Bruce Monroe Interview

Dublin Core

Title

Bruce Monroe Interview

Subject

The Stonewall Inn and gay life in New York City.

Description

Bruce Monroe remembers a visit to the Stonewall Inn in 1969 as well as his memories of New York City gay life in the 1970's.

Creator

Christopher Gioia

Source

NA

Publisher

Christopher Gioia

Date

September 2016

Contributor

Bruce Monroe

Rights

This recording and transcript is provided for education and research purposes and should not be altered in any way. All Rights reserved, Christopher Gioia (interviewer) with permission from subject.

Relation

NA

Format

MP3 Digital Recording

Language

English

Type

Oral History

Identifier

Bruce Monroe MP3.mp3

Coverage

NA

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Christopher Gioia

Interviewee

Bruce Monroe

Location

The LGBT Community Center National History Archives, New York City

Transcription

Bruce Monroe Interview

CG: I’m talking with Bruce Monroe at the Center Archives in New York City. Bruce, if you wouldn’t mind give us a little background about yourself and what you do.

BM: Well I’m retired now but I’ve lived in New York City for 43 years now. Moved here in 1973 and when I came here in 1973 I was working in the theater- kinda doing the poor starving artist kind of routine. But I had a lot of fun for many years doing that, but sort of by the time I was 40 I reached my level of incompetence in that field and went into graphic design and other things and that was sort of my career path for the next 18 years until I retired. And that’s basically me in a nutshell. Just doing volunteer things now here at the Center. I’ve been a volunteer here at the Center on and off since 1989. As I told you before I first started becoming somewhat active with gay rights things in the mid 80s when I started working with the David Rothenberg campaign who was the first openly gay man to run for city council. He didn’t win but I met a lot of people involved with the Center and other things and that sort of led me to volunteering more at the Center.

CG: Which had only been here-- when did it open, in 82?

BM: In 83, yeah 1983 and so I got involved with a wonderful group of people who were the core fundraising group back at the Center in those days when they had very little, very minimal staff and their main fundraising wing was the committee that was called the Dance Committee, which actually did put on dances here at the Center but they also offshoot from that when other fundraising things like the garden party and other sort of -- many things sort of branched out from there and they were sort of the center of a big grass roots fundraising thing that happened at the Center in those days. So it was very exciting and fun to be with that and I met a lot of good friends many of whom are still close friends today.

CG: Right, um, we are also here to talk about Stonewall. And I know that you have a story about a night at the Stonewall…

[Laughter]

…from your time here, maybe it was before you lived here. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

BM: Well it was my first year of college on my spring break in 1969 so I was 19 years old.

CG: So this was just a few months before the actual incident…

BM: It was indeed and I came to New York with my close friend who I had met that first year in college who I became very close to and was a couple of years older than me and he was sort of the one who I was going to college in Indianapolis Indiana at the time and he was sort of my friend who took me out and showed me the broader world out there, there were bars and things in Indianapolis and a whole kind of gay scene there very much kind of under, under…

CG: Under the radar.

BM: Under the radar for most people but not that under the radar that much. It was pretty like; the bars were either in the middle of downtown areas that were not populated or in industrial areas. So, the idea was that I saved up some money and got permission from my parents and that was our spring break trip to come to NY and he had, my friend had a friend who worked in NY. He worked in the theater for David Merit in David Merit’s office um a big Broadway producer at the time and so it was very exciting to come to NY and see shows and go out to bars and things. It was really kind of neat too because I didn’t have to use my fake id because back then you could drink at the age of …

CG: Eighteen.

BM: Eighteen. And one of the places we went on that trip, we were here for, oh I don’t know five or six days -- and I think it was a Saturday night, it was pretty busy, was the Stonewall Inn. And my recollection of it is, I mean I read the descriptions of it in the books and things and the histories of it that I’ve read before and its, its sort of kind of what I remember. I don’t remember it being quite so dingy and scary as some people describe it. I know some people describe it as being knock on the door and somebody opened a little door and you had to sign a book because they didn’t have a liquor license so they had the pretense of being a private club and all of that and I don’t really remember any of that. It may have been just because I was with other people who were taking care of all of that and just sort of following them in, you know and with them and so it wasn’t something I had to notice. I just remember it being physically-- I remember the description of there, there was two dance floors and a big long wall down the middle. But I remember it being a very young lively crowd that I could relate to. It was like really exciting to see all these other young men that were around my age that were all pretty clean cut, dressed, nicely dressed young men dancing. I guess it was one of the most popular places for dancing in NY at that- there weren’t very many places around like that. And I remember having a great time there and I remember having to leave by myself because my friends had found elsewhere to spend the evening. And I had to find my way back to our host’s apartment on my own and I had no idea where I was being down in the strange Greenwich Village area. I remember having a great time. I don’t remember seeing any drag queens or anything.

CG: Really. And the staff wasn’t intimidating or anything like that?

BM: Not really, not really.

CG: Not that you recall.

BM: I, but it -- it wasn’t until I read the latest book on the Stonewall where he mentioned how it was so unsanitary there and that summer there had been a little outbreak of Hepatitis. Someone, patrons of the thing that some people thought might have traced back to the unsanitary conditions at the Stonewall.

CG: Right

BM: And indeed that summer I had to leave summer school that I had to go to because I was flunking out of college, I had to leave summer school because I came down with hepatitis.

CG: Wow

BM: And that’s the only

CG: There seems to maybe be a correlation…

BM: Quite possibly, we had no idea, there was nobody else at my school that had caught it. It was like I was, like totally something for me. That’s really, really my only recollection of it. And I don’t even remember ever hearing anything about any riots there happening later on.


CG: Oh really?
So, even when you moved back here in nineteen seventy....

BM: Oh certainly, certainly you knew of it

CG: Then…

BM: Then.

CG: And how did it um I mean I can, I can recall it coming up you know when I was a teenager. When I was a teenager it was twenty years later but I can remember it coming up just as “that’s that and this is what happened” and just sort of like someone wanting to basically, in my case, show that they knew something a little more than us kids did. So, for you was it -- was it still at all fresh in people’s minds, or was there…

BM: You know probably I’d have to be honest and say not so much for me because being in New York City from 1973 -- that whole decade was, depends on -- I mean I was working in the theater world and there wasn’t, there wasn’t a…

CG: An overlap with the downtown scene?

BM: Yeah, I mean I wasn’t really involved in the politics and activism at the time. It wasn’t something that affected me because I was working in such an open environment where, I mean to me New York at that time was -- you were accepted everywhere. There was no discrimination in the job or the places where I worked or necessarily to hide anything it was like it was just an immense explosion of out-ness for me at that time and that- so I never kind of experienced any kind of discrimination. I was so far away from my family that I didn’t have to deal with any of them, so there was nothing to motivate me to get into that scene.

CG: Well there can be, I mean there can be and there probably even was for me as a kid- this bubble that New York creates, you know with your group and your…

BM: Oh absolutely, absolutely. I remember a few years ago I was on a gay cruise once and I don’t know, this would have been the late nineties, uh and at dinner we were sharing the table -it’s a gay cruise and we were sharing the table with some-- I was uh forty-something at that time and I was sharing the table with some people fifteen or twenty years younger than me and it was like we were talking about New York City in the seventies and it was like “oh tell me all about it!”
It was like sort of a mythic period in time that I found it quite shocking when they did that television show on Tales of the City and I was watching it and I said to myself “oh isn’t it wonderful how they captured the essence of that period.” Wait a minute, my youth is a period? I’m old!

[Laugher]

BM: It was really quite shocking to me.

CG: You know you’re getting old when you’re a period piece,

BM: Right, right. Before I was hardly fifty. But it was like really a crazy wild fun time. The only thing I knew of the GAA were the dances they had on Saturday nights in their basement. Terribly crowded place. Probably very unsafe but uh I remember having some wonderful Saturday nights there when it was, and I knew what the GAA was but I never went to any meetings or any protests. And in the summer…

CG: What about the marches?

BM: Uh I was always away in the summer. I mean because I worked in the theater I was always working at some summer theater during the summer months so really I never got involved with any of the pride stuff or pride parades until the 80s when I was spending my summers in New York City. So, I kind of missed out on those connections in the city. I’m sure I would have been involved if I had been in the city but sort of felt -- I certainly related to it and I knew it was happening but I was always working in a summer theater away from the city like a lot of poor starving theater people who are in that part of their career are doing summer theater up in Maine and other places. So I didn’t do… and the first Pride parade that I marched in probably was in 1989 with the Center because that was probably the first thing that I did when I came to volunteer at the Center. I walked in here and the Dance committee was working on their float because that was another thing that they did every year was build a float for the pride parade. And I came in and I remember my now good friend Charles came up to me and said, “do you know how to use this utility knife and cut this foam core? This piece?” I said I know more about cutting foam core than you could possibly need.

[Laughs]

CG: Um, Well in this year, as I was talking about with Rich earlier, where Stonewall has become a national landmark and achieved its status as a part of the National Park system, tell me what you -- how you feel Stonewall -- what it represents in terms of our identity or commun…

BM: Well its kinda, its interesting. Its quite, I mean its quite amazing to me because one of the other volunteer things that I do since I retired is I actually do some interpretation programming at a national monument in New York City which has nothing to do with being gay, its on Governors Island so its military history and stuff about that and so I’m quite curios to see how they, how they…

CG: Interpret it.

BM: Interpret it best to people, what they’re going to do with it. A few weeks ago when I was up here, Glenda the Executive Director here came in through here with some park service people and someone asked them questions about what they were doing and they’re now just sort of researching and trying to figure out how they want to interpret this for the public, what they’re going to do with it and I’m excited and curious and I don’t know if there’s some way I can get involved with it because since its something I’ve kind of gotten involved with in other ways that I find I enjoy doing, I might try to get involved with this project at some point. I don’t know.

CG: Um, but what would you hope that they do with it?

BM: Well I hope that it becomes, like all historical things, it has to be keeper of some vision of some historical thing that happened that’s a teaching thing that people will be able to learn about and put it into some perspective that they can relate to in the broader scope of their lives or history or whatever. I mean, I don’t know how exactly they’re going to do that if its just a plaque or sign or they’re actually going to post a park ranger there to give a walking tour of the Village. That’s probably what they’re going to do.

CG: Uh, I have an inclination that’s what they’re going to do.

BM: That’s usually what they like to do, having been to other historic places in urban places that they have, that’s what the park service likes to do. And you know they’ve already made the brochure that they pass out all along there. The status of having that as a bona-fide historical reference point and place is a pretty amazing thing when you consider how it started

CG: And who started it.

BM: I just hope that it becomes -- and all the mythology around it doesn’t become too grand.

CG: Well the, the one that definitely seems to have already filtered into, I don’t know if you heard the president’s speech on the day of the commemoration it definitely seemed to be colored by a certain perspective. So we’ll see what they do.

The one thing that struck me when I hear Obama speaking about the Stonewall Inn it sounded like he was talking about the Center. Which I think the- there is this mythology that places like the Stonewall were like the gay community center of its time. I’m just curious, I know you were only there once, but would that be how you would characterize the Stonewall?

BM: No-

CG: It was more of a party place

BM: -not at all. It was not. It was a place that people were going to dance
and have fun.

CG: It was a party place.

BM: I mean… and the fact that it was run by the mafia or whatever else, that was just the world as it was then, I think um…

CG: Right, well even nightclubs for decades before and a few decades after were controlled a little bit maybe -- not just the mafia -- but organized crime.


BM: Well, I mean the difference was in the subsequent years it broke open the idea that it had to be -- I mean there was certainly more of a -- in NYC, more of a patina of underground than really being underground because that visit in 1969, in New York, I remember going to other bars in the Village. I remember going to this very friendly neighborhood bar in the Village. I don’t know where it was. I think it was called the Brit Top. And everybody was so friendly and nice. I had a wonderful time and I even had a check that my grandmother had written to me for my trip for spring break that was made out to me for forty dollars or something and the owner of the bar who didn’t know me from Adam except that I was friends with one of the guys we were staying with, cashed that check for me. A third party check, in a gay bar in New York City in nineteen sixty -- from my grandmother, you know? For a few dollars you know? It was -- so I had a great time. I had -- when we were cleaning out my mother’s apartment when we put her in assisted living (she’s 95 this year) uh she had collected a bunch of the letters that I had written over the years and one of them was a letter that I wrote to her after my trip to New York City in nineteen…

CG: Sixty-nine.

BM: Just telling her everything that I did on that trip, all the shows I had seen and…

CG: Ok

[Laughter]

BM: Whereas I wasn’t really out.

CG: You’re getting some funny looks here!

BM: Really what are you laughing at?

CG: How much did you tell?

BM: Well I did, well what was interesting in the letter was I hadn’t remembered until I saw it again after all these years, I had written all of the shows I had gone to see and one of them was Boys in the Band. The original production was playing on Broadway then and we saw it. And I remember saying I saw this play and I said “a very important play.” And this is a letter to my parents. So not, sort of -- I had…

CG: Wasn’t explicitly saying anything.

BM: I was not explicitly saying I had seen this gay play. I guess I was hoping subconsciously they would put two and two together somewhere down the line and they would… But I was surprised to read that in that letter years later. I was -- had no idea I had actually -- because I probably wouldn’t have.

CG: In conversation you probably wouldn’t have.

BM: Yeah, I wouldn’t have.

CG: You decided to slip it in there, in that letter.

BM: Yeah. Because back in those days family were not necessarily in the dark, but pretty much in the dark, yeah, it was like a “don’t ask don’t tell” situation in my family until I couldn’t stand it any more.

CG: Well, thank you Bruce for telling us your story.

BM: I hope it was somewhat helpful.

CG: Great having you, thank you.







Original Format

Digital Recording

Duration

22.23 minutes

Bit Rate/Frequency

16 bit/ 44.1 kHz

Time Summary

NA

Files

Citation

Christopher Gioia, “Bruce Monroe Interview,” Stonewall: Riot, Rebellion, Activism and Identity, accessed November 11, 2019, https://stonewallhistory.omeka.net/items/show/17.

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