Judge Won't Change Gay Man's Gravestone

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Saying that a court should not be writing inscriptions for headstones, a judge on Friday rejected a Glendale man's request to alter the wording on the marker for his gay activist son, who died of AIDS last year.

Even after the plaintiff modified his request, asking only that his name be added, Glendale Superior Court Judge Joseph Kalin found that the inscription over George Lawrence's grave had been arranged by friends the deceased had designated in his will. The judge ruled that he could not allow the man's father to change the inscription just because he did not like it.

"If (George Lawrence) chooses to have someone other than his father make funeral arrangements, he has that right," Kalin said. "Is it for this court to interfere and rewrite the headstone? I think it is outside the scope of what the court should interfere with."

Alexander Lawrence sued Forest Lawn Memorial-Park in Glendale last month, asking that the inscription on his son's grave marker be altered to eliminate references to AIDS. The father also requested that his name be added to the plaque, which reads:

"I give thanks for my beloved spouse, Gus, my friends, my mother, Mira, my dogs, and beauty of living. AIDS is a hard disease to die from, but I rejoice in knowing that my friends will carry on against AIDS and gay oppression."

In his suit, Alexander Lawrence argued that the inscription did not reflect "the true intent and desires of the decedent."

George Lawrence and his companion, Gus DiClairo, helped found the Uptown Gay and Lesbian Alliance to bring together gays in Highland Park and Mt. Washington. Friends said that George Lawrence, who died in 1991, left elaborate instructions specifying exactly what he wanted the epitaph to say.

Alberto Valdivia, executor of the estate, said he followed those wishes.

"He hated the fact that his son was gay," Valdivia said of Alexander Lawrence. "And he hated the fact that his son was proud of being gay."

Caught in the middle of the battle, Forest Lawn officials took no position, saying they would abide by the court's decision.

Before Kalin ruled Friday, Alexander Lawrence, through attorney John Gantus, withdrew his request to have the references to AIDS stricken from the marker.

After talking to his son's former lover before the hearing, the elder Lawrence decided that his son had wanted to draw attention to the deadly disease, Gantus said.

"This is not an issue of AIDS," Gantus told the judge during the hearing. Alexander Lawrence was "very proud of the fact that he (George Lawrence) was gay and proud of the gay lifestyle." But Gantus said his client felt slighted because his name is not included on the inscription and still wanted his name added.

"He is not recognized on the marker as the father," the lawyer told the judge.

But Kalin said he believed it would set a dangerous precedent if he allowed the stone to be altered after it had been set in place by the dead man's legal representatives.

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