Living LGBTQ History Archives - StoryCorps

The Santa Protest — How One Man’s Firing Became A Fight For AIDS Awareness

In 1989, at the height of the AIDS crisis, Mark Woodley was caring for his dying best friend, while coping with his own HIV status. Although an architect by training, he saw an ad in the Village Voice looking for Macy’s Santas. He applied and got the job. He loved the experience of bringing joy to children, and Macy’s invited him back the following holiday season. 

By 1990, he had started taking the drug AZT, which was the primary treatment for AIDS. When he went in for his physical, he was honest about his medication regimen — AZT in combination with Prozac — and he knew he made a mistake.

Mark waited for Macy’s to respond, but no news came about the job. He was called into an HR meeting and told that they wouldn’t be rehiring him back as Santa. He filed a lawsuit against the department store.

Around the same, Jon Winkleman, a young gay man, was taking his first steps into activism with the coalition group ACT UP — along with their subsidiary group Action Tours, which carried out covert direct actions. He read a blurb in the back of the New York Times about Mark’s lawsuit, and he and the group decided to do something about it.

The Action Tours protest at the Macy’s 34th St Store in NYC on Nov 29, 1991. Photo by Meryl Levin.

After the protest, Mark never returned to Macy’s as Santa, but in the following years, he donned the red suit again at different pediatric AIDS clinics and organizations. 

After losing his job as Macy’s Santa, Mark Woodley welcomed the chance to play the part for children with H.I.V. at the State University Health Science Center in Brooklyn. Dec. 16th 1994, by Michelle V. Agins, for the NY Times.

Mark eventually moved to Amsterdam, where he opened a small import business. Jon stayed in New York until 2015, when moved back home to Rhode Island. He is still an activist. They connected virtually for StoryCorps almost 30 years to the day of the protest. 

Mark Woodley in Amsterdam, and Jon Winkleman in Rhode Island, after their StoryCorps recording on November 22nd, 2021. For StoryCorps.
Top Photo: The Action Tours action at the Macy’s 34th St Store in NYC on Nov 29, 1991. Photo by Meryl Levin.

Originally aired December 10, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

My Aunties

 Lessons in love during an epidemic. 

Stefan Lynch and Beth Teper

Stefan Lynch was raised by gay parents in the early eighties. He was cared for and loved by a group of adults, largely gay men, who he called his “aunties.” Stefan remembers the succession of AIDS-related illnesses in his family, including the death of his father in ‘91.  Even in the face of terrible sickness and loss, his aunties showed him how to survive and care for one another.

This all-new animated short is presented as part of the new StoryCorps animation season, Father Figures, where father figures and their children share the strength and wisdom that they draw from each other.

Listen to Stefan and Beth’s original StoryCorps interview.

Para subtítulos en español, haga click en el ícono de YouTube en la esquina derecha, y escoja “Spanish” bajo la opción de “settings” y “subtitles/CC.

The Door She Opened

“I knew I was a girl. And so that weekend, I got to be me.”

Dee Westenhauser and Martha Gonzalez

In 2018, at the age of 63, Dee Westenhauser came out as a transgender woman. But growing up in El Paso, Texas in the 1950s she remembers having a hard time fitting in.

One weekend, her parents decided to take her to her aunt Yaya’s house. Aunt Yaya saw a kindred spirit in Dee, and gave her an opportunity that no one else would: a safe, loving space to be herself.

Listen to Dee’s original StoryCorps interview.

Para subtítulos en español, haga click en el ícono de YouTube en la esquina derecha, y escoja “Spanish” bajo la opción de “settings” y “subtitles/CC.

How One of the First Legally Married Same-Sex Couples in the US Made it Down the Aisle

On November 18, 2003, in the case of Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared that “…barring an individual from the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution.” This allowed same-sex couples to be legally married in the state of Massachusetts, the first state in the United States to do so.

David Wilson (above left), one of the plaintiffs in that landmark case, was also one of the first to be married when the law went into effect on May 17th, 2004. In 2010, David first came to StoryCorps to reflect on his difficult path to get to his wedding day.

WilsonExtra1

Nine years later, David and his husband, Robert Compton, came to StoryCorps to reflect on their journey as they approach their 15th wedding anniversary.

Top photo: David Wilson and his husband Robert Compton at their StoryCorps recording in Palm Springs, California in 2019. By Jud Esty-Kendall.
Bottom photo: David Wilson, officiant Reverend Ms. Kim K. Crawford Harvie, and Robert Compton on their wedding day on May 17, 2004 in Boston, Massachusetts. Courtesy of David Wilson.

Originally aired May 17, 2019, on NPR’s Morning Edition.