Richard Gayer, January 11, 1994
by Marc Stein. Copyright © Marc Stein 2016. All rights reserved.
I interviewed Richard Gayer during a research trip to San Francisco in January 1994. I do not recall how I identified Gayer as a possible oral history narrator, but I think one of my other narrators told me about him and provided me with his contact information. Gayer was also familiar to me because of his high profile roles in Gayer v. Laird, 332 F. Supp. 169 (1971) and Gayer v. Schlesinger, 490 F.2d 740 (D.C. Cir. 1973), both of which addressed national security clearances for gay men. In 1997, I conducted a follow-up telephone interview to confirm a few details about where he had lived. In 2013, I found Gayer living in retirement in Phoenix, Arizona; he granted me permission to put this transcript online. Before the taped part of the interview began and in our follow-up conversation in 1997, Gayer provided me with the following biographical information:
Date of Birth: 12 December 1938
Place of Birth: Brooklyn, New York
Place of Mother's Birth: United States
Mother's Occupation: Housewife
Place of Father's Birth: United States
Father's Occupation: Motor Freight Business Manager
Religious Background: None
Class Background: Middle Class
1938-50: Brooklyn, New York (last address at 315 E.4th St.)
1950-64: 7601 Tabor Ave., Northeast Philadelphia
1964-67: 5910 Greene St., Germantown, Philadelphia
1967-97: San Francisco, California
Marc Stein Interview with Richard Gayer – 11 January 1994. Transcribed by Marc Stein, Rob Marchesani, and Abby Schrader.
MS: I thought we could start by talking a little bit about your early years. I know that you were born in 1938 in Brooklyn. Could you say a little bit about your family and what your early years were like?
RG: Well it was very, very dull. I was the only child. And it was a rather traditional family. One mother, one father, who remained married until they died a few years ago. And I grew up in Brooklyn, not knowing of course that I was interested in men.
MS: What section of Brooklyn did you grow up in?
MS: And what kind of neighborhood was that then?
RG: It was a neighborhood with mostly apartment houses, not too tall, some single homes that were usually in some sense apartments. We didn’t move around very much. We lived in one place or a couple of places.
MS: And did it have a particular ethnic or class character?
RG: In those days, there was no such thing as a minority. Nobody even talked about them. This was the 1940s. It was up to 1950 and we would rarely see a black person or any minority. People were anti-Semitic quite heavily. And so the only anti-minority remarks we heard were anti-Semitic remarks.
MS: Were there a lot of Jews in Flatbush at that time?
RG: Probably. Probably yes. There certainly weren’t any blacks that I ever saw.
MS: You said that your family was pretty middle class?
MS: And did anything dramatic change in your family during World War Two?
RG: Well when World War Two ended I wasn’t really aware of things. When did that end? I was about four years old, five years old. I don’t think I was much aware of world events.
MS: So your father didn’t leave home in any way? Your mother didn’t go to work or anything like that?
RG: No, no. I don’t think they had any involvement in World War Two.
MS: So when did you first begin realizing that you were attracted to other boys or to men?
RG: Well in Philadelphia. No, no, that’s not really correct. To answer your question indirectly, I actually had sex with other boys in Brooklyn once or twice. But to me it wasn’t sexual. It was something to do.
MS: Do you remember much about the incidents?
RG: No. It was only a couple of times.
MS: They were friends?
RG: Yeah. And I had to be under ten. And I think the other, the sort of the leader of the group, maybe was twelve. But it only happened once or twice.
MS: Was it ever talked about?
RG: No. It was just something that happened and I didn’t give it any significance at all. Rather boring.
MS: So then you moved to Philly in 1950?
RG: Yes. I must have been almost twelve at the time.
MS: And why did your family move?
RG: Oh my father got a job opportunity at the same company. So he took it.
MS: And you moved to the Northeast section?
MS: And what kind of neighborhood did you move into?
RG: That was, I guess, mostly a white Jewish neighborhood.
MS: Was your family Jewish?
RG: No. I would go to the local elementary school and start looking at boys.
MS: So you remember that from when you first moved.
RG: Yeah. Of course I just looked. There was no talk. I never heard any discussion. And you just sort of look and look and look and nothing happens.
MS: Do you remember the first gay person, looking back now, who you think you met during those adolescent years?
RG: Not really. I mean the first known gay person I met might have been in the Janus Society.
RG: Because before I went there, I had never been to a gay bar. And my recollection is that I didn’t know that such things existed. I probably would have gone.
MS: I see. So let’s talk for just a few minutes about the fifties then. You weren’t becoming sexually involved with men during the fifties?
RG: Oh no. Oh no. Except for just the sex I had in Brooklyn, which I didn’t even consider sex. It wasn’t really sexual to me. The first sex I had with a man was when I was something like twenty-four.
MS: So that would have been in the sixties.
RG: Yeah right.
MS: So do you remember hearing anything about homosexuality in your teenage years or in your early twenties? Did people ever talk about it? Do you remember anything ever being said?
RG: No, no. I mean once in a while there would be a comment about the queers or something, but I don’t recall much of that.
MS: Were you dating girls?
RG: No. I never had any interest in women, so I never had any sex with women. I guess that maybe half of gay people have. I haven’t.
MS: Was there ever any questions from your parents about that?
RG: Actually no. There was never anything like, “Oh when are you going to start dating,” or “When are you going to give us grandchildren?” There was nothing like that.
MS: And you never read anything then about homosexuality?
RG: That I’m not sure. I probably didn’t start to read until after I came out. I’m just trying to think. There must be something.
MS: Some people talk about going to the dictionary, the encyclopedia, The Well of Loneliness, or the Kinsey studies.
RG: I don’t think I looked at any of that until after I came out.
MS: The City and the Pillar?
RG: I’ve read all of those things, but probably later, almost definitely later.
MS: And you went to Central High School?
RG: Oh yes.
MS: And you knew Clark Polak in those years?
RG: Oh yeah. He was one year ahead of me. They numbered classes instead of by graduating year, I think, by number from the beginning of the school’s inception. And so I was in the class called 206. And I think that they had graduating classes twice a year. So he was in 204 or 5. And I had no idea he had any interest in men. The subject wasn’t discussed.
MS: So he wasn’t, as far as you know, known as gay in high school.
RG: No, I don’t think so. I recall he mentioned something about something going on in one of the boys’ rooms. Not when we were both going to Central, but when I later met him in the Janus Society. And he may have said something about having sex in the boy’s room but didn’t think he was gay, that sort of deal. But this was many years later. He said something about that. But I never heard any rumors in the high school about “this guy’s queer” or something.
MS: Were there people who were picked on for being gay?
RG: No. I mean you’ve got to remember this was an academic high school. People went there only for the purpose of going to college. They weren’t there serving time as required by law. And people were very serious about getting into the best college or university. And so it was a very well-behaved place.
MS: Do you know anything about Polak’s family, where they came from?
RG: Nothing at all.
MS: Where he lived?
RG: Nothing at all.
MS: Was he also a Northeast person?
RG: Not that I know of. When we were going to high school, shall we say together, I had no idea where he lived. People in Central High School, because it was the only academic high school in the city, came from all over the city. And what neighborhood he lived in I had no idea. I just didn’t know because I didn’t have anything to do with him outside the school.
MS: From what you said before, you weren’t aware of the controversies either over the Walt Whitman Bridge naming or the coffeehouse raids?
RG: No. But I wasn’t very politically interested in things until I came to San Francisco. And so I may have seen something and gave it no significance. Like who’s Walt Whitman? I recall Rizzo’s reputation as sort of somebody who would offend the American Civil Liberties Union, that he was an awful person who obviously mistreated people as a police officer and police chief. But I don’t remember any gay-related things that he did. When I started going to gay bars, which was, well you have to add 24 to 38. What do you get?
RG: It probably was later than that. Maybe ’63 or ’64. There were never any raids, for example. Most cities have had raids at one time or another. I imagine they took place in Philadelphia. I know they took place here in the early ’60s.
MS: Right, right, but not that you were aware of at the time in Philadelphia.
RG: When I started going, which probably was around ’63 or ’4, there was never even a hint of one.
MS: So maybe if we could try to trace the chronology of what happened then in the early ’60s, because you said that that’s when you got involved with men sexually, that’s when you went to the bars, that’s when you got involved with the Janus Society. What happened first? Do you recall?
RG: As I told you on the phone, I was getting sort of desperate to find a man, tired of using my hand, so to speak. And I noticed a downtown Philadelphia newsstand. I think it was within view of City Hall. Somehow I knew there was a magazine called ONE. I don’t know how I found that out. I could have been gazing at the display on the newsstand and just saw the title. I don’t know. But in any event, I picked it up because I wanted to know if there was something in Philadelphia. And I saw the Janus Society, I believe, with a post office box.
MS: Do you remember the name of the newsstand or where exactly it was?
RG: It didn’t have a name. Most newsstands don’t have names. It was a small one, but obviously it had magazines and it had some unusual ones. I recall it was on the street rather than being like a bookstore.
MS: And at that time you still hadn’t, as far as you remember, done any reading about homosexuality?
RG: I don’t think so. I don’t recall how I knew to look for this magazine unless it just caught my eye, which could have been.
MS: But you were aware of your feelings toward men?
RG: Oh indeed.
MS: Do you remember what you thought about them? Did you think, as so many people talk about, that there was something wrong with you?
RG: Oh no. But you begin to wonder, “Am I the only one? How do you tell?” If you try looking at an effeminate man, you’re always wrong or you’re wrong at least half the time. And so if the stereotype doesn’t work, what do you do? And I finally had to contact the Janus Society in writing.
MS: So you wrote a letter.
RG: Let’s try to trace back a moment. I guess I graduated from what is Drexel in 1961. I went to work full time for about a year and I think in 1962 was when I started at the University of Pennsylvania. I know at that time I was still living at home with parents. And I had a post office box to get men’s sex magazines.
MS: When did you take out this post office box? Do you remember that?
RG: It must have been after I finished with Drexel. I’m pretty sure I had a lot of this going to Penn.
MS: And what kind of magazines were you getting. Do you remember? Were they physique photography magazines?
RG: Yes, they were designed for gay men. They weren’t just general physique photography. They were definitely gay men.
MS: How do you know that? Or how did you know that they were designed for gay men?
RG: Well I mean they had everything exposed. Most of them had some printed matter in them, I suppose, to avoid being called obscene under the law.
MS: I see.
RG: It was pretty obvious that’s what it was. And from the magazines, I know you could send for samples of pictures.
MS: I see. And you would do that?
RG: I don’t think I ever bought any because they were too expensive, but I got the samples.
MS: I see. So in the meantime, I guess you wrote to the Janus Society and you probably had them write back to you at the mailbox.
RG: Probably so. I’m pretty sure that when I got involved there, no I’m certain I was living at home. Now I’m trying to figure out when I stopped living at home. It must have been when I was twenty-four or twenty-five.
MS: I think you told me before that in ’64 you moved to Green Street in Germantown.
RG: That sounds about right. I don’t know where I got that date from, but it sounds about right. It’s close. It’s close. I don’t have any records that go back that far.
MS: So what then happened with the Janus Society? Did you start going to meetings?
RG: Oh yeah. As I recall, I had hoped that this would be some sort of a sex club because I was looking for sex. I wasn’t looking for a gay civil rights organization. And I guess I didn’t realize there was such a thing as a gay bar because I certainly hadn’t gone to one. And so I go there and I see people are dressed. Some of them, Clark Polak, had a business suit on.
RG: Oh yes. And it was a smallish group. Maybe the meeting had no more than twenty people.
MS: Is that the first time that you went?
MS: And that’s about how many people usually met?
RG: Oh yes, sometimes less. It never became big in terms of membership attendance.
MS: But twenty or so?
RG: Yeah, that’s what I recall. I mean they never had much space.
MS: Where did the meetings take place? At people’s homes or was there an office?
RG: No, there was an office. What I went to was an office, again downtown. I guess it was within a couple blocks of City Hall.
MS: Let me try this out on you. 34 South 17th Street?
RG: Possibly, yeah, yeah.
MS: I think it was at the Middle City Building.
RG: Could be, could be. It was, I recall, a somewhat decrepit building. It looked old, maybe not terribly well-maintained, but at least old and something affordable, I guess.
MS: Of the twenty people who were at that meeting and then the people who you saw at meetings regularly, what would you guess would be the gender breakdown? Was it mostly men or mostly women?
RG: I think it was mostly men, but I was surprised, I guess, and at least initially disappointed that there were women there because I was looking for a sex partner. This was the object of the game, you see. And there was a surprising number of women, certainly more than one. And I don’t really remember much about any of the people.
MS: If you had to guess the percentage of people coming to meetings, what would you say? Percentage male and percentage female?
RG: Maybe a quarter female. That’s very fuzzy.
MS: And you said when you saw the women you knew that it wasn’t a sex club.
RG: No, when I saw that this was set up like a serious meeting with chairs arranged and tables and a desk or something, I guess this space also served as an office. It looked like a business meeting. I was disappointed. But that’s what it was. Now I don’t really remember much of the business that was discussed--what was the outreach, what was going on, what was the purpose of the organization? And I wish I could answer that.
MS: O.K., well I’ll ask you some leading questions about that. First, in terms of the people who were there, I’m going to try out some names on you. Do you remember Mae Polakoff?
RG: Oh yes. Oh yes.
MS: So she was still involved when you joined?
RG: I think she was an officer. She might have been vice president or something like that.
MS: She was president before Clark, so maybe you got involved while she still was president?
RG: Or thereafter. I think when I arrived, Clark was president.
MS: O.K., he became president in late ’63.
RG: That sounds about right.
MS: But you remember her.
RG: Oh yes.
MS: She was still attending. What do you remember about her? What did she do? Where did she live? Anything like that?
RG: Nothing, really nothing because she was a woman. I didn’t pay any attention to her.
MS: What about Joey?
MS: Her partner?
MS: Marge McCann?
MS: Joan Fraser or Joan Fleischmann? What about any of the men? Do you remember any of the men?
RG: I remember the first man I attempted to have sex with I met there.
MS: Oh really? Do you want to say his name?
RG: I don’t remember his name. Because I remember that the sex didn’t work. I went home with him only because I wanted to try it. He wasn’t my type. That was a mistake, of course. He wasn’t a turn on.
MS: What type was he?
RG: Well he was too big. He was sort of medium rather than thin.
MS: But did you leave the meeting together?
RG: Oh no. No, we had a date for some subsequent time. I was still living at home. I was going to Penn. And so that didn’t work. And then I met someone else. Oh it had to be there. His name was Bob. I won’t mention his last name because I don’t know what he would want. But he wanted to have some sex with me but for some reason he didn’t turn me on. So I never tried it with him.
MS: I see. Do you remember a man named Lewis Coopersmith?
RG: Oh yes. Oh that was one of the names I was going to mention. I see him still regularly.
MS: Is that right?
RG: He was never a sex partner, but he knows more about Clark than I ever did.
MS: Yes, I interviewed him. He’s still at the same address on Addison Street.
RG: Addison Street. He also went to Central High School, although I never met him there. He probably was in the same class with Clark or maybe one ahead.
MS: And Jay Mitchell? He may have come on the scene later. James Mitchell?
RG: The name sounds familiar, but there probably are a lot of Jay Mitchells around.
MS: He became Clark’s boyfriend at some point.
RG: Oh, I wouldn’t know him if I ran into him, but the name sounds familiar. Lou Coopersmith I know pretty well.
MS: What about Barbara Harris or Barbara Horowitz?
MS: She was the newsletter editor and moderated the lectures and she was a teacher at a high school. Does this sound familiar? And she also was a model.
RG: No. Most of the names I don’t remember. Clark Polak, in fact, visited San Francisco from time to time later. Lou Coopersmith I see. Since I used to go back to visit my parents regularly, I saw him at least once a year.
MS: I see. And you’d met Richard Schlegel back then?
RG: Not knowingly. I don’t know that I ever met him.
MS: Oh really?
RG: It’s possible. I mean if he said he met me, I couldn’t deny it. I know the name because it’s a published court decision and he lost, unfortunately. There was nasty language in the decision, I think, about perversion or something. But no, I never knowingly met him.
MS: I know Janus during those years had public lectures at Center City hotels.
RG: Yes, yes.
MS: Did you go to those?
RG: Yeah. I recall Clark Polak gave quite a few of them. I never gave any. I just attended a few.
MS: Do you remember any of the other speakers?
MS: Let me try some out on you. Samuel Hadden? Albert Ellis?
RG: Albert Ellis is a name I know. I don’t know whether he spoke.
MS: I see. And do you remember any other things that Janus did?
RG: Other than publish the Drum magazine, actually no. I think I made some attempt to contact churches, but there was never much of any response.
MS: What about something that happened at Dewey’s restaurant? A sit-in?
RG: Oh, I doubt if I would have participated in anything. I would probably have considered that too radical.
MS: But does it ring a bell?
RG: Yeah. There’s something, but I don’t remember any of the details.
MS: How about the July Fourth demonstrations? Does that ring a bell?
RG: No. When did they take place?
MS: At Independence Hall. Every year, I guess, from ’65 to ’69.
RG: Oh really.
MS: Barbara Gittings?
RG: Barbara Gittings, yeah. I see her once in a while. She lives on Osage Street or something in Philadelphia. She was very active at that time. I wasn’t.
MS: So as far as you know, how did the lesbians and the gay men get along in the Janus Society? Were relations pretty cooperative or was there a lot of conflict between the women and the men?
RG: I never noticed any conflict or any issues arising.
MS: Even about Drum magazine?
RG: That’s true. That did have pictures of men in it and increasingly nude. I simply don’t recall. I think Clark did what he wanted with that and I don’t know that he took too well to any criticisms or suggestions. If you wanted to submit an article for his consideration, which I did from time to time, he might publish it. He probably would just to fill the magazine.
MS: Did you write things that ever appeared in Drum?
MS: Do you recall what any of those articles were about?
RG: Not, not really. I wrote under the name of Leo Richards because I was in the closet.
MS: I’ve seen some of Leo Richards’ articles. So that’s you. I know one of those things was an account of a national conference.
RG: Yeah it was something I attended, in fact, that Clark took me to.
MS: Was this the one in Kansas City?
RG: In Kansas City, that’s right. This is the good old NACHO, I think. That’s what it was called at the time. And he sort of took me to it. He thought I should attend. At that conference I think the issue that I remember was whether or not gay people should stand up to psychiatrists who said we were sick. And the people from San Francisco who were at the conference said, “No.” That was sort of shocking to me. And Clark Polak and somebody else said, “What the hell is going on here? We know that we’re not sick and we have to educate the psychologists.” I don’t know if Frank Kameny was there or not.
MS: He probably was.
RG: He probably was. Of course, he was the leader of the pack to put down the psychologists.
MS: What was Clark’s style of leadership either in Janus or in the national movement and how would you describe him?
RG: I would say he was just a hard-nose boss. He wasn’t too interested in sharing any leadership. He was in charge and I think my impression was that he knew what was right and he knew what he wanted to do. And so I think the membership of Janus simply shrunk.
MS: And did you know much about the bookstores that he owned and the Trojan Book Service?
RG: No. I don’t know if I was ever in any of his bookstores. I mean he told me, of course, that he retained Norman Oshtry to defend him should he be charged with obscenity or anything related to that. I know he mentioned that whatever he paid his lawyer was well worthwhile. I don’t know if he ever got into much trouble. You may know.
MS: He did get into some trouble, toward the end, maybe after you left. Most of it was after you left Philadelphia.
RG: Because I left in September of 1967. That I know for sure.
MS: Do you remember something called the Homosexual Law Reform Society?
MS: That also just was starting when you were leaving. Well maybe we should shift gears for a second and talk about the bars. You said you started going to them at some point. Do you remember which was the first one that you went to?
RG: Oh yeah. I think there was something called the Allegro, which no longer exists, that was on Spruce near Broad Street, probably within a half a block.
MS: Who took you or did you go alone?
RG: Clark did.
MS: Clark did?
RG: I think he’s the one who showed me around. I remember referring to him as my cruising coach.
MS: And was he a good coach?
RG: Well yeah, I mean at least he showed me where the places were. I had no idea where to find them. There wasn’t too much to find in those days.
MS: Do you remember what year he took you? Would it have been early on, ’63, ’64?
RG: It has to be around that time.
MS: What did the Allegro seem like to you when you first walked in?
RG: Heaven. It was all these men. And Clark points out that they’re there to meet somebody. It was busy. I mean it was fairly busy even during the week and there were two or three floors opened up on the weekend. It was very popular and full of men.
MS: And what were the other bars that he showed you?
RG: The Westbury, which has moved, but then I think it was on 15th off of Spruce, maybe 16th, going west from the Allegro. But it was like a half a block. You know it was a much smaller operation.
MS: Same kind of people went to both bars or was there a different crowd, as far as you remember?
RG: The Westbury I saw as more subdued. I don’t know if it was older people or not. It could have been.
MS: And in both bars were there any lesbians in them or was it pretty much men?
RG: No, I don’t recall any women in any of them.
MS: What about racially? Was it mixed racially?
MS: All white or predominantly white?
RG: I would say all. Gay bars tend to be segregated even here. I mean de facto. I mean there’s no rule that keeps anybody out of any bar, but I never recall seeing a black person in any bar in Philadelphia.
MS: So you named those two bars.
RG: There’s another place called the Drury Lane, which I think we named the Dreary Lane.
MS: Why was it dreary?
RG: I don’t know whether it was a little bit pompous or affectatious. It wasn’t terribly crowded that I recall.
MS: So was it more upper class?
RG: Possibly or pretense toward that. I know I did not go there often.
MS: Did you ever go to any bars where there were a lot of lesbians?
RG: No. I didn’t know there were any in Philadelphia.
RG: Never heard of it.
RG: I have no recollection.
MS: What about after-hours clubs? Did you ever go?
RG: Oh yeah, there was a place, I think, called the Penrose Club.
RG: Which was definitely after-hours and I don’t know if it required some sort of pseudo‑membership. But I think it did. It did because I used the name Leo Richards there.
MS: How did you come up with that?
RG: Well Leo is my middle name. And Richard is my first name, so it’s not too much of a disguise. And so I recall having a membership card.
MS: What about the USA&A?
RG: Never heard of it.
MS: And the PBL?
RG: Never heard of it.
MS: Maybe we should talk, then, about when you started meeting men and having sex.
RG: Well that was really the problem. Even when I was put in the right place to find men, I had great difficulty meeting them. And I would learn later that even people considerably more attractive than I ever was had similar problems in Philadelphia. And I know that because they moved here. Well, you’d say “I’m from Philadelphia.” I’d be wondering why come here. And the response was that you really couldn’t meet anybody.
MS: What do you think it was about Philadelphia that made that the case there?
RG: That I could never figure out. I don’t know. Maybe I wasn’t sufficiently aggressive or didn’t dress right or whatever. People must have met people. There were lots of men.
MS: So you wouldn’t say it was a general rule in Philadelphia. It was more your own experiences in Philadelphia.
RG: As I say, I met a few other people, not too many, like two or three, who had the same experience, yet I would consider to be very attractive. The atmosphere was not uptight or anything. Especially the Allegro was packed and bodies were rubbing. I didn’t really see any difference in the atmosphere there or later when I came to San Francisco. It seemed like similar places. Yet here I could meet people. I was the same person, one or two months older than I was in Philadelphia.
MS: But things were different.
RG: Things were very different.
MS: Do you think it was about leaving home maybe, leaving your hometown?
RG: No, because Philadelphia was a very big city geographically and I was not at all concerned about running into somebody I knew. That never bothered me.
MS: So why did you use a pseudonym then?
RG: Well I did before I lived on my own. I had security clearance and before 1974 no known gay person was allowed to have a security clearance.
MS: Now why did you have a security clearance?
RG: For the electronics work. It was Defense Department‑related.
MS: I see. But you weren’t working for the Defense Department?
RG: No, but a lot of companies contract with the government and a lot of the work is classified. And to do the work, you have to have a security clearance, which is essentially a license from the government. They pat you on the head and they say you’re O.K.
MS: Did you have any questions asked, when you got the security clearance, about homosexuality?
RG: Oh that’s very strange. They never asked, but if it came up, you didn’t get it. If they had any reason to suspect you were gay, you wouldn’t get the clearance. And you may or may not be told the reason, although the policy didn’t come out until much later in a lawsuit. It was actually written down in 1963 that even an openly gay person could not have a security clearance, even a low level one. So I would have been out of work.
MS: Did you worry about this?
RG: I didn’t really worry. But I thought it wouldn’t be terribly wise to sign up at the Penrose Club after hours club with my name or in Drum magazine to use the real name, because, as you probably found out, the government is well aware of what publications were gay. I mean you didn’t have to be an expert. And they were aware that the Society for Individual Rights, which I joined here, was gay, because I got called in for questioning. I put that down on the application form. The form doesn’t ask anything about sex, but it does ask about all the membership organizations that you were ever a member in. And at the time I filled out the first form, I wasn’t a member of Janus Society, so I didn’t have to put it down. But when I was called on to fill out the form again, I had been a member of the Janus Society. I was a member of SIR and I put them both down, but I didn’t say that they were gay. I said something political, some vague word. And it didn’t matter. They knew what they were. So I got called in and I was asked questions. And I wasn’t a lawyer at the time, so I contacted Frank Kameny. I lost the security clearance. That was in 1969‑70.
RG: That was here. When I was in Philadelphia, obviously I wasn’t about to put anything in public print with my name on it.
MS: Right. So you lost a job basically over this.
RG: Here, yeah. That’s when I went to law school.
MS: Who were you working for here?
RG: A place at that time known as Sylvania. The name keeps changing. It’s called GTE Government Systems now. It’s almost out of business.
MS: And it’s because you put down Janus and SIR?
RG: Yes, even though I didn’t say they were gay. The government knew precisely what they were about.
MS: So what did they do? The boss called you in?
RG: No, no. The government does. They have investigators for security clearance and they call you in for an interview. And all they want to ask you is: “Are you gay?” and “Do you have sex?” and “How often?” and “Where do you meet the people?”
MS: Did you answer honestly when they asked you?
RG: Well Kameny developed a strategy. And his plan, which I agreed to, was I would tell them that I was gay, but I would not answer any other questions. And so I did that. And they suspended the clearance, they said, because I refused to answer the questions. That all started in 1969-70. That was here. That was not in Philadelphia.
MS: Well to get back to Philly, did you know any gay people at work?
RG: Oh no. Now that doesn’t say there weren’t any there.
MS: Right, but you didn’t know them as gay.
RG: In fact, there was one guy I was quite turned onto. And he later came to San Francisco, I think, on some sort of business. And I was still drooling over him, but there wasn’t any indication that he was gay. And so I didn’t approach him. Who knows?
MS: Maybe you can talk a little bit about your moving to Germantown? That was when?
RG: I believe 1964.
MS: And how come you decided to leave home?
RG: Well I was how many years old by then? It must have been twenty-six or twenty-five, probably twenty-five. That’s time enough.
MS: And you went to live by yourself in Germantown?
RG: Oh yes.
MS: And how come you picked Germantown?
RG: This guy named Bob, whose last name I won’t mention, he never, I don’t think, took up any leadership or anything in the Janus Society. He’s not a public person. He lived there. And so I wound up living about a block from him.
MS: I see. Did he tell you about there being an open house?
RG: Possibly. It was easy to find an apartment in those days.
MS: You liked the area from visiting him?
RG: Yeah. And it was convenient to drive to work one way and then drive to the bars the other way. And I used to go out every night.
MS: Really. From Germantown?
RG: Oh yeah. I’d go for an hour or so to the Allegro and the Westbury and I really don’t remember any other places that I went to regularly. It seems there must be.
MS: It was really those two.
MS: Did you have people over to your house in Germantown very often?
RG: Well I might have been lucky enough to meet somebody a few times a year. And the answer is yes, but very frustrating. I mean I was under thirty. I should be able to meet people.
MS: But I don’t understand. You said yes, but it also sounded like you said no.
RG: I mean a few, maybe two or three a year, maybe less. It was pretty awful.
MS: But what about friends? Did you entertain in your home?
RG: No, the apartment was just a small apartment.
MS: I see. And these people, the two or three times a year, these were people you met in the bars?
MS: Can you tell me anything about the first time?
RG: Well as I said, the very first one I met in the Janus Society. I told you that didn’t work because he wasn’t my type. I never should have done it, but you have to try sometimes. And I remember nothing about his name, other than that he was medium build. And he said he wanted to “do me.” I had no idea what that meant anyway. But the second guy I met, his name was Frank. I think Bob had introduced me to him. And then I think I ran into him in one of the bars. I recall the first time I went home with him was from the Drury Lane. I don’t know why I was there. Or maybe Bob and I and somebody else was there and then I know Frank took me to what he said was his sister’s apartment downtown, probably on Spruce Street or one of those notorious streets. It was a short walk from the bar. And so that was the first time I had sex with a man. I don’t know if I told him so or not.
MS: And that worked much better than it had previously?
RG: Because I saw him from time to time, every once a month or something, for some time. We never became lovers or boyfriends, just sex partners. Repeat sex partners. I know I would occasionally run into him in the Allegro and I would go home with him sometimes. But I mean it was almost impossible to meet people for me.
MS: I have some questions about Philly neighborhoods. Did you think that Philly had a gay neighborhood the way Castro, say, is in San Francisco?
RG: Well nobody had a gay neighborhood in 1964. But I mean the place where there were gay people, the reputation would be around Rittenhouse Square, between there and Broad Street, where there were a few gay bars, and up generally where Lou Coopersmith lived. That’s sort of the heart of it. But there wasn’t any high density of gay folks. I think there was one block, I think it existed then, where people sort of drove around.
MS: Called the Merry‑Go‑Round?
RG: Never heard of it. If you tell me the name of the street.
RG: Yeah. I never heard of it referred to as the Merry‑Go‑Round. Yeah, it was Delancey Street or Delancey Place.
MS: Right, around 18th or 19th.
RG: Yes, yes, yes. And people would drive around there. And I think I tried my hand at that and nothing happened. I also tried walking around Rittenhouse Square at various times.
MS: Was that a gay congregating place?
RG: Well it was said to be. And I would guess by walking around that there were gay people. I never managed to meet anyone.
MS: Were there neighborhoods that were particularly friendly to gay people or comfortable to live in. As a gay person, did you feel like you might live in a few different parts of town but not in other parts of town?
RG: It never really occurred to me. There wasn’t any, that I know of, high density gay neighborhood, even in San Francisco when I got here. In Philadelphia, no. Germantown was where I felt comfortable; it was never a problem there. The Northeast was more family‑oriented. It was sort of too far away from everything. I wouldn’t live there just because it took forty-five minutes to get downtown.
MS: How about Mt. Airy? Was that like Germantown?
RG: Isn’t that next? I’m a little out of touch with Philadelphia neighborhoods.
MS: How about West Philadelphia. Did you ever spend any time there?
RG: Well I guess Penn is considered to be in West Philadelphia almost. Barbara Gittings certainly lives in West Philadelphia, although I never spent any time there.
MS: How about South Philly?
RG: That would probably be considered hostile. Probably still.
MS: And North Philly?
RG: Probably not. That would not be favorable. I don’t think that would be a neighborhood I would want to go live in under any conditions.
MS: Maybe I should ask you what you were reading in these years.
RG: A lot of the stuff you remember, the old gay classics. There wasn’t that much.
MS: When did you start picking those up and how did you find out about them?
RG: It would be after I ran into Clark Polak and the Janus Society and got some hints on what to read from this guy Bob who I mentioned to you. I know he recommended some things.
MS: Do you think you were reading both lesbian and gay male novels?
MS: Mostly gay men’s stuff?
RG: Gay men’s stuff, oh yes.
MS: And do any titles stand out that you remember now?
RG: Mostly the ones you mentioned. This is so long ago; we’re going back thirty years. If you mentioned them, I probably would remember them.
MS: Were you reading James Baldwin?
RG: Oh yeah. I read one or two of his books.
MS: And Gore Vidal?
MS: The City and the Pillar?
RG: Oh yeah. I don’t really remember what any of these things were about. It was so long ago. I remember the books and the authors.
MS: And were you reading magazines other than Drum?
RG: I don’t know if I was subscribing to any magazines. I think what I would do was buy the gay male sex magazines at a newsstand or a bookstore and then send for the free samples. And I think that stopped after I moved to Germantown because I knew where to go to look for men. And so I lost interest in the pictures.
MS: So the pictures were really a substitute in some way for you?
RG: Before I met anybody, yes. Was I reading anything? I don’t think so.
MS: And was it comfortable going to these bookstores and buying this stuff? Did you have any anxieties about that?
RG: I don’t think so, because it was obvious what was going on. I don’t recall any secret areas where these magazines were. They might have been in a group together so that you could see that these were male sex magazines. But other than that, I didn’t notice anything unusual. Besides, this was in the downtown anyway.
MS: You found it pretty anonymous?
RG: Yeah, exactly.
MS: How come you decided to leave Philadelphia?
RG: Oh, because I was wearing out my hand. I was not meeting men. Then I got a job offer here where the company, Sylvania, would move me here.
MS: So San Francisco had a reputation?
RG: Yeah, well what happened is that before they hired you they would fly you out here for an interview. And so I think they provided a car. No wait a minute, something else happened before that. Before I got this job offer, I was actually assigned by the company I was working for, General Electronics, to supervise a field test near Sacramento, at a place called Davis. And that, I soon discovered, was about an hour’s drive from San Francisco. So after work I would drive in to San Francisco and I discovered that this is really where there are gay people. And I filed that away. I don’t know that I actually met anybody for sex. I don’t think so. But I knew there were the gay organizations, the Society for Individual Rights, and there were lots of gay people here. And so I go back to Philadelphia. Then it comes to pass that a company, Sylvania, was advertising in Philadelphia for engineers. And they said come to our interviews on Saturday. It was near. I know it was in a weird location, the WCAU studios. And so you go to the interview, you come out here, and I took the job quickly.
MS: And was it hard to leave Philadelphia for you?
RG: Oh no. I mean there was no hope in Philadelphia. The only thing good about Philadelphia is that it’s a relatively cheap big city to live in.
MS: But there weren’t any particularly close friends?
RG: No, no. And certainly I wanted to meet gay men and it was obvious that there was real potential in San Francisco. And there was none for me in Philadelphia. It was just getting ridiculous.
MS: Well my focus is on Philly, but I’m also curious to take this a little farther in terms of your life. Why don’t you maybe just give me some of the highlights of your years in San Francisco? I know it’s been a long time, maybe twenty years, but what are some of the key things that you think that happened for you here. One of the things obviously is that you became a lawyer and there’s that whole story.
RG: That’s true. That happened a little bit later. I was here for five or six years before I even contemplated that. But before I moved here, I think I had joined the Society for Individual Rights under the pseudonym Leo Richards. So I knew some people here who gave me some hints on where to find an apartment. And at this NACHO conference, probably in 1964, I met somebody from here, Larry Littlejohn. Is that a name you’ve seen?
RG: So he gave me advice, drove me around. And so I was able to know where to go. There were easy to find gay bars all over the place, even then. And I had a nice place to live, a job, and so I would go out on the weekends. I actually started to meet people.
MS: It sounded like in ’69 you had the problem with security clearance.
RG: So what happened? I think I got laid off in 1971, but I got another job in a non‑government‑related electronics company in San Francisco, but two years later they moved to Nevada. And I did not want to go to Reno. And so I went to law school.
MS: What law school?
RG: Hastings. At the time it was the University of California Law School and in this state it has a reputation. Outside of the state, probably it’s unheard of. And so I went there for three years. Before I went there I actually not only managed to meet someone--I met someone in a place called Phoebe’s, which no longer exists here—but I really was married for ten years, until he got tired of me. But that’s not related to Philadelphia at all. And so I got out of law school in 1975 and then I practiced law for a few years. I went back to work for the same company, the electronics company, because I got discouraged practicing law and it was a sort of a boom time in electronics. They were looking for anybody. So they took me back. And I worked there for a few more years, I guess ‘til 1979, and then I went back to practicing law.
MS: And got involved in civil rights work then?
RG: Well I had been. I was a member of the Society for Individual Rights, which sort of died in 1973 more or less. They died slowly. And the gay Democratic clubs that were created around that time. I was a member for many years of the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, which didn’t have gay in its name until recently. And so I was pretty much involved here. I guess one of the first things that came up was the picket of Macy’s because they were harassing gay people in the men’s room or something. I forget exactly what the problem was. But that was one of the ones that we were picketing then. I don’t think I bought anything at Macy’s for twenty years after that. What else? We’re far away from Philadelphia. I know I went back to Philadelphia usually every year.
MS: To visit your family?
RG: To visit the family, obviously, Lou Coopersmith, and somebody I used to work with in one of those companies. And I guess even more recently I visited just briefly the gay bars. There are a couple of bars in Philadelphia.
MS: Right. What was your impression of how things changed in Philadelphia after you left? Do you have much of a sense of that?
RG: Well obviously things were much more lively, even though some of the places no longer existed. Other newer ones did. And it turns out that after my father died in 1990, I actually met a guy in the Bike Stop in Philadelphia, actually downstairs in the pit. And I moved him out here. Unfortunately he died last year. But he told me the same thing. If anybody could meet anybody, he could. And I asked him about his experience. And he said that even though he was trying hard, he was only meeting somebody maybe once a month. And out here, after he came out here, he’d meet somebody every time he went out, if he wanted.
MS: So there’s something repressive about Philadelphia?
RG: Whatever. It doesn’t seem that way. I went and I’ve been back since to the Bike Stop and it seemed just as lively as any place here, even more so. Since AIDS hit and devastated gay people, things are not so lively in gay bars here and haven’t been for a few years. And Philadelphia, at least some of the bars, they seem more lively than here. And I asked Eric about his experience and it’s slim pickings. I mean once a month was better than I was doing, but that’s pretty bad for somebody who’s very attractive.
MS: Do you have any final thoughts as we try to wrap this up or general reflections on your years in Philadelphia?
RG: Just a good place to get out of. Thinking about it, even today it probably is. You live there, so you can tell me how easy or hard it is to meet people. But it just seems to be a place that is so horribly dull, that you lived in Philadelphia only if you had to, and that it’s just a city to get out of. Now I think, “Well where would I live if I didn’t live in San Francisco?” One would be Washington, D.C., another might be Seattle. After that I really don’t know. Or Amsterdam.
MS: But not Philadelphia.
RG: But not Philadelphia. There’s no reason to live there, except possibly because it’s relatively inexpensive.
MS: Well thanks very much for this.