I first met John in 1983 when I was a new lawyer and he was in law school. John contacted me about becoming my law clerk. My first impression was that he was very smart, articulate and had tons of energy. I soon also learned that he was caring, passionate and devoted to the people and causes that he cared about.
John clerked for me for six months, passed the State Bar and became an attorney working tirelessly to defend those who needed a voice: inmates with HIV/AIDS who were being denied medication, the medicinal marijuana movement, serving as legal counsel for ACT UP in the late 1980s, trial attorney for the Los Angeles Needle Exchange Program and staunchly defending First Amendment rights for protesters. He felt it was vital that these basic human rights and truths which our Constitution so graciously grants us be afforded to all people.
The oldest of four children, John was raised by two wonderful people, Ed and Gloria Duran. His mother, Gloria, was very active in her church, community and in local schools, serving as a member of the school board. Activism runs in his blood.
When John came out to his parents, they were so loving toward him and so interested in learning more about his work in the LGBT community. They welcomed his friends and partners into their life: holidays, Fourth of July celebrations, birthday parties, his father, Ed, teaching John and me how to play craps in Vegas. This is what it meant to become a member of the Duran family, a family that embraced unconditional love and acceptance which is why to John, family means everything.
John’s biography is replete with organizations to which he has generously contributed his expertise, time and energy: Chair of the LIFE AIDS Lobby which passed legislation to protect those with HIV/AIDS, founding member of ANGLE (Access Now for Gay and Lesbian Equality), President of the Board of Directors of Equality California, and past board member of the ACLU, Lambda Legal Defense, and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force.
His dedication and outreach also extends to many other areas of the community: animal welfare and protection, historic preservation, local transportation, public safety, economic development and the fine arts. A singing tenor of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA) since 1998, John currently also serves as Chairman of the Board of the GMCLA and has held this position for close to 10 years. As he has done with so many organizations, John has helped to grow GMCLA to include 275 singing members who work to change people’s hearts and minds through music, outreach and educational programs.
Over the many years of John’s activism, dedication and outreach, he has accomplished much and continues to work to effect change wherever it is needed. The common thread in all he does is how much he cares. Caring for family, friends, community, the world is truly at the heart of this amazing human being.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
The hardest person to tell was my macho Marine dad in 1979. Turns out he is my biggest supporter.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
Oscar Wilde was witty, flamboyant, intelligent, beautiful and didn’t back down when he was prosecuted for “gross indecency with men.” He may have died imprisoned and impoverished, but he kept his dignity.
What’s Los Angeles’ best nightspot, past or present?
Studio One! In the 1970s and early ‘80s. Sexy, shirtless Marlboro men dancing under the spinning mirror ball like a great warrior tribe to Donna Summer, ABBA and Gloria Gaynor. I miss all my friends from those days who were lost in the epidemic.
Describe your dream wedding.
Ryan Reynolds and me. I converted him.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Immigration. The xenophobes hated the Irish, the Italians, the Poles, the Catholics, the Armenians, the Asians, the Jews before they hated the Latinos and the Muslims. Want to “Make America Great Again?” Welcome refugees seeking a better life.
What historical outcome would you change?
We lost 500,000 gay men in the AIDS epidemic. I lost one hundred friends. The pain will never heal. I want my friends and lovers back.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
Dancing at Studio One with 1,000 gay brothers with Sylvester singing in drag!
On what do you insist?
I insist that we never give up on birds with broken wings; every human being has value.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
A photograph of Divine looking with disgust at Donald and Ivana Trump.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Don’t Invite me to Your Revolution if We Can’t Dance.”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Ignore it. Being gay has become the most meaningful thing in my life.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
There is life beyond this world and dimension. I’ve had many “coincidences” and “contacts” from other spiritual realm.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Always do what is right even if it’s not popular.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
For my family – both my biological family and my chosen family.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That gay men all have a sense of style and design – I do not. I can’t even match socks!
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“Auntie Mame” with Rosalind Russell, not Lucille Ball!
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Gift giving at weddings.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
To love and be loved in return.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That what others think of me is none of my business.
Why Los Angeles?
I was born and raised in LA. I have seen the world. But I don’t want to live anywhere else. I love the urban grit, the night life, the cultures and music, the hundreds of languages and customs. It is a city of Angels.