In the late 1940s, thousands of lesbian and gay soldiers who had streamed through New York City on their way to Europe settled in Manhattan, bolstering what was already the largest gay community in America. In 1945, they founded the Veterans Benevolent Association, one of the first gay organizations ever incorporated in New York State.
The group met monthly and then twice a month on the fourth floor of a building on Houston Street near Second Avenue. Jules Elphant attended its meetings right from the start, when he was twenty-two. "A lot of it was uncomfortable because in those days we just didn't talk about being gay," Elphant remembered. "Of course in those days we weren't "gay". I think we were just "queer." Or "sissies." Sissy was the word that took care of everything, but so many of us were so far from being sissies. I always found myself in a macho-type way."
The association's dances attracted nearly two hundred men. The dances also attracted a couple of veterans' wives, including the woman married to James Lang, who founded the association and did most of the work that kept it together until 1954. "The women were all straight, but they knew their husbands were gay and they just went along with the husbands," said Elphant.
"Once we dressed in bathing suits," he continued. "Everyone was introduced as Miss So-and-so. I was very uncomfortable with that. But I whipped up my own red, white, and blue custume - I was Miss Patriot. And I met a lot of interesting people because of that - "Oh, you've got such powerful legs." This was one of the first socials I went to, and it brought me out. Suddenly I made more friends that way.
"Sex was one of the things of course that made us part of the group. But sex was not the basic reason for it. It was social - they wanted to be together with people [like themselves] so they could relax more." All the members were white, with lots of Jews, Irishmen, and Italians. And there were plenty of couples. "We also had a "Stitch and Bitch gang" - for sewing and gossiping. I was doing beaded fruit. I've been doing it for years. It's expensive, but it's wonderful therapy.
"We had actual business meetings of the veterans association. We discussed general subjects and we had speakers - and a legal adviser. Occasionally someone was having problems in their job and we would discuss what we could do about it. Of course, the best thing you could do was keep your mouth shut. And try to stay out of problems. That was the easiest way in those days. When we were at our jobs, we had to be careful. I had to be careful. I didn't show any signs of pansyism or anything like that. But other people who do have a little more feminism within themselves did have problems."
Elphant liked the association's big gatherings because "you would get to meet two or three that you'd become interested in... That's how I met my lover in 1946. When I first joined, he was one of the young people at a house party. He was seventeen, and he was interested in me and I didn't even know it. I was so shy about things. And somebody had to come over and tell me, "Do you know Richard is interested in you?" And so I got friendly with Richard. We were inseparable after that for quite a while. On and off, we were together thirty-four years. But we never lived together." --The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America by Charles Kaiser
Burial: Calverton National Cemetery, Calverton, Suffolk County, New York, USA, Plot: 26, 0, 363
The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America by Charles Kaiser
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Grove Press (June 10, 2007)
Amazon: The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America
ANew York TimesNotable Book of the Year and winner of a Lambda Literary Award,The Gay Metropolisis a landmark saga of struggle and triumph that was instantly recognized as the most authoritative and substantial work of its kind. Filled with astounding anecdotes and searing tales of heartbreak and transformation, it provides a decade-by-decade account of the rise and acceptance of gay life and identity since the 1940s. From the making ofWest Side Story,the modern Romeo and Juliet tale written and staged by four gay men, to the catastrophic era of AIDS, Charles Kaiser recounts the true history of the gay movement with many never-before-told stories. Filled with dazzling characters — including Leonard Bernstein, Montgomery Clift, Alfred Hitchcock, and John F. Kennedy, among many others — this is a vital telling of American history, exciting and uplifting
More Real Life Romances at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Real Life Romance
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