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Two Bartenders Remember the Highs and Lows of Working at Brooklyn’s Historic Starlite Lounge

Sometimes a bar is more than just a business, it’s a part of history. These bars are places where cultures flourish, and often become a second home to devoted customers and a treasured landmark that neighbors proudly claim. For many years that was the Starlite Lounge in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which was one of the first Black-owned gay bars in the city.

“It was the most welcoming place in the world,” Albert Johnson remembers.

Closing night at the Starlite Lounge in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in summer 2010. Courtesy of Donna Cuthbert.

Albert tended bar at the Starlite for nine years, and in 2010 he came to StoryCorps with fellow bartender Donna Cuthbert to talk about their time working there; the nights of dancing, the beloved jukebox and the eccentric regulars—some of whom refused to go home.

That same year the property owner sold the building, and despite efforts by the local community it was last call for the Starlite. But its legacy as a gathering space for the gay Black community lives on in the memories of its former employees and patrons.

Originally aired December 30, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts. 

With your support, StoryCorps is able to record more stories that help lift up underrepresented voices, bridge political and social divides, and preserve personal histories for the future.


A Couple Determined to Marry: How Jack Baker and Michael McConnell Became Husbands in 1971

In 1966, Michael McConnell and Jack Baker were introduced to one another by a friend at a Halloween barn party in Norman, Oklahoma. They quickly fell in love and decided to get married, despite the fact that it was illegal at the time.  

In the Spring of 1970, they walked into a government center in downtown Minneapolis, dressed in suits and ties, and applied for a marriage license. A few days later, they received a letter saying that their license had been denied. But they didn’t give up. 

Close-up of Jack Baker and Michael McConnell holding hands, featuring their wedding rings, in Minneapolis, Minn., March 2017. By Jhaleh Akhavan for StoryCorps.

They filed an appeal that went up to the United States Supreme Court. And even though their appeal was dismissed, in 1971 they found a way to become husbands. Jack and Michael came to StoryCorps to talk about their relationship, and how they made the law work in their favor. 

Michael McConnell (left) and Jack Baker (right) in their backyard in Minneapolis, Minn., July 2015.


Top Photo: Michael McConnell (left) and Jack Baker (right) with their wedding cake, featuring a two-groom topper, in Minneapolis, Minn. on September 3, 1971. By Paul Hagen. 

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired October 14, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

“Why He Was Unknown Is A Mystery”: Remembering One Gay Man Who Sued For The Right To Work

In the 1970s, Faygele ben Miriam returned from serving overseas in the Army during the Vietnam war, and he settled in Seattle, Washington. Born John Singer, he changed his name to Faygele – meaning “little bird’ in Yiddish – to reclaim its derogatory use for “effeminate gay men.” And to honor his mother, he added “ben Miriam,” literally meaning “Little Bird, son of Miriam.” 

Faygele was an explosive character, and he often challenged his friends and colleagues to think of freedom in everything from how they dressed to who they stood up for, and at what cost. He was willing to put everything on the line – even his own safety – if it meant making the world a better place to live. And he earned the trust of his peers for taking bold, direct action. In 1971, Faygele applied for a marriage license with his friend and lover, Paul Barwick, an act that was unthinkable at the time.

Being so open, he was known for often wearing dresses in public because he was unafraid to proclaim his sexuality, no matter what room he was in. And in 1974, his frankness set the stage for a discrimination lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), when they unjustly fired him for his sexuality.

Ronni Gilboa and Patrick Haggerty at their StoryCorps interview in Bremerton, Washington on August 13, 2022. By Bella Gonzalez for StoryCorps.

Faygele died in 2000, at the age of 55. And recently, Faygele’s friends, Patrick Haggerty and Ronni Gilboa, came to StoryCorps to remember the man who left an indelible mark on their lives. 

Top Photo: Faygele ben Miriam at his last Seder before his death in 2000. Courtesy of the University of Washington Library, Geoff Manasse special collection.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired September 16, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

After 82 Years, A Grandfather Inspires His Grandson To Live Full Of Honesty And Love

When Jeffrey Perri was growing up in Rochester, New York, his grandfather, Tony Perri, came out to him as gay. Jeffrey was only 9 years old. Years later, Jeffrey also came out, and what was already a close relationship became something even more meaningful for both of them.

They originally came to StoryCorps to reflect on their stories and relationship in 2009

Tony had remained friends with Jeffrey’s grandmother, Shirley Perri, after they divorced, and Tony went on to have two more long term relationships. These men were “uncles” to Jeffrey, and Tony modeled loving relationships throughout Jeffrey’s childhood.

Now, in 2022, Jeffrey and Tony returned to StoryCorps to reflect on their shared connection — and Tony’s feelings about aging and family.


Top Photo:
Jeffrey Perri and Tony Perri on May 7th, 2022 at a family wedding. Courtesy of Jeffery Perri. (L) 
Jeffrey Perri and Tony Perri at their StoryCorps interview in Rochester, NY on July 11, 2009. By Jeremy Helton for StoryCorps. (R)

Originally aired July 22, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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.

After Facing A Difficult Coming Out, One Couple Changed A Mother’s Heart

Leslye Huff (left) and her partner, Mary Ostendorf (right), met in 1983. Leslye was open about her feelings for Mary and wasn’t shy about publicly showing her affection—even on their first date. Mary felt less comfortable with public displays of affection and had not told many people in her life about her sexuality, including her family.

When Mary introduced Leslye to her mother, Agnes, they did not immediately reveal to her the nature of their relationship, but during that meeting Leslye felt a connection with Agnes. “I liked her. She was short like me, and pretty vivacious. She and I sat and talked and I thought the makings of a pretty good friendship was beginning.”

Later that year, days before they gathered for Thanksgiving, Leslye picked up the phone and told Agnes the truth about her relationship with Mary.

At StoryCorps, Mary and Leslye discuss what happened after the phone call and how their relationship with Agnes changed in the years that followed.

Since then, Leslye and Mary moved across the country to Berkeley, California so Leslye could pursue a seminary degree. She recently graduated.

Top Photo: Leslye Huff and Mary Ostendorf.

Originally aired November 27, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition. It was rebroadcast on November 26, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Mother and Teen Reflect on the Pride and Joy of Growing Up Transgender

Kaysen Ford had just finished 5th grade in Tuscaloosa, AL, when they started to tell friends and family that they were transgender.

Their mother, Jennifer Sumner worried that Kaysen would face bullying as a transgender kid growing up in the South. In 2015, when Kaysen was 12, they came to StoryCorps to talk about being comfortable in their own skin.

During that conversation Jennifer shared how proud she was of Kaysen for being courageous and true to themself. Kaysen explained that, “It shouldn’t be scary to be who you are.” 

Kaysen has since moved with their family from Tuscaloosa, AL, to Birmingham for access to local services that empower transgender people to live more authentically, like Point of Pride — an international network of gender-affirming support programs — and Magic City Acceptance Center a drop-in center for LGBTQ youth and their allies.

Six years later, Kaysen, who now identifies as nonbinary, has graduated high school. They came back to StoryCorps to mark the occasion — and to reflect on their first conversation.

Top Photo: Jennifer Sumner and Kaysen Ford during their road trip celebrating Kaysen’s graduation June, 2021. Courtesy of the family.

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or just needs someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Originally aired June 25, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“You’re My Forever Love”: Reflections On Over 30 Years Of Friendship

In the late 1980s, Julaina Glass had moved from her childhood home in Washington Heights, NY, to a small studio in Harlem. Julaina was 19 and living alone, but she found a fast friend in her upstairs neighbor, Beau McCall.

Beau was an artist and older than Julaina by about 10 years. His apartment became like a second home to her and they soon became inseparable.

Nearly 35 years after they first met, Beau and Julaina came to StoryCorps to reminisce about some of their happiest memories together, and to look back on how it all began.

Top Photo: Beau McCall and Julaina Glass at their StoryCorps interview in New York, NY on June 3, 2017. By Jhaleh Akhavan for StoryCorps.

This interview was recorded in partnership with the I, Too Arts Collective. It is part of the Anwar Collection of Muslim Voices through StoryCorps’ American Pathways initiative. This initiative is made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and an Anonymous Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Stuart Family Foundation. It will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Originally aired May 14, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Love In The Time Of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: “I Was Ready To Bust Out Of The Closet With Rainbows And Glitter.”

Mike Rudulph grew up near Birmingham, Alabama and enlisted in the Marines when he was 20 years old. At the time, he hoped that the military environment would bring him the sense of purpose he had been missing.

This was in 2000, during the era of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” when LGBTQ people in the military couldn’t serve openly.

Mike went on his first deployment to Iraq in 2003. When he got home, he met the man who would later become his husband, Neil Rafferty.

Photo: Mike Rudulph and Neil Rafferty at their StoryCorps interview in Birmingham, Alabama on April 18, 2015. By Carolina Escobar for StoryCorps. 

They got married in 2018, the same year that Neil ran for public office in Alabama — and won! He is the first openly gay man to serve in the Alabama State legislature. 

At StoryCorps in Birmingham, Alabama, Mike and Neil sat down to remember the early days of their relationship.

Top Photo: Mike Rudulph and Neil Rafferty in 2019. Courtesy of Mike Rudulph.
Bottom Photo: Mike Rudulph and Neil Rafferty. Courtesy of Neil Rafferty.

Originally aired August 15, 2020, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. 

A Road Trip And Lost Time: A Father And Son Reconnect After 30 Years

For many of us, living through this pandemic is a reminder of the importance of strengthening our connections with loved ones. Now, reflections from a father and son who did just that.

When T. Chick McClure was growing up, they were really close to their dad, Chas McClure. They spent time fishing, sledding, and swinging a bat in the backyard. But when Chick was 14 years old their parents divorced and their dad moved away for his job in the Navy. They spent the next 30 years having a distant relationship, speaking only occasionally.

 Chas McClure and T. Chick McClure in McClure Pass, Colorado. Photo Courtesy of  T. Chick McClure.

But after 30 years Chick decided to change that. Not long after, Chas responded by inviting them on a two week road trip through the Southwest. They used StoryCorps Connect to remember the trip that brought them back together. 

Originally aired August 14, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top Photo: T. Chick McClure and Chas McClure in Los Angeles, California. Courtesy of  T. Chick McClure.