Queer Places:
Calverton National Cemetery Calverton, Suffolk County, New York, USA, Plot 26, 0, 363

Jules Elphant (July 6, 1924 - May 5, 1999) used to camp out for the weekend just outside of Lido Beach on Long Island. "In those days you didn't have anybody there. It was just wild. And it was great. It was isolated and people could go sunbathing nude and bathing nude and nobody ever thought about it. It started to get bad when a lot of drag queens started doing shows on weekends on the beaches. They started performing, and some straight people happened to see it and they started bringing their friends. Once that happened, forget it. Before you knew it, there were too many people coming down and that started to ruin Lido Beach."

In the late 1940s, thousands of lesbian and gay soldiers who had streamed through New York City on their way to Europe settled in Manhattan, bolstering what was already the largest gay community in America. In 1945, they founded the Veterans Benevolent Association, one of the first gay organizations ever incorporated in New York State.

The group met monthly and then twice a month on the fourth floor of a building on Houston Street near Second Avenue. Jules Elphant attended its meetings right from the start, when he was twenty-two. "A lot of it was uncomfortable because in those days we just didn't talk about being gay," Elphant remembered. "Of course in those days we weren't "gay". I think we were just "queer." Or "sissies." Sissy was the word that took care of everything, but so many of us were so far from being sissies. I always found myself in a macho-type way."

The association's dances attracted nearly two hundred men. The dances also attracted a couple of veterans' wives, including the woman married to James Lang, who founded the association and did most of the work that kept it together until 1954. "The women were all straight, but they knew their husbands were gay and they just went along with the husbands," said Elphant.

"Once we dressed in bathing suits," he continued. "Everyone was introduced as Miss So-and-so. I was very uncomfortable with that. But I whipped up my own red, white, and blue custume - I was Miss Patriot. And I met a lot of interesting people because of that - "Oh, you've got such powerful legs." This was one of the first socials I went to, and it brought me out. Suddenly I made more friends that way.

"Sex was one of the things of course that made us part of the group. But sex was not the basic reason for it. It was social - they wanted to be together with people [like themselves] so they could relax more." All the members were white, with lots of Jews, Irishmen, and Italians. And there were plenty of couples. "We also had a "Stitch and Bitch gang" - for sewing and gossiping. I was doing beaded fruit. I've been doing it for years. It's expensive, but it's wonderful therapy.

"We had actual business meetings of the veterans association. We discussed general subjects and we had speakers - and a legal adviser. Occasionally someone was having problems in their job and we would discuss what we could do about it. Of course, the best thing you could do was keep your mouth shut. And try to stay out of problems. That was the easiest way in those days. When we were at our jobs, we had to be careful. I had to be careful. I didn't show any signs of pansyism or anything like that. But other people who do have a little more feminism within themselves did have problems."

Elphant liked the association's big gatherings because "you would get to meet two or three that you'd become interested in... That's how I met my lover in 1946. When I first joined, he was one of the young people at a house party. He was seventeen, and he was interested in me and I didn't even know it. I was so shy about things. And somebody had to come over and tell me, "Do you know Richard is interested in you?" And so I got friendly with Richard. We were inseparable after that for quite a while. On and off, we were together thirty-four years. But we never lived together."


  1. The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America by Charles Kaiser