Personal Histories – Rev. Robert Wood (GST 51) (page 2 of 2)

It was all for the men. If there were any lesbians, I didn’t know about it…And [it] always seemed to be occupied by some fellows in the Conservatory…[They got that room] by careful planning. If you were coming back in September you had to sign up for a room in May…Or if they were graduating, some of their gay friends made sure that they would get that room…That went on all three years that I was there…[They used] any excuse for a party. I remember one night before graduation and there must have been about thirty guys in the room and there was a lot of camping and kissing and saying goodbye. That’s where I spent my last night on campus before graduation…I met people through parties at the Throne Room, but I was the only graduate student, so if they met me they knew I was in the Seminary and there was an anti-Seminary feeling on-campus because we had cars, we had more privileges, we were also several years older than the undergraduates…

Some of the Conservatory students didn’t try to tone that down or to hide it, but there was no “outing” of someone or a sense of spreading rumors…We were very protective of one another. [We used] first names basically, not saying anything to the administration or the professors…It was nice to know there were other like-minded fellows there and weren’t trying to get ourselves kicked out. The Throne Room had a sense of community, of family there…I always have the sense that it’s easier for one fellow to come out if others come out…but there was no sense of activism or letter-writing or picketing or anything. That came a couple of years later…

The administration didn’t say anything negative or anything positive…They didn’t do anything about it one way or another…They [either] wanted to keep it under wraps or pretend it didn’t exist [and] I never felt any sense of understanding or any interest in trying to relate to their gay students…

[The University of Pennsylvania] is right in the middle of Philadelphia, which is very cosmopolitan [and] had several gay bars at that time…Leaving Philadelphia for Oberlin was quite a change, but I didn’t really mind that because I was intent on doing a good job in the Seminary there…In those days only the graduate students had cars because we were out working in churches on weekends. We had a little more freedom coming and going, so I could go to Cleveland from time to time. Occasionally I took a few undergraduates into Cleveland too…

There was one gay bar [in Cleveland] called the Cadillac Lounge. It was a great place and I did meet a few friends there, but it was very quiet with coat and tie and all that sort of thing…The Cadillac Lounge was on the ground floor and very small. It wouldn’t have held more thirty or thirty-five patrons plus the bar, which was run by a woman named Gloria who, I don’t think was a lesbian, but she was very knowledgeable. She also ran a strict bar…There was no walking from table to table, there were no frequent trips to the men’s room, there was no overt approaching, but we knew all the fellows there were gay and it was a young crowd…

It was really a place where you could be yourself and not have to wear the mask…You could talk and chat with some of the other gay fellows [or] sing some songs that were popular then, and people talked about parties they had been to or they were going to, comments on the political scene at the time…It was much more social than it ever was sexual…After you went a time or two you would begin to recognize other fellows who were sort of regular customers…I went out with one or two fellows that I got to know and they would invite me to go to some party the following week where they were going…

We would refer to each other as “dearie” and “honey”, and used some exaggerated gestures. I was not at all effeminate but some of the other fellows were and that didn’t bother me when we were there…We used to call it “dropping the hairpins” in those days…It helped us to relax, to be ourselves for a couple of hours, not to have to pretend [or] wear the mask… I was not really frightened…The owner, Gloria, had a good relationship with the police and everything was very “up” and “clean,” and if the police did come in, Gloria was at the door to beat them…I never saw her [pay them off] but I wouldn’t be surprised if she did…

One time some of the gay fellows at Oberlin heard about a gay bar out by Lorain…so we drove up down the one main street [and] went out to look around…We came to a storefront place which was a gypsy fortune-teller, but was really a whorehouse…The madame was sitting out front with a couple of the young ladies pretending to tell fortunes…And so I went up to her and I said, “can you tell us where the gay bar is?” And she said, “I should tell you my competition?!” In fact we never did find the gay bar, and there may not have even been a gay bar!

In those days, they used to show movies [at the Allen Art Museum]—art type movies…Of course the lights were out, so that was a favorite cruising place for gay fellows to go to whatever movie was going to be on because it was free and with the lights out there was a lot of embracing and holding hands that type of thing…I remember one time, it was dark and the movie was on and a rather effeminate male voice said, “I’ll give you three minutes to get your hand off my knee!” And of course the whole room burst into laughter, but the lights were off so nobody was quite sure who had said it…

It was just a place to contact people and leave together…Likewise at the Main Library. It was a rendezvous place to meet and maybe go back to their rooms…I don’t recall any rumors about cruising places…and I sure didn’t want to ruin my career at the Seminary so I spent a great deal of time in classes and then usually we were assigned to some rural church to do on the weekends, so that time was kept busy…

The Mattachine [Society] was the first organized gay group, actually I think ’50 was its birth in California, and it was sort of a reaction to McCarthy and it was all a group of gay men, no lesbians…In ’52, the second national gay organization called ONE was born, and then in ’54 the first lesbian group, The Daughters of Bilitis, was born, so all this was happening the first year I was in Seminary and then when I was in New York…So I just happened to come on the scene the first years these [homophile organizations] were born…

And then in ’51 when I graduated and was ordained, a book called The Homosexual in America by Donald Webster Cory was published…That was the first book in America to be open on the subject…and the only thing that book didn’t cover was religion…[Cory] was a non-religious Jew and he knew I was ordained [and encouraged me to write on the subject], so that got me thinking…I was the first to write a book that took on the religious subject…

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