmons.com/tour for more information. Jason Jenn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website jasonjenn.com. Zak Clark is a writer and designer based in Los Angeles. You can view his work at zakariahclark.com