I’m From New York, NY – Video Story.

by allen roskoff

Allen Roskoff, New York.

In the early 70s you have to bear in mind that there was nobody who was open. Any time homosexuals appeared on TV they had their faces digitized out or they spoke in shadows. And that’s the way it was until a group of us came out and were proud of being gay. And it was very difficult for me because I grew up, when I was about 10 years old I was aware of the fact that homosexuals were not allowed into the Armed Services so I always knew at that point that my parents would find out. And it wasn’t until 1970 that I went to a meeting at the Gay Activist Alliance and I went in there and I felt perfectly at home and I became an activist overnight. I headed the Municipal Government Committee, became a lobbyist for gay rights for over 16 years and it was a wonderful, wonderful time.

In the early 70s it was against the law for same-sex couples to dance in any establishment that had a cabaret license. So we went to–six of us–went to the Rainbow Room, top of Rockefeller Center and we went as man-woman, man-woman, man-woman and we were dancing, while a woman was singing a rather slow song, and midway through we switched partners and I was dancing with this guy. And management came over and they didn’t know what to do because we had alerted the press. As a result of that, the Consumer Affairs Commissioner, who was then Bess Myerson, changed the regulations so that same-sex couples were allowed to dance. And there was a big article in the Post called, the headline was, “Gays Win in the Waltz.” And as a result of that action, we changed the regulations. So it was early on when that changed.

Then there was a law in the books that, well, there was a regulation at the Taxi and Limousine Bureau, that if you were a homosexual and you drove a cab, you needed a letter from a psychiatrist saying that it was okay for you to drive a cab, that you were of sound mental mind in spite of the fact that you were a homosexual. So a group of us went up to the Taxi and Limousine Bureau. I was wearing work overalls, so was another guy, and we were carrying a couch. And we got the couch into the service entrance, all the way up to the Taxi and Limousine Bureau’s offices downtown by Wall Street and we kept going from office to office until we were by the Commissioner’s office and the secretary started screaming, “We didn’t order a couch! We didn’t order a couch!” So I was introduced as a doctor, saying that I was there to make sure the Commissioner, a heterosexual, was of sound mind to be Commissioner of the Taxi and Limousine Bureau. So as a result of that action, they changed the regulations there also, and you no longer had to have a note if you were a homosexual cab driver.

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I’m From New York, NY. “I lived above the bodega on 9th avenue at 51st street, the one with the twinkle light sign and the bulletproof glass — a remnant of the days when Hell’s Kitchen was a tough neighborhood. It was summertime. The apartment was a slim railroad with the toilet locked in a closet outside in the stairwell. The kitchen window faced an airshaft and had a pigeon’s nest. I saw pigeons, but never a pigeon chick. I still haven’t seen one after 11 years in Manhattan.”

I’m From Wappinger Falls, NY. “My freshman year of university, and I’m still the same. I live day to day in quiet acceptance of my circumstances. But I realize that maybe it’s even more important for the younger generation to solidify the gains made by those before them, and each individual has their part in making that happen. I just wish I had more courage to raise my hand and shout out the right answer.”

I’m From Bergen County, NJ. “In the 70’s, being gay was all about being x-rated. It was not a lifestyle but a sex act. You couldn’t be seen in public being gay, you couldn’t be open about your lifestyle, so you hid it in the deep dark corners of a world we lived in. It was actually illegal to be gay in most places. There was much violence against gays and most lived in fear of this violence.”

4 Comments:

  1. 40 years ago we were fighting simply for the right to drive a cab and dance with a same-sex partner. Today we’re fighting for full and complete equality. Amazing. We’ve come a long way. Thanks for bringing us to where we are today, Allen.

  2. Allen, thank you so much for telling this story. I can’t even imagine a time when it would be illegal for two men to dance together. And the GAA’s tactics were so clever! Why don’t we do that kind of theatrical stuff anymore? It seems like these days all we do is either go to fancy banquets with Democrats or copy the 60’s (march, handcuff ourselves to the White House, etc.) – not that that last part isn’t kind of cool, but it doesn’t get attention the way that couch thing did.

    But I digress. It’s always great to read gay stories from before I was born. I am in awe of every LGBT person who had the courage ot fight those early battles, and I’m deeply grateful that they – and you – did. Thank you.

  3. Really well-told. Thanks for what you’ve done for the community, Allen! That took guts.

  4. It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come, and what it took to get us here. Allen, thank you for reminding me not to take my blessings — and my freedom to enjoy them– for granted.

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