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THE REGION

Hoping a strong voice will return

Friends and family rally around Stuart Timmons, a chronicler of L.A. gay life who suffered a stroke.

November 15, 2008|Kate Linthicum | Linthicum is a Times staff writer.

Stuart Timmons has spent most of his life telling the story of gay Los Angeles.

As a journalist, he has written bestselling books on the history of the community. And as a gay man, he has endured its struggles and celebrated its triumphs.

In January, as he was finishing a book about gay men who were imprisoned because of their sexuality, Timmons suffered a stroke.

Timmons, 51, lost almost all of his movement and his ability to speak; the gay community lost one of its steadiest and most poetic voices. Now the community that Timmons has spent his life documenting is helping him regain his voice.

"We just want to get him back and writing," said Trebor Healey, a friend.

Today, Timmons' friends and family will gather at a fundraiser, with performances and readings, to help pay for extra physical therapy.

Timmons is expected to attend. It will be his first time out of the hospital since falling ill.

Organizers say the event is especially urgent because of the recent approval of Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage.

"It's taken a little extra significance because our community has taken a very public defeat," said Mark Thompson, a longtime friend and neighbor of Timmons in Silver Lake. Thompson, a noted author and activist in his own right, thinks the fundraiser is a chance for the gay community to prove itself. "I don't think any community is worth its salt if it doesn't rally when it needs to," he said.

Timmons has been chronicling gay life for more than 30 years. His work as a student activist at UCLA, where he majored in film, caught the attention of Thompson, who was then the senior editor of the Advocate, a national gay and lesbian newsmagazine. Thompson asked Timmons to come on board.

"I quickly recognized in Stuart a really passionate and energetic voice," he said. "And he was a great reporter. He had a real knack for helping people to feel comfortable enough to open up about their lives."

Timmons was especially interested in chronicling the history of the gay rights movement.

"We knew that there was this huge, huge story to be told," Thomspon said. "The history of gay people in America has been a very sad story. Stuart, being a good journalist, wanted to tell that story -- tell the history, the legend and the memories of a people."

Over the years, Timmons worked as an activist and at a number of nonprofits. But his true love was writing.

He wrote "The Trouble with Harry Hay," a biography of one of the early leaders of the gay rights movement.

He combed through archives and police ledgers and conducted hundreds of interviews for his groundbreaking book, "Gay L.A: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians," which he co-wrote with Lillian Faderman. Historian Kevin Starr, former California state librarian, praised the bestselling book as "energetically researched and vividly written."

The first signs of trouble this year were a headache and blurred vision. The next day Timmons was undergoing emergency brain surgery. When his family and friends came to visit him, they barely recognized the man in the hospital bed.

"He was there, but he wasn't there," his sister, Gay Timmons, remembered.

"Stuart disappeared," Thompson thought to himself.

His illness left some in the activist community adrift. "He's touched so many lives," Thompson said. "We in the movement didn't know who we were."

A new network began to form around Timmons' hospital room (he now lives at a long-term-care facility). "Through the crisis, we've been connecting," Thompson said.

As the months passed, a familiar glimmer began to return to Timmons' hazel eyes. One day when Thompson was visiting, Timmons let his frustration spill. "I said to him, 'I know you're trapped in there. You must be depressed and angry as hell,' " Thompson said.

Then something unexpected happened. "The tears flowed," Thompson said. "We just both started to cry together. There was communication."

Today, Timmons communicates with "smiles and winks and blinks," Thompson said. And if he can regain enough small-muscle movement, his friends hope, he can return to writing.

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kate.linthicum@latimes.com

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The benefit will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. at the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, 909 West Adams Blvd., Los Angeles.

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