"I remember Dec. 19, 1949, was a remarkably warm night," said Mr. Wynkoop, at the time a 76-year-old retired professor of English literature. "It was about 9:15 and I was walking across Washington Square Park. I saw Roy on a bench and sat down next to him."
"So you picked me up," said the at the time 74-year-old Mr. Strickland, who was retired from the flower store where he worked after having prepared displays for several department stores.
"Let's just say we picked each other up," said Mr. Wynkoop. "Do you remember what we talked about?"
"No, I just remember how handsome you looked," said Mr. Strickland.
"Thank you, that's very nice of you, Roy," said the white-bearded English scholar.
Mr. Strickland ordered for himself and his partner. "He'll have the eggs a la russe and the eggplant parmigiana" he told the waiter. "It's what he always has here, isn't that right?"
Roy Strickland and William Wynkoop marching proudly down Fifth Avenue during 1985 Gay Pride Parade.
William and Roy celebrated at Fedora's on their 43 anniversary, where they happily told a dinner companion how they had fallen in love. William, a retired professor, worried for Roy, since they were not legally married and he couldn't pass him his retirement. They both died in 2003, 2 months apart, William 87 years old and Roy 85 years old, after living together for more than 53 years.
Roy Strickland & William Wynkoop are buried together at Greenwood Cemetery, Brielle, New Jersey.
"Yes, thank you, Roy," said Mr. Wynkoop, returning to his recollection of the romance and the relationship. When they met he was a graduate student at Columbia, back from four years of wartime service in Europe as an Army medic. A New Jersey native, he had graduated from Dartmouth before the war. Mr. Strickland was from Long Island and had spent the war years working in a defense plant. After that evening in Washington Square they were to see each other on Christmas Eve.
"I was to see him at his apartment but when I rang no one answered," said Mr. Wynkoop.
"I was stuck at an office party," Mr. Strickland said.
"I hung around," recalled Mr. Wynkoop. "There was a fire across the street, so I had something to watch, but finally I went home very sad. I made one final effort and phoned Roy and this time he answered, he had just come in."
"I apologized and it all worked out," said Mr. Strickland.
Within a few months they began living together and when Mr. Wynkoop received his first teaching job at Wayne State in Detroit, Mr. Strickland took a job in Cleveland so they could meet on weekends. After two years they came back to New York when Mr. Wynkoop started teaching, first at Adelphi and later at Rutgers. Nowhere could they be fully open about their relationship. "Things were not like they are now," Mr. Wynkoop said.
He explained that during his entire teaching career, which ended with his retirement from Rutgers in 1979, he had never been able to bring Mr. Strickland to a faculty social gathering or declare himself. "I assume some of my colleagues knew I was homosexual, but it was never mentioned and if I had acknowledged it I'm sure I would have been fired. Once at a faculty meeting someone mentioned that they had seen homosexuals in India hold hands as they prayed in the Ganges. When I said something like 'that's wonderful' a young colleague stormed out saying, 'I can't listen to such degeneracy.' "
Mr. Strickland also recalled how he and Mr. Wynkoop had been received by their respective families. "I don't think I ever heard my mother use the word sex. I think deep down my mother must have always known about me, but on another level she never knew at all. As for William's family, they eventually realized that unless they accepted me, they would lose him, so I started to be invited to family events. The younger generation is much more welcoming than their parents were."
"Everything is so much better now," said Mr. Wynkoop.
"I guess in some ways things are better but there's still a great deal of discrimination against gays and there is that dreadful plague," said Mr. Strickland.
Both men had been activists with SAGE, Senior Action in a Gay Environment, and they spoke out for causes like legalized homosexual marriage. In addition, Mr. Strickland did flower arranging as a volunteer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and he read to the blind. Both men visited elderly gay people confined to their homes. Mr. Wynkoop was involved in pacifist organizations. They had traveled widely and each day they read aloud to each other.
"We have a full life," said Mr. Wynkoop.
"I could not imagine my life without him," said Mr. Strickland. "Neither could I," said his mate.
It was time for dessert. The waiter brought out a piece of icebox cake with a burning candle. All the diners sang, "Happy anniversary to you."
"How many years has it been?" asked a customer.
"Forty-three," said Mr. Strickland.
"Beautiful," said the customer.
In the East Fifties near Lexington Avenue, the friendly woman owner of the Cloisters served excellent food and enjoyed playing matchmaker for her numerous gay patrons. William Wynkoop remembered, "If you went in and there wasn't a vacant table, she would say, `Oh, as you can see, every table is taken. Would you mind sitting down with somebody else?' Another single male. And I met three or four guys there that way."
Wynkoop's future lover Roy Strickland was working at Grumman Aircraft on Long Island when he was invited to a Manhattan cocktail party with forty other gay men in 1942. "We were in a building overlooking the garden of the Museum of Modern Art. When one of the fellows I met found out I was from Huntington, he said, `Well, you must go over to Fire Island a lot. I said, `Fire Island, what's that?"'
The man recommended Ocean Beach, which had a gay hotel before Cherry Grove and the Pines became the island's principal gay outposts. The following summer Strickland wrote away to the Ocean Beach Chamber of Commerce for a list of hotels. He chose Sis Norris's (named for its owner), which had a bar overlooking the bay and a clientele that included a number of Russian ballet dancers.
"One day I was walking down the beach and I looked up in the sand dunes, and here was a guy standing there completely stark, buck naked," Strickland recalled. "And I thought, Well, I'm going up and investigate. I went up and we got together. We had sex in the dunes on a blanket. This was my first experience on the beach. It was wonderful: the hot sun beating down and the sound of the waves. Afterwards we started talking, and he said, `What do you do?' He was a bit older than I. And I told him I worked at Grumman's. He said, `Well, what do you want to do after the war?' And I said, `I think that I would like to move to New York, and I'd like to get into display work. I think I could do as nutty windows as they do at Lord and Taylor's and Bonwit Teller's and R. H. Macy's, and McCreery's.' We chatted some more. And then when I was about to leave, he said, `Well, look me up after the war. I'm display director at Bonwit Teller's.' I nearly died."
Strickland did look up his new friend when the war was over, and he still remembered him. "Unfortunately, he had no opening. But he sent me with a note to R. H. Macy, to the woman in charge of display there, and she hired me. I just realized that I would be much happier as a gay person, living in New York."
One of the critical intellectual event for homosexuals in the 1950s was the publication of a book that would become the bible of the early gay movement. William Wynkoop was a college English professor when he walked into a Doubleday bookstore in Detroit in 1951 and learned about it. He was talking to the store's gay manager about "how terrible" conditions were for gay people at the time.
"We were old enough then to really see the horror that was being perpetrated on us," Wynkoop recalled four decades later. "And the manager said, `Well, something is happening! It's the beginning of a change! We've got to organize."' He had just received a review copy of this new book: "`It lays it on the line! And it's a very fearless book."'
The book was called The Homosexual in America, and it was the first essential document of gay liberation in the United States. It was published under the pseudonym Donald Webster Cory. The author was a man with a wife and son, whose family knew nothing about his secret life as a gay oracle. His real name was Edward Sagarin, and he lived in Brooklyn. Sagarin was the friend of a printer who did work for Greenberg, which had published a few gay novels. The printer introduced Sagarin to a Greenberg editor named Brandt Aymar. After the war, Aymar and Jae Greenberg had been indicted on a federal charge of sending obscene materials through the mail.
The offending books were three volumes of gay fiction-Qua trefoil, a fine wartime novel by James Fugate; The Divided Path; and The Invisible Glass. Vociferous complaints from the mother of one of their mail-order customers resulted in the indictment. After the charges had dragged on for five years, they were settled for a fine of $3,5oo-and a promise to keep the three novels out of print.
But no official ever challenged the right to publish The Homosexual in America. "It was well accepted all over the country," Aymar remembered forty-four years after he published it. There were seven printings of the book between 1951 and 1957. For the thousands of gay readers who discovered it at stores across the country, it was a revelation. Sagarin had participated in "American life as a homosexual" since the 1920s, and he provided the most comprehensive description of gay male life in America ever written. He also sketched a broad plan to revolutionize American attitudes on the subject. Two appendixes referred the reader to 59 nonfiction works and 213 novels and dramas with a gay theme or character.
William Wynkoop was overwhelmed when he read it. "I said, `This is amazing! This is a breakthrough that has never occurred in history before!"' His lover Roy Strickland agreed: "This was a revolutionary book."
William Wynkoop was thirty-three in 1949 when he met the thirty-one-year-old Roy Strickland on a park bench in Washington Square in Greenwich Village. It was an unusually mild evening in December. Strickland was the young man from Long Island who had suffered through unsuccessful male hormone treatments paid for by his sister. Now he was working in window display at a department store. Wynkoop was a Dartmouth graduate who had become a college English professor. As a gay man in 1949, his thinking was decades ahead of its time.
Until he met Strickland, Wynkoop remembered, "There wasn't one homosexual that I had talked to-or gone to bed with-who shared my view that we were not abnormal and sick." His contemporaries told him they had never heard anything like his philosophy before. "I said, we are not inferior in any sense," Wynkoop recalled. "We don't produce babies, thank heavens, because there are too many being born as it is. But so far as our own pleasure in sex is concerned, I'm convinced the pleasure of most homosexuals in sexual activities is equal in passion and enjoyment to that which the majority of heterosexuals experience. The choice we made was to be true to ourselves.
"The world regarded us as flibbertigibbets. That was the general view of homosexual men, that they were childish, depraved, and degenerate. That was the favorite word of heterosexual society in referring to us. Degenerate people who are incapable of any lasting relationship-they are too unstable, too childish, and too vicious." This aspect of the psychiatric profession's formal judgment was its most damaging: the notion that all homosexuals were the victims of some kind of arrested development, coupled with the idea that nearly all of them could change, if only they exerted the will to do so. "I knew from the depths of my soul that this was not true. And yet I would get no support from fellow male homosexuals." When Wynkoop made his speech about the health of the average gay man in front of Strickland's roommate on West 9th Street, the roommate told Strickland, "This one's crazy. You've got to turn him in for another one." Strickland ignored the advice. In 1996, he and Wynkoop celebrated their forty-seventh anniversary together.
Two years after Wynkoop met Strickland, The Homosexual in America was published. "Before this came out the majority of people that I remember hearing talk about gays-'faggots,' as they would call us-were convinced that we choose this lifestyle," said Wynkoop. The book attracted a devoted following, even though, as Strickland remembered, "You would never see anybody reading it on the subway or a bus because of the title." And although it was stocked by many stores, "People were afraid to go in and ask."
Wynkoop and Strickland wrote to the author in care of his publisher, and Sagarin soon wrote back to invite Wynkoop to meet him for a drink at a hotel on Madison Avenue, right next to St. Patrick's Cathedral. When Wynkoop arrived at the appointed hour, he saw a single man at the bar-very short and hunched. "I do remember the shock that I got when he moved off that stool at the bar," said Wynkoop, who remembered Sagarin being severely crippled and stooped.
Later Sagarin invited Wynkoop and Strickland out to Brooklyn to meet his family. "My wife and child don't know anything about this," Sagarin told Wynkoop a few weeks after their first meeting. "He said, `I would like very much for you to come out there, to meet them, and for them to meet you. But if you do, don't say anything that would reveal what I am,"' Wynkoop declined the offer. "That sort of turned me off. I greatly admired his ability, but I didn't feel much rapport with him. He was such an entirely different type of man than I was."
However, in 1952, Wynkoop and Strickland did accompany Sagarin to a meeting of the Veterans Benevolent Association, one of the first gay groups in New York City, founded in 1945. Under discussion that evening was a motion to admit a new member. "Two or three of the members got up and in pretty strong terms opposed his being taken in," William Wynkoop recalled. "And I remember wondering, What in the world are they opposing him for? The guy is gay, he's apparently a veteran, and he wants to be a member. And he's a man. Then it came out after some discussion. He was an effeminate man, and they didn't want to have anything to do with effeminate male homosexuals. This made me boil." Wynkoop put his hand up during the meeting, but he was never allowed to speak. "When we went out, I said I thought that was absolutely infuriating. This is not what we're fighting for"-yet another form of discrimination. And Sagarin said, "Well, they were in the army and so they're very macho, and they don't want to be identified. They felt that it was just too risky to accept a member who was effeminate."
The idea that some forms of homosexuality were caused by hormonal imbalances was widely accepted before the war. Roy Strickland, a native of Huntington, Long Island, was twenty in 1938 when his sister decided he needed medical treatment. "Just after I'd graduated from high school I'd gotten a job as a beach attendant at this club in Huntington and met this very attractive young chap who was five years younger than I," Strickland recalled. "And one rainy Saturday, Morton and I had gone to the movies, and I was holding hands with him up in the balcony. My sister came into the theater, and that night she came up to my room.
"`Roy,' she said, `what does this mean? I saw you holding hands with Morton in the movies.'
"Well, I told her," Strickland continued. "I said I was very fond of this fellow and we liked to be together. We'd had no sex yet, but we loved to be together. We'd walk along the beach at night singing popular songs and go skinny dipping and that sort of thing.
"She said, `I think you need some help.' So she arranged for me to go to a doctor who had arrived in Huntington from Hitler's Austria. He heard my story, and he said, `Roy, I will advise you to stop seeing this chap, cultivate the friendship of girls, and I'm going to give you male sex hormones.' Which he did. For six sessions, my sister paying twenty-five bucks a session, which she could ill afford. In those days it was a hell of a lot of money.
"This was the standard procedure. He was going to turn me from a homosexual into a heterosexual by sticking that damn thing up my rear end. So, after six sessions I finally went to my sister, and I said, `Look, this is doing me absolutely no good. It's only making me hornier.' And she didn't even know what the word meant. But I did stop the shots."
Long before he met Morton, Strickland knew he was gay: like so many other men and women he was aware that he was different from most of his friends at a very early age. "I knew it from when I was three or four or five years old. I used to love to try my mother's hats on and go up in the attic and put on old dresses that she had. And I enjoyed playing with the girls on the block rather than baseball with the boys. In high school, I didn't go out for baseball or football or basketball. I went out for tennis and loved to swim.
"I always knew I was gay and I didn't fight it. While I was still in high school, a chap who lived two doors above us-this fellow was a real basketball star and track star-came one day, and said, `Roy, do you want to go up in the woods and shoot some crows?'
"He had a BB gun. So we went into the woods, and we didn't shoot any crows. But we had sex, and it was absolutely incredible! Then he said, `Would you like to meet me at the doctor's one evening?'
"I said, `Sure,' and he told his family he was going to the library.
"He was a bit older. And I went down and met him at the house of a doctor who was there in Huntington. I did this fairly often that winter, and it was quite an experience. Because the doctor had been married, had children. His wife had died, and his family had moved away. But he loved to entertain young men.
"He did not participate in it. He stood by the bed and told us what to do. And supplied Vaseline. Simply incredible experience. We went about once a week. That was my visit to the library in the evenings. It was really quite amazing.
"And then I learned from this chap that I was not the only one he was taking down there. He was taking four other guys, two of whom were basketball stars in high school. Simply amazing. Later I heard that this guy had married and fathered a couple of children-this guy who had taken me to the doctor's."
Source: Charles Kaiser. The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America. Kindle Edition.
Even if they had always considered December 19, 1949 to be their anniversary, their public wedding was on June 6, 1996. On that Sunday afternoon, they were a proud part of the “Great Wed-In” in Bryant Park, behind the New York Public Library at Sixth Avenue and Forty-Second Street, along with many other couples, on a great stage. Tom Duane, an openly gay city councilman, read the service from the Episcopal prayer book; the woman rabbi Beth-Simchat Torah, Reverend Pat Baumgardner, pastor of the gay Metropolitan Church in New York, and Dr. Robert Williams, a pastor at the Marble Collegiate church on Fifth Avenue, were on the stage with them – and all of them spoke. They were given a certificate of marriage, which William and Roy later had framed.
The following evening, June 17, they were married again in a most impressive ceremony at Marble Collegiate, by Dr. Williams. Starting at the back of the large church, they joined other couples in a long line that moved slowly down the main aisle, as the wonderful organ played a wedding march. Reaching the pulpit, the couples moved alternately either right or left of Dr. Williams, who then performed the ceremony. The uniqueness of the occasion, the beautiful stained-glass windows, the music, and the surprising number of couples – it all gave them an unforgettable experience.
After all these ceremonies, Ray told William: “You have finally made an honest man of me!”
Prior to William making “an honest man” of Roy with the public ceremonies they described, they had availed themselves promptly, back in 1993, of a new opportunity offered by the City of New York to register as domestic partners. On March 3, 1993, they went at the city’s municipal building and when they reached the office to which they were directed, they were assigned registry number 145. The woman clerk gave them a paper to take to another office down the hall, where they were given the certificate.
When Roy and William got there, they were the only ones, but gradually more duos appeared – male couples and female couples. They were the oldest pair there, and when they started talking to the others, they were so impressed with the time they had been together that one woman, who had brought a camera, proposed they step outside for a group photo. Once that was done, someone else suggested they all have lunch together to celebrate their nuptials, but Roy and William had to hurry to a meeting uptown. They only hope the other couples, frozen with them in that photo, had fared as well as they had.
They both died in 2003, two months apart from each other, William 87 years old and Roy 85 years old, after living together for more than 53 years. Their last residence was in Mount Vernon, Westchester County.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=elimyrevandra-20
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=elimyrevandra-20
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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