THE LA GAY LIBERATION FRONT, THE LA LGBT CENTER
Jon Platania entered gay liberation in the early 1970s when he joined the Los Angeles Gay Liberation Front, the pioneering gay activist group founded after the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion. He was instrumental in organizing and managing the Gay Liberation Front’s “Liberation Houses.” These houses were spread throughout the city and were the nation's first facilities for homeless gay adults and youth. The Liberation Houses were an extension of The Gay Community Services Center (now The LA LGBT Center), in which Jon was also involved. The LA LGBT Center is now the most significant center globally, with 800 employees and a $172 million annual operating budget. In the early 1970s, Jon moved to the Bay Area in California and performed in early “free theater” Angels of Light’s productions. He is now a Jungian Depth Psychologist in Berkeley, California.
Excerpt from the 1970 KCET Los Angeles program, The Gay Way, featuring Morris Kight, Don Kilhefner, and Jon Platania from the LA Gay Liberation Front and co-founders of the LA LGBT Center, and Rev. Dick Nash, a Unitarian minister.
“I asked Morris Kight from the Gay Liberation Front here in Los Angeles, 'What am I going to do? I've been arrested.' He said, 'Well, sister, dear, you can forget about your job. It's already in the paper. I've got an attorney friend, Sheldon Andelson, who can probably help you out with that. Let’s go see Shelly.'
So, we went to see Shelly that morning. I told Sheldon that I was entrapped by an undercover police officer who tried to cruise me and that I was charged with lewd and dissolute conduct. He said, 'Well, this isn't a big deal. You pay $150, plead not guilty, and it's over. You get a misdemeanor for disturbing the peace, and then it’s automatically off of your record.' I told him I didn’t do it, and he said he knew that and it didn’t matter. I was persistent, told him again, and said I would not plead guilty to something I didn’t do.
He paused for a moment, looked at Morris, and said, 'Morris, will you explain to this young man that if he's convicted, and he will be, he will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Talk to him about what that means.'
Jon Platania by unknown, circa 1970.
I told Sheldon that I planned on saying that I thought Officer Breem dressing up as a Texaco gas station attendant and saying the filthy things he said to me, trying to get me to go off into the bushes with him, was certainly more guilty of lewd conduct unbecoming to this citizen of the State of California than whatever they thought that I did. Sheldon said that's called an affirmative defense. He continued on about how there was no way in the world that any attorney, who enjoyed being a bar member, would take on my case and put forth an affirmative defense like that. He said, 'If you can find an attorney willing to do it in Los Angeles, let me know, and I'll help.'
I was so naive. I didn't fully grasp the gravity of what I was doing. When people are cast into a heroic moment, and if it's a truly heroic moment, they just step into it—I knew I had to defend myself. Praise be the blessed memory of Sheldon Andelson. He invited me back to his office and introduced me to Michael Vogel, a student at UCLA in his last year of law school.
Sheldon said, 'This man here, Jon Platania, is crazy, but he needs some help. Maybe you can take him to the bookstore and include this as part of your Summer internship with us.' So, Michael took me to the legal law bookstore downtown near the courthouse. I got a copy of California Legal Procedure and the California criminal code. At that time, I was a systems analyst and a city planner, and I thought, well if I can do that, I can do this. I read everything I could.
Right off the bat, there were nearly 25 attorneys, and I subpoenaed every member of the police commission. I subpoenaed the head of the vice squad. I subpoenaed the chief of police. I had them all by their own cajones, and they couldn't go anywhere unless they could squash their subpoenas because they had to be in town if I wanted to call them to court, which I did. Judge Nebron was very helpful to me. He certainly didn't give me a victory, I did that, but he was very helpful to me.
Jon Platania discussing is arrest in the 1972 documentary, Some of Your Best Friends by Ken Robinson.
Early on, Judge Nebron said, 'Why are you doing this? This was so easy to just get out of the way. Why are you doing this?'
I responded, 'Your Honor, if you really don't understand why, that's the problem. My life—I'm not fighting for just my life. This happens 10,000 times every year, at least, in this park. That's how many lives are ruined just in this park. There are lots of parks in Los Angeles.'
When it was my turn again, I looked at Officer Breem and said, 'Tell me, did you voluntarily enter this work with the police department?'
'Well, yes, of course, I did.'
'So, you went to the police academy?'
'Yes, I went to the police academy.'
'I assumed that at some point along the way, you were given a choice about where you want to work, and you chose the vice squad?'
'Objection, Your Honor. Objection.'
The judge overruled his objection.
'Yes, I did. I chose the vice squad.'
'Well, that's a fascinating choice.'
'Are you married?'
'This is to the point, Your Honor.'
'If I may, children?
'Well, tell me, Officer Breem, how does your wife feel about you hanging out in these different men's rooms, picking up faggots?'
He wanted to kill me so bad. I walked in a city planner, and I walked out a famous fagot. I won my case. It wasn't because I chose it. It chose me. It sounds a little evangelistic to put it that way, but it's the truth. I was off scotch free, and now I am a doctor."