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Heroes, Pioneers and Trailblazers 2010 Honoree: Frank Buttino

SAN DIEGO -- They make a difference in our lives. Some are well-known activists in San Diego's LGBT community and others are working tirelessly outside the spotlight.

Ten key players in the LGBT community will be honored Feb. 26 at a Heroes, Pioneers and Trailblazers gala at The Center that is sponsored by Lambda Archives of San Diego (LASD).

In the days leading up to the gala, SDGLN will profile each of these individuals and provide our readers with an inside peak at what this award means to each honoree.

2010 Honoree Frank Buttino

Frank Buttino was born in Canstota, N.Y. He received his bachelor of arts degree from Colgate University.

Then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover appointed Buttino as a Special Agent in 1969. Buttino was assigned to Tampa, Fla., and Detroit, where he took part in investigations of the radical left and the Ku Klux Klan. In 1973, Buttino was assigned to San Diego and was one of the first FBI agents selected for specialized training by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Years later, despite Buttino’s distinguished record and valued recognition by every FBI director, he was fired when the FBI learned that he was gay. Buttino filed a lawsuit accusing the FBI of discrimination based on sexual orientation. His decision to press forward was two-fold, to regain his job and to change the FBI policy.

Concurrently in 1993, Buttino co-authored the book, A Special Agent: Gay and Inside the FBI, which chronicled his 20-year FBI career, the treatment of LGBT people in the FBI and his landmark civil-rights case. The book sold out, and Buttino was featured on numerous TV shows including “60 Minutes,” “Larry King Live” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

The success of the book shed light on his federal class-action lawsuit, and although he did not regain his job, he did receive his retirement benefits. More importantly, then-Attorney General Janet Reno issued a statement prohibiting any agency within the Department of Justice from discriminating against any employee based on sexual orientation.

Afterward, Buttino spent two years touring the country and spoke to numerous clubs, organizations, universities and corporations about his experiences in the FBI and issues of cultural diversity.

“Although I 'came out' personally and professionally later in life, I owe a great deal to all the people who came out before me,” Buttino said. “They say `courage is contagious' and certainly their courage gave me the courage to do what was right, at the right time. Some of those courageous people are being honored with me this year. I salute and honor them and all the people who have created a movement that will continue to get stronger. I truly believe eventually we will live in a country where all citizens are treated with respect, dignity, and are equal in all facets of their lives.”

Buttino is currently employed as a teacher and as a business community liaison at the San Diego Job Corps Center, where he has been since 2001.

About Lambda Archives of San Diego

LASD’s mission is to collect, preserve and teach the history of LGBT people in the San Diego and Northern Baja California region. Although most of the collections date to post-1970, there are original materials dating back to the 1930s.

LASD believes that history is best served by the records and cultural artifacts of those people who are directly involved in its events, so its staff has dedicated itself to preserving and interpreting this important historical record since its establishment in 1987. LASD is an all-volunteer, nonprofit corporation governed by a volunteer board of directors and has one of the largest collections of LGBT history in the country.

LASD Honoree Selection Process

The fundraising gala -- which debuted in 2007 -- recognizes individuals, both locally and nationally, who have made a difference in the lives of LGBT persons through their dedication, commitment, financial resources and/or political participation.

The LASD board chooses honorees based on a criterion that focuses on diversity, by including individuals from diverse segments of the community and from a broad spectrum of individual characteristics such as ethnicity, race, LGBT identification, etc. As is customary for the board, nominees who had received other major honors this year or who could not attend the event, were held out for future consideration. Although no public call for nominations currently exists, the board considers any nomination from the community to be equal to those made by its members.

Previous honorees include business professionals, activists and people like state Sen. Christine Kehoe, Cleve Jones, Tom Reise, Fritz Klein and SDGLN contributor Ben Cartwright.

For information about purchasing tickets to the 2010 gala, visit SDGLN's Events Calendar.