Wicker was born Charles Gervin Hayden, Jr. in Plainfield, New Jersey in 1938. He was raised in Florida by his grandparents. His first exposure to the homophile movement came while he was a student at the University of Texas at Austin in the mid-1950s, when he discovered a copy of the ONE, Inc. magazine One. Wicker affiliated himself with the New York City chapter of the homophile Mattachine Society (MSNY) in 1958, while still a UTA student, spending the summer in the city to work with the organization. Mattachine took a conservative stance in its work for homosexual rights and Wicker, who was younger than the leadership and many of the other members, joined with other younger activists like Craig Rodwell in an effort to make the group more radical. "He was, let's say, a disturbing acquisition for the movement", recalled then-MSNY president Arthur Maule. After convincing MSNY that it should begin publicizing its events, Wicker printed up flyers for an upcoming lecture, leading to a standing-room-only crowd. It also led police to persuade MSNY's landlord to evict the group from its recently-occupied headquarters.
As he became more active in the movement, Wicker apprised his family of his activities. Hayden, Sr., while skeptical that his activities would amount to anything, asked him not to use "Charles Hayden" for his activism. He adopted the pseudonym "Randolfe Hayden Wicker", retaining his family name as his new middle name to maintain the family connection. He legally changed his name in 1967.
Peter Ogren, Prescott Townsend, Tom Doerr, Mark Golderman, and Randy Wicker in Sheep Meadow by Kay Tobin Lahusen (1970)
Randolfe Wicker and David Combs (with family) in photo sent out announcing their union, 1972
Randy Wicker became involved with the great love of his life, a beautiful feminine little queen, David Combs. In 1972, they had an informal wedding ceremony in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden's “Garden for the Blind”. Wicker leased a small shop in West Village, at 506 Hudson Street, where he remained for the following 29 years. Wicker and Combs had a stormy 18-year relationship during which they sometime parted company. On January 27, 1990, they had a more “official” deathbed wedding.
Returning to Austin in the fall of 1958, Wicker tried to start a homophile organization called Wicker Research Studies. WRS adopted the philosophy of the San Francisco-based lesbian group Daughters of Bilitis and operated across Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. WRS was short-lived, however, as Mississippi denied the organization's application for incorporation. He also became active in the civil rights movement. Wicker ran for student body president but during the campaign the dean received notification that Wicker and his roommate were gay. The roommate was expelled but Wicker was not, as his public profile protected him from an administration that wanted to handle the situation quietly. This helped convince him that homosexuals needed to engage in militant action.
Upon graduating from UTA, Wicker relocated permanently to New York City and renewed his ties with MSNY. Stifled from radical actions under the purview of MSNY, Wicker created the "Homosexual League of New York" in 1962, a front organization that existed, largely on paper, to allow Wicker distance from MSNY to operate. When WBAI radio broadcast a panel of psychiatrists who espoused the sickness theory of homosexuality, Wicker persuaded the station manager to put him and several other openly gay people on the air to "rap" about their lives. The 90-minute program, believed to be the first in the United States, aired in July, 1962. Several mainstream media outlets covered the broadcast favorably, including The New York Times, The Realist, Newsweek, the New York Herald Tribune and Variety.
As a result of the publicity, from 1962 through 1964 Wicker was one of the most visible homosexuals in New York. He spoke to countless church groups and college classes and, in 1964, became the first openly gay person to appear on East Coast television with a January 31 appearance on The Les Crane Show. Wicker is credited with organizing the first known gay rights demonstration in the United States. Wicker, along with Rodwell, sexual freedom activist Jefferson Fuck Poland and a handful of others, picketed the Whitehall Street Induction Center in New York City in 1964 after the confidentiality of gay men's draft records was violated. In 1965 he ran for the office of secretary for MSNY as an independent. He lost, but a slate of radicals whose views aligned with his swept the elections, effectively taking control of the organization. He supported himself by operating, with his lover Peter Ogren, Underground Uplift Unlimited, a slogan-button and head shop. The couple ran the shop from 1967 to 1971, and used the proceeds to open an antique and lighting store. Wicker ran his store for 29 years. (Picture: Randy Wicker & Peter Ogren, 1964)
Randy Wicker met Peter Ogren in 1964. They planned on moving to Los Angeles but stayed in NYC while Ogren finished school. By 1967, Ogren had graduated and they had opened the slogan-button and head shop. By 1972 Wicker had bought Ogren out and Ogren went to Israel to visit an old friend from his college days.
After “paying off” his first lover, Peter, Wicker became involved with the great love of his life, a beautiful feminine little queen, David Combs (1953 - January 27,1990). In 1972, they had an informal wedding ceremony in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden's “Garden for the Blind”. Wicker leased a small shop in West Village, at 506 Hudson Street, where he remained for the following 29 years. Wicker and Combs had a stormy 18-year relationship during which they sometime parted company. A heterosexual employee of Wicker called it “the longest running divorce in the history of Greenwich Village”. On January 27,1990, they had a more “official” deathbed wedding. The story of their final exchange of vows, carried by the Hoboken Reporter, sit in one corner of the window of Wicker’s shop. Young people from an AIDS Theater Group once excitedly recognized Wicker as the owner “of that shop with the marriage story in the window”.
Wicker was a witness to the Stonewall riots in June, 1969, which are recognized as the start of the modern gay liberation movement. He later recalled seeing rioters set bonfires and throw garbage barrels through the widows of Greenwich Village businesses. "All I could think was, Oh my God, they're going to burn up a little old Italian lady or some child is going to be killed and we're going to be the bogey-man of the seventies." Despite his early activism, Wicker denounced the riots at a community organizational meeting a week later, saying that "throwing rocks through windows doesn't open doors" and dismissing "disorderly" behaviour as a means to social tolerance. He temporarily distanced himself from the gay movement, but returned in 1972 to co-author The Gay Crusaders, a compilation of profiles of early movement leaders, with Kay Lahusen (writing under the name "Kay Tobin"). (Randolfe Wicker & David Combs, 1982)
Wicker joined the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), a more structured activist group that formed in response to what was seen as the excesses of the Gay Liberation Front. GLF tended to split its focus amongst many different left-oriented political activities, including opposition to the Vietnam War and support for the Black Panthers. GAA members wanted to concentrate their energies exclusively on gay rights issues. As a member of GAA, Wicker participated in a series of zaps, occupation-style actions. Wicker sometimes covered these events for gay media outlets like Gay and The Advocate.
Since 2009, he has been documenting and participating in the Radical Faerie communities in Tennessee and New York.
Randy Wicker at Uplift Lighting, 1991, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1124087)
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digital
Gay Crusaders (Homosexuality : Lesbians and Gay Men in Society, History and Literature) by Kay Tobin & Randy Wicker
Hardcover: 238 pages
Publisher: Arno Pr; Reprint edition (September 1975)
Amazon: Gay Crusaders (Homosexuality : Lesbians and Gay Men in Society, History and Literature)
Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities by John D'Emilio
Paperback: 286 pages
Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (October 1, 1998)
Amazon: Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities
With thorough documentation of the oppression of homosexuals and biographical sketches of the lesbian and gay heroes who helped the contemporary gay culture to emerge, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities supplies the definitive analysis of the homophile movement in the U.S. from 1940 to 1970. John D'Emilio's new preface and afterword examine the conditions that shaped the book and the growth of gay and lesbian historical literature.
Stonewall [Illustrated] by Martin Bauml Duberman
Reading level: Ages 18 and up
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Plume (January 1, 1995)
Amazon: Stonewall [Illustrated]
On June 28th, 1969, the Stonewall, a gay bar in New York's Greenwich Village, was raided. But instead of the routine compliance expected by the police, patrons and a growing crowd decided to fight back. The five days of rioting that ensued changed forever the face of gay and lesbian life. This book tells the story of what happened at Stonewall, recreating those nights in detail through the lives of six people who were drawn into the struggle for gay and lesbian rights. Their stories combine into a portrait of the repression that led up to the riots, which culminates when they triumphantly participate in the first gay rights march of 1970.
Men Like That: A Southern Queer History by John Howard
Paperback: 418 pages
Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (July 2001)
Amazon: Men Like That: A Southern Queer History
We don't usually associate thriving queer culture with rural America, but John Howard's unparalleled history of queer life in the South persuasively debunks the myth that same-sex desires can't find expression outside the big city. In fact, this book shows that the nominally conservative institutions of small-town life—home, church, school, and workplace—were the very sites where queer sexuality flourished. As Howard recounts the life stories of the ordinary and the famous, often in their own words, he also locates the material traces of queer sexuality in the landscape: from the farmhouse to the church social, from sports facilities to roadside rest areas.
Spanning four decades, Men Like That complicates traditional notions of a post-WWII conformist wave in America. Howard argues that the 1950s, for example, were a period of vibrant queer networking in Mississippi, while during the so-called "free love" 1960s homosexuals faced aggressive oppression. When queer sex was linked to racial agitation and when key civil rights leaders were implicated in homosexual acts, authorities cracked down and literally ran the accused out of town.
In addition to firsthand accounts, Men Like That finds representations of homosexuality in regional pulp fiction and artwork, as well as in the number one pop song about a suicidal youth who jumps off the Tallahatchie Bridge. And Howard offers frank, unprecedented assessments of outrageous public scandals: a conservative U.S. congressman caught in the act in Washington, and a white candidate for governor accused of patronizing black transgender sex workers.
The first book-length history of the queer South, Men Like That completely reorients our presuppositions about gay identity and about the dynamics of country life.
More Particular Voices at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Particular Voices
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