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Stuart Timmons, author of 'Gay L.A.' and noted LGBT historian, dies at 60

Stuart Timmons, a journalist, activist and authority on the role of gays and lesbians in Los Angeles history, has died. He was 60.

Timmons, who suffered a debilitating stroke nine years ago but remained active in the community, died Saturday, his sister Gay Timmons said.

Timmons was best known as the author of two books on gay history. With Lillian Faderman, he co-wrote “Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians” (2006), which traces more than 200 years of gay and lesbian life in Los Angeles, beginning with Spanish missionaries' encounters with cross-gendered Native Americans in the late 1700s.

He also wrote “The Trouble With Harry Hay” (1990), a biography of the founder of the Mattachine Society, the nation's first gay political organization, which was launched in Los Angeles in 1950.

In an interview before her death last year, Jeanne Cordova, a longtime activist in the Los Angeles gay and lesbian community, called Timmons “a great gay historian.”

She said his book with Faderman, “Gay L.A.,” was “the most in-depth look at the history and development of the gay liberation movement in Los Angeles, the best to be published so far.”

Born Jan. 14, 1957, in Minneapolis, Timmons grew up in the Bay Area, which along with New York had long overshadowed Los Angeles as a bastion of early gay activism. But the UCLA journalism graduate discovered that Los Angeles, his home for three decades, deserved more credit for its role in the vanguard of the gay liberation movement.

As he and Faderman noted in their book, Los Angeles was the site of many firsts in gay history. In addition to the Mattachine Society, these include the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, the country's first major gay community center; the Advocate, the nation's first gay magazine; and the Metropolitan Community Church, the largest LGBT-friendly church, with 300 congregations in 22 countries.

“To put it in a word,” Timmons told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2007, “without Los Angeles, we wouldn't have institutions. We wouldn't have the institutional press and we wouldn't have the institutional church.”

The book, written in what Timmons called a “juicy but scholarly” style, also described a disturbance at a Los Angeles doughnut shop frequented by gays that may have been the first gay uprising in modern times. The incident at Cooper's Donuts took place in 1959, a full decade before the more famous Stonewall Riots in New York City that are widely regarded as the event that launched the gay rights movement.

He and Faderman conducted 300 interviews for the book in addition to examining old newspaper articles, police ledgers, letters and photographs. Much of the research was conducted at the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, a major repository of materials by and about gays and lesbians, on the USC campus. Timmons was its executive director from 2002 to 2004 as well as a member of the board of directors.

“Gay L.A.” received high praise from critics, such as Eloise Klein Healy, who wrote in the Los Angeles Times that it was “meticulously researched” and “reads like a novel.”

The book was honored in 2007 with two Lambda Literary Awards.

Timmons' first book, “The Trouble With Harry Hay,” chronicled the life of Hay, a longtime Angeleno who paved the way for the modern gay rights movement when he started the secretive Mattachine Society in 1950. Publishers Weekly said the book was “written with a verve worthy of its subject.”

Though they lived on opposite sides of the country, Gay Timmons said she spoke with her brother on a daily basis. She said that following his stroke, he remained active in the community, though on a limited basis.

“The love and support of his community was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen,” she said.

Besides his sister, Timmons is survived by his father, Samuel;  a second sister, Emily Theobald; and four nieces, Kaitlin and Madeleine Franklin and Emilia and Mariah Theobald.

Elaine Woo is a former Los Angeles Times staff writer.

In an earlier version of this story, it incorrectly stated that the late activist Jeanne Cordova had commented on Stuart Timmons' death. She commented in that earlier interview on the influence of Timmons' book, "Gay LA."
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