Tag Archives: Randy Wicker

GAY HISTORY: September 19, 1964 - The Little Known First Ever Gay Protest

GAY HISTORY: September 19, 1964 – The First Organized Little Known Gay Protest In NYC Takes Place

 

Many people believe that the first protest against gay discrimination happened in Washington, D.C. and was led by the late, great gay activist Frank Kameny on April 17, 1965.  

Well, they are  wrong.

The first true organized protest against gay discrimination took place in the middle of Manhattan, on September 19, 1964 at the U.S. Army’s Whitehall Induction Center,over the army’s failure to keep gay men’s draft records confidential.  New York City activist Randy Wicker organized it along with Craig Rodwell (known as the Father of Pride), who would go on to open the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookstore. They were joined by eight other members of the Sexual Freedom League, (six of them straight), and they gathered outside the army’s induction center at 39 Whitehall Street in New York City to protest the armed forces’s anti-gay discrimination and complicity in the MacCarthy era witch-hunts. 

Other marchers included Renai Cafiero,who would go on to become  one of the first openly gay delegates to the 1972 Democratic National Convention and Nancy Garden and Jeff Poland of the New York League  for Sexual Freedom. Picket signs declared, “Homosexuals died for U.S., Too,” “Love and Let Love,” and “Army Invades Sexual Privacy.”

Let’s give some credit where credit is due and remember these often overlooked and brave people who stood up and spoke out out at a time when very few were willing to do so..

You can see Randy Wicker’s original photos from that event here

July 18, 1970: After the Stonewall Riots NYPD Continues Bar Raids, Mafia Bar Owners Get More Brazen

Despite the fact that the Stonewall Riots happened a year earlier change did not happen overnight for the lesbian and gay community in NYC especially when it came to the NYPD. Yes, the gay community was bit more organized but the police continued to raid gay bars and clubs, nearly all of which continued to be mob-owned. At this time in history the community actually found itself fighting on two fronts:

  1. Against direct harassment by the police.
  2.  From getting caught in the crossfire between organized crime and corrupt police officials.

Gay activist Randy Wicker described what happened at The Barn, an after-hours club in the early morning hours of July 18, 1970. in his column in GAY, the nation’s first weekly gay newspaper:

Barn Baloney Bared: New York Police raided the Barn Sunday, July 18th, issued summonses to nine employees and sent dozens of patrons scrambling out of the back rooms and into the streets. Management mafiosi reportedly took to the streets also shouting “gay power” and urging the patrons to return apparently hoping to provoke a confrontation a-la-Stonewall. The Police left shortly thereafter and most of the patrons re-entered the club.

“These raids shouldn’t be conducted at all,” Marty Robinson, GAA (Gay Activists Alliance) Political Affairs Committee chairman, declared. “We don’t like these management people running around the street shouting ‘gay power’ to further their own ends. Gay people should not simply be pawns in a power struggle between the police and underworld elements. A conference with Police Commissioner Leary has been arranged to discuss this matter more fully.

And they did meet exactly one month later.  

Robinson  led a delegation to meet with  to discuss the problem of the mafia-owned bars as well as how the police treated gay people.

As GAY reported on August 17, 1970:

Jim Owles, president of GAA, told Commissioner Leary that the homosexual community is achieving a new awareness of itself and its problems, partly as a result of its witnessing other minority group struggles and partly as a result of problem. with the police that the gay community continually faces. He charged that raids on after-hours gay bars were made at hours on weekend nights, with police by their mere presence intimidating scores of patrons. “They hang around, they check I.D .’s at random. they indulge in verbal abuse, they station one man at the door and a patrol car out front for several minutes.

Recently at the Barn (an after-hours bar), Owles contended, a police raid created a very heated atmosphere and near violence. “We’re here to ask you what can be done. Your actions make it difficult for a civil rights organization such as ours that is trying to reform the establishment. When we work against a background of such police tactics, they tend to undermine our efforts and to drive the gay community into the hands of extremists,” Owles charged. Nevertheless, he explained, “we are not asking the police to close down after-hours bars.” He said GAA’s concern was that homosexual patrons should be left alone when police take action against such establishments.”

Robinson pointed out that the syndicate owns legitimate bars, too. He said “We’re here about a social condition — syndicate control of gay bars and payoffs to police. The bars are run shabbily and are a bad influence on the young kids just coming out who patronize these places and who already don’t know what to make of themselves because of the way society receives them. Such gay bars shouldn’t be tolerated in these years. We can’t live with it. We want to see legitimate bars where there’s no guy at the door with a cigar in his face saying to kids, ‘Welcome to your life- this is it, your subculture, your subterranean existence.’ Commissioner, our desire now is that anyone who’s honest can get into business and stay in without a shakedown, and can get police protection. But we must have police protection for this to be possible.

Reinforcing Robinson’s earlier remarks, Owles told the police that successful bars not opened by the syndicate were quickly taken over by it. “In an era when homosexuals are seeking their civil rights, it’s a blatant insult to have to go to a bar taken over by the syndicate. This situation will blow up sooner or later,” he warned. “Hence GAA is pressing for an investigation of alleged collusion between the State Liquor Authority and organized crime. Meanwhile, whatever struggles there are between the police and the syndicate, we simply ask that homosexual patrons not be used as pawns in between.

This is our history.

Gay History – July 15, 1962: New York’s WBAI Radio Broadcasts Talk Show Featuring Eight Gay Men

Early in 1962, WBAI New York’s listener-supported “progressive radio station”which still exists today, aired an hour-long special, “The Homosexual In America.” It featured a panel of psychiatrists who described gay people as sick and in need of a cure — a cure that they could provide with just a few hours of therapy. Gay Activist and founder of the “Homosexual League of New York” Randy Wicker was livid, not only at the ignorance of these so-called “experts,” but also because, once again, there was a panel of straight people talking about gay people they didn’t even know.

Wicker went to the WBAI studios and confronted Dick Elman, the station’s public affairs director. “Why do you have these people on that don’t know a damn thing about homosexuality? They don’t live it and breathe it the way I do. … I spend my whole life in gay society.”  Wicker demanded equal time and Elman agreed, provided Wicker found other gay people willing to go on the air as part of a panel.  When plans for the program were announced, the New York Journal-American went ballistic. Jack O’Brian, the paper’s radio-TV columnist, wrote that the station should change its callsign to WSICK for agreeing to air an “arrogant card-carrying swish.”

The broadcast titled “Live and Let Live,” featured Wicker and seven other gay men talking for ninety minutes about what it was like to be gay.  They talked about their difficulties in maintaining careers, the problems of police harassment, and the social responsibility of gays and straights alike. The program’s host guided the programs with questions to the panel. “Is there harassment?” he asked. One panelist described some of the police harassment he had expeirenced, when one officer “roared up, jumped out of the car, grabbed me, and started giving me this big thing about ‘What are you doing here, you know there are a lot of queers around this neighborhood.’ He said, ‘You know, there’s only one thing worse than a queer, and that’s a nigger’.” (Remember this was 1962.)

The New York Times’s  called the program “the most extensive consideration of the subject to be heard on American radio” —  Newsweek called the program “96 minutes of intriguing, if intellectually inconclusive listening.” 

At least one group of listeners launched a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission to challenge the station’s broadcast license. After a lengthy investigation, the FCC unanimously agreed to renew the stations’ licenses. In doing so, the FCC issued a statement which said, in part:

We recognize that as shown by the complaints here, such provocative programming may offend some listeners. But this does not mean that those offended have the right, through the Commission’s licensing power, to rule such programs off the airways. Where this the case, only the wholly inoffensive, the bland, could gain access to the radio microphone or TV camera.

Commissioner Robert E. Lee addressed the specific complaints made about the WBAI broadcast. While he felt that a panel discussion featuring physicians and sociologists might be informative, “a panel discussion of eight homosexuals discussing their experiences and past history does not approach the treatment of a delicate subject one could expect from a responsible broadcaster.” While the FCC stressed that the ruling did not mean that the commission endorsed the broadcasts, it nevertheless was regarded as a landmark decision upholding the broadcaster’s right to determine the kinds of programs that it wishes to air.