THE MATTACHINE SOCIETY, GAY ACTIVIST
Randy Wicker is possibly the longest-serving gay activist in America. Part of the original Mattachine, he became more radicalized as time went on. There was no choice.
After his failed attempt to become Student Body President of the University of Texas, he found a copy of One Magazine. It took Randy over, and he joined the Mattachine Society. His blooming radicalism ran perpendicular to the Mattachine’s inability to lure in younger members like him.
Randy founded the Homosexual League of New York which let him distance himself from the Mattachine even though he published some of their events and stances. His work with the Homosexual League of New York opened up the door for him in 1962 to appear on a WBAI radio show with a panel of psychiatrists who espoused the sickness theory of homosexuality. This is believed to be the first time an open homosexual discussed homosexuality on the radio.
The list goes on, and he is also believed to have organized the first gay protest, with national attention, in America: a picket of Whitehall Street Induction Center in New York City in 1964. In 1966, he participated in the Sip-In at Julius’ bar in Greenwich Village which was a sit-in that came close to legalizing homosexuals to be served in bars.
After witnessing the Stonewall riots and dismissing them as disorderly, he rejoined the movement with the Gay Activists Alliance. It was through the Gay Activists Alliance that he met Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson for whom legacy’s he has dedicated his life. His consistent activism is not limited to LGBTQ, in 1965, with Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Ed Sanders, he founded the New York chapter of LeMar (LEgalize MARijuana). Randy remains a cloning activist.
"The GAA was having a demonstration and was going to execute a puppy in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral to prove that a puppy was more important to the public than our community. Of course, it was a front, but the ASPCA and the cops were there to arrest us if they needed to. I remember only one person showing up, but after living with Marsha P. Johnson for nine years, she later told me that she was there with five other people.
I wrote about the event for all the major gay publications. My article was written with venom dripping off of my fingers. I wrote that ‘Mr. Sylvia Rivera showed up wearing lipstick on one ear.’ I continued with Mr. Rivera this and Mr. Rivera that. My venom was very well hidden because I am a smooth writer. When Sylvia read the article, she saw red.
So, the way I unhatched the story in my mind and then pulled it out and put it back in—I must have written Mr. Sylvia Rivera ten times, but then I went back through my archive and I found the article. I reread the article, and I only wrote Mr. Sylvia Rivera once.
For the next 20 years, Sylvia refused to talk to me, but in 1988 Sylvia and I ended up on a panel at the LGBT Center in New York. They had her speak first because she said she predated me in the movement. I objected to that because I've been in the movement since 1958.
Sylvia began screaming and I just stood there in my suit and tie and said, ‘You are not a normal homosexual, you are not a normal homosexual.’
Sylvia dashed out the back of the room and left. Marsha followed her and said, Sylvia, Randy has given me a home for nine years, why don't you forgive him? He’s not a bad person. Why don't you give him a chance?
Sylvia screamed back at her that I was a fascist pig, and said that she wanted nothing to do with me.
We didn't make up until Marsha's funeral. When we were walking Marsha’s ashes to the Hudson River, I told her that we needed to bury the hatchet.
We started talking and, ultimately, my archenemy became my best friend.
She moved into my apartment after she got kicked out of living at the Christopher Peers—she was homeless. I also offered her a part-time job at my store, and then I would let her go so she could collect unemployment. We did this for a while: she would work six months and then collect for six months. Eventually, she became the full-time manager of my store. Then, she got a job working for the Metropolitan Community Church soup kitchen making $25 an hour. For the first time ever, she had some real money coming in. Her next plan was that she and her partner, Julia, would get an apartment together.
Around the time we connected, her passion for the movement became intense again. I was there when she called people from Philadelphia and Boston and Baltimore and Washington DC and New York to have the first march specifically for trans rights. On that day, I was a little bit late getting out of my store, so I took a cab to catch up with them at Federal Plaza in front of the Supreme Court of New York. It was just an amazing thing. She ended up getting over 150 people to march.
She was always so gracious. Whenever she would go be given an award, like the Hispanic Activists of the Year award, she said, I'm just a church-going white woman.
I said, Sylvia, if people heard you saying you're just a church-going white woman, I don't think they'd be making you Hispanic activist of the year.
When she'd give a talk, she'd always say, we have to remember and repeat the work of the Mattachine, the people who predated us like Randy Wicker and Frank Kameny. It was very generous on her part.
Then, suddenly, she was struck down with liver cancer. She had quit drinking. She had sobered up. The last time I saw her, I started to tear up. I said, I always thought you would speak at my funeral service, I never thought I'd be the one that would speak at yours. She was a fierce advocate."