By Crusader (go figure)
I am the 55-year-old activist formerly known as Andrew Ross Exler who overturned Disneyland's ban on same-sex dancing in the 1980s. I reside in Menifee, California, prior to which I resided in Palm Springs for 20 years.
For more details about any of the issues I have been involved with, please click the link to the right of this bio. The link will take you to news articles, commentary, and letters to the editor about most of the issues I have personally been involved with.
On September 13, 1980 ("Date Night"), I was disco dancing on the Tomorrowland Terrace dance floor with another teenage male (Shawn Elliott). Five security officers physically brought us to a halt, processed us at the security office and escorted us from the park. It wasn't until many years later that I learned the security office where we were detained is now referred to as the "Disneyland Jail."
In 1984, a conservative Orange County jury found that Disneyland, under California law, violated our rights based on sex or sexual orientation. It was a landmark decision that made international news, and I was told by several journalists it was one of the first times a plaintiff won any type of case against the powerful Walt Disney Company, let alone one this controversial.
No monetary damages were sought, but the way Disneyland now treats their LGBTQ guests and cast members has hopefully changed for the better.
Immediately after the verdict, a Disneyland attorney insisted the jury verdict only applied to Shawn and I, and he vowed that Disneyland would "shut down the dance floors" before permitting other same-sex couples to dance together.
Although the park immediately filed an appeal, they dropped it after my attorney (Ronald Talmo) won a landmark California Supreme Court case where the court held that business establishments violated state civil rights laws by offering 'Ladies Day' or 'Ladies Night' promotions (Koire v. Metro Car Wash). Disney knew, based on the ruling in Koire, that if Exler v. Disneyland made its way to the California Supreme Court, Disney would have probably lost!
About a year after our victory, in 1985, The Happiest Place on Earth quietly dropped the policy altogether, claiming they couldn't tell "who was dancing with whom." They denied that the Exler v. Disneyland victory had anything to do with their decision. Like, duh.
I have spent most of my life fighting for various causes and found it fitting to legally change my name from Andrew Ross Exler to the mononame Crusader in July 1995.
When I arrived at the Palm Springs courthouse for a hearing on my name change, I was followed by a local news photographer who handed the bailiff a form requesting permission to photograph the proceeding. Never having received a media request for a simple hearing like mine, the bailiff said to the photographer, "It must be a slow news day."
At age 11, while a student at Francis Scott Key Elementary School in Anaheim, I refused to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance with other students. A friend of mine told me that I had the right to remain seated so long as I did not disrupt the other students. My teacher threatened me with an unsatisfactory (U) grade in citizenship if I continued to refuse to participate in The Pledge. My parents spoke with the principal and the teacher recanted.
Not long after The Pledge incident, I refused to bow my head for silent prayer during the communal lunch gathering. I eventually became so incensed with the ordeal that I left campus with other students during lunch and ate at Funky Taco, a then-nearby taco stand.
When most 16-year-old boys were out getting into serious trouble, I chose a different way to rebel by attending school board meetings of the Anaheim Union High School District. At that time, the board consisted of a three-member politically conservative majority. They became famous for banning books, sex education, opposing the teachers' union, and an attempt to bar students from speaking at meetings. My middle brother went to a meeting and came back to tell me I was missing out on a lot of entertainment, and should go check it out.
After attending several meetings, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Anaheim Bulletin stating that at meetings the three conservative members were "behaving like animals in a circus." The board majority threatened to sue me for general, special, and punitive damages. They actually had the school district attorney send me a letter demanding that I retract my letter, but I refused to comply. The story made front page news in two Orange County newspapers (Anaheim Bulletin and The Orange County Register).
I hooked up with an attorney who was associated with a congressional candidate that I was volunteering for at the time. The attorney responded to the school district attorney's letter by stating that I was actually being kind to them, since animals in a circus are trained. He wrote that I could have described them as "animals in a jungle" in my letter, which I did not. In the end, the board majority wisely decided not to pursue legal action against me.
Tiring of my regular public criticisms of the board majority during meetings, they attempted to approve a policy that would require all students to obtain written authorization from their school principal prior to speaking at board meetings.
When the matter came before the board for a vote, I brought an attorney with me from the American Civil Liberties Union who convinced them they would face serious legal consequences if they passed the policy.
The board did not pursue the rule any further. Ironically, I met the ACLU attorney (Ronald Talmo) while volunteering for the "No on 6 - Stop Briggs" campaign, an attempt by a homophobic state senator (John V. Briggs) to have all homosexual teachers fired. The 1978 ballot initiative failed. Even then-Governor Ronald Reagan opposed it!
At age 18, I was actually able to vote for myself as a school board candidate in an election that sought to recall two of the three conservative board members. The third member's term was going to be up anyway, so he didn't have to be recalled. I didn't win, but the conservative members were recalled and I was able to learn a lot about the political system firsthand at an early age.
Almost immediately after filing my suit against Disneyland in 1980, my immediate supervisor at the County of Orange Human Services Agency told me: "It is not like you are black. Blacks have certain rights because they didn't choose to be that way. You chose to be gay, so you don't have the same rights as other minorities."
Shortly after the comment, I was fired from my job as a clerk typist on the last day of my 90-day probationary period. I predicted my firing and decided to go out with a bang by wearing a red, white and blue button to work which read "You Have Just Been Patronized by a Gay American." The bosses were not very happy because the already-prepared evaluation and termination paperwork had to be revised to include an additional offense: the wearing of my button!
Clearly, from the remarks of my supervisor (as well as other events at work), I was fired for my sexual orientation and political beliefs.
The County claimed I was making "too many typos" on documents.
I became the first person in Orange County history to file a sexual orientation discrimination claim against the County. Although a brilliant union attorney (Kathy Sage) fought very hard for me, I was not reinstated because a judge ruled at the special hearing that there was not enough evidence to demonstrate that I was fired because of my sexual orientation. His bias was crystal clear when he made a comment on the record, during his ruling, that "If I were a gay, I would try to be as perfect as possible, because gays have problems in employment."
At age 19, while my case against Disneyland was still pending, I ran for a seat on the Fullerton Unified School Board and was listed on the ballot as a "Gay Activist." According to media reports, it was the first time in Orange County that a candidate ran as an out-of-the-closet homosexual. Robert Gentry became the first openly gay elected official in Orange County and the first openly gay mayor in the nation (Laguna Beach).
During my campaign, I spoke during the public comments portion of a Fullerton school board meeting and stated that the school libraries in the district lacked books dealing with homosexuality in a positive light. During my public address, the board president stormed out of the meeting room, stating, "I'm not going to listen to any more of this." The incident made the front page of several Orange County newspapers.
As the years went by, some friends and I successfully sued many nightclubs for barring us from male strip shows or having cover charges for males while admitting females into the clubs free of charge.
One of those cases involved the famous Chippendales nightclub where my friends and I (after firing attorney Gloria Allred) negotiated a settlement whereby the club agreed to admit men to the shows. We also received a signed apology from club owner Steve Banerjee, who later committed suicide in federal prison where he was doing time on a "murder for hire" charge. My co-plaintiffs in that case were Dennis Koire and his girlfriend.
After the Chippendales victory, the three of us went on to sue Florentine Gardens for sex discrimination, a popular nightclub in Hollywood. They were admitting women wearing skirts into the club free of charge. All three of us (wearing pants) demanded free admission, but were denied.
Dennis Koire is the man who was the plaintiff in the landmark 'Ladies Day / Night' Supreme Court challenge, Dennis Koire (Koire v. Metro Car Wash). Coincidentally, his ladies night case was handled by the attorney who won my Disneyland case, Ronald Talmo.
The attorney in our successful Florentine Gardens case was a not-yet-famous young and handsome gay attorney (John Duran). The former Disneyland cast member later became Mayor and Councilmember for the City of West Hollywood.
All told, I filed dozens of complaints with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing against nightclubs and other establishments that were discriminating against men.
One of my most controversial and costly lawsuits was my legal challenge of senior citizen discounts in California. Maybe things would have been different if I had an attorney, but I decided to test my newly learned paralegal skills and represent myself (yes, a fool).
When the news of the suit made front page news in Palm Springs, Desert Hospital retracted a rather generous job offer for me to work for them as a paralegal in their new legal department. I didn't sue the hospital for changing their mind and actually found a more rewarding position in the legal field.
The 4th District Court of Appeal (San Bernardino) ruled that my senior citizen discount case was one of the most frivolous lawsuits ever to come before their court.
In lieu of paying nearly $10,000 in court-ordered sanctions, I was ordered to volunteer several hours for an elderly blind woman in Palm Springs. All of this sweat for a $1.25 discount that I thought I was entitled to.
Please visit the following page for links to interesting and historical articles / letters that have been published about Crusader (Andrew Exler):