Don Amador

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Don Amador and Harvey Milk

Donald Grace (October 23, 1942 – August 13, 1992), also known as Don Amador, was an American gay activist. He taught one of the first Gay Studies courses in the United States. Cleve Jones, a friend of his, portrayed Don Amador in the biographical film Milk (2008).[1]

Early life

Don Amador was born as Donald Grace on October 23, 1942, in Troy, New York. He reported "knowing he was different" while growing up; his first homosexual experience occurred at age 11.[2][3]

At 17 years old he left high school and joined the United States Navy, serving in the Vietnam War. He was honorably discharged and went for one year to a monastery before leaving to join an ecumenical project in Boston. He reenlisted in 1965 and worked with Chief Richard J. Amador, a recent widower whose only son had died in the Invasion of Normandy. In 1971, the chief legally adopted him.[2]

At his adopted father's insistence, Don Amador returned to school, eventually achieving a master's degree in urban anthropology. His thesis focused on the gay community in Los Angeles.[2]


Since 1976, Don Amador taught one of the United States' first Gay Studies courses at California State University.[2]

In his Gay History course, Don argued that King David, Alexander the Great, Michelangelo Buonarotti and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky were gay and taught that Thomas Jefferson framed a Virginia bill in 1776 to make homosexuality "punishable by castration". Don Amador also separated the terms Homosexuality and Gay: "Homosexual is merely what you do in bed; being gay is an entire life-style on its own."[2] He collected 14 of the best papers of his course to create a pioneering book in Gay Studies.[4]

Don Amador was named "official liaison to the gay community" by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.[4] In 1977, he ran for the California State Assembly, ending seventh out of eighteen candidates. In 1980, he ran for the Los Angeles City Council. "I want to be a role model for gay people," Don Amador said. "Someday I hope there will be equal rights for all. We shall overcome."[2]

Personal life

Don Amador, his husband Tony Karnes, and Harvey Milk

Since 1970, Don Amador was in a relationship with Tony Karnes. They considered themselves married and had a wedding ceremony on the steps of the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, Hollywood.[2][3]

The couple, together with Don Amador's adopted father, lived in a mansion built for actress Mary Miles Minter.[2] His father, Richard J. Amador, died in 1983 at 80 years old and is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City.[5]

Don Amador died on August 13, 1992.[3]


Cleve Jones, a friend of his, portrayed Don Amador in biographical film Milk (2008), while Jones is portrayed by Emile Hirsch.[1]


  1. ^ a b Bajko, Matthew S. (24 Jan 2008). "Film crew descends on Castro". Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved 1 October 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Kalter, Suzy (12 December 1977). "'We Gays Have Our Own History and Culture'—and Don Amador Is the Expert". 
  3. ^ a b c "Don Amador Papers, 1976-1983 Coll2011.016". ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives. Retrieved 13 September 2017 – via Online Archive of California. 
  4. ^ a b Schechter, Ute. "Don Amador Papers, 1944-1983 and undated". College of William & Mary. Retrieved 13 September 2017. 
  5. ^ "Death Notices: Funeral Annoucements". Los Angeles Times. 7 September 1983. p. 296 – via 
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