Loading...
Alexei Romanoff was born in the Ukraine in 1936, fled with his family to the United States during World War II, and came of age as a gay man in New York’s Greenwich Village during the 1950s. In 1958, he moved to Los Angeles.

In 1964, Alexei became co-owner and manager of a gay bar called New Faces in the artsy, rough-and-tumble LA neighborhood of Silver Lake. On New Year’s Eve 1966, New Faces was one of four gay bars raided by the police. Six weeks later, Alexei helped organize a protest demonstration at one of those bars, the Black Cat. Taking place more than two years before the Stonewall riots of June 1969, some people (especially Angelenos) regard the Black Cat protest as the true genesis of the modern gay rights movement.

Also in the 1960s, Alexei helped establish clinics where gays people could access medical care free of discrimination and prejudice. Those clinics became the foundation of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Alexei later helped organize the Santa Monica Bay Coalition for Human Rights, and helped defeat California’s hateful Briggs Initiative in 1978. In the 1980s, Alexei fought for AIDS research funding, helped convince Alcoholics Anonymous to recognize and list LGBT meetings, and co-founded the Avatar Club of Los Angeles to promote safer sex education for the leather community.

Over his long and storied career as a queer activist, Alexei has been ready to roll up his sleeves on behalf of any individual or group whose rights were being denied or trampled. In 2009, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council recognized Alexei for his dedication to civil rights. That year also, Alexei was instrumental in getting the Black Cat designated as a California historical monument. In 2017, Alexei served as Grand Marshal of the Los Angeles Resist March, which took the place of that year’s traditional Pride march.

Today, Alexei lives with his husband David in the wooded hills north of downtown Los Angeles. With his twinkling blue eyes and easy laugh, it’s easy to imagine Alexei as a young Ukrainian immigrant charming the pants off New York queers in the 1950s. But Alexei’s fighting spirit is never far below the surface – the spirit that has fueled and sustained him through a half-century of rowdy activism for a more inclusive, humane world. 
Mason Funk: [00:00:00] I'm on my phone that's why I'm going to look at my phone occasionally.
Alexei Romanoff: That's fine.
Mason Funk: Let's start off by having you tell us your first and last names and spell them out for us.
Alexei Romanoff: My first name is Alexei, A-l-e-x-e-i. My last name is Romanoff, R-o-m-a-n-o-f-f.
Mason Funk: Okay. Please tell us the date and place of your birth.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:00:30] It was in Zaporozhye, Ukraine. My mother was an entertainer. She was working in Europe when she met my father and got married. They got together, got married. I was born in Ukraine in 1936.
Mason Funk: What was the exact date?
Alexei Romanoff: July 21st. The strange part is, I have a friend here who is born on July 21st,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:01:00] but Ukraine uses the Julian calendar, and America uses the Gregorian calendar. We were born on different days but the same date.
Mason Funk: Funny. Okay. Now, tell me a little bit about how you came ... You mentioned your mom was an entertainer.
Alexei Romanoff: She was.
Mason Funk: [00:01:30] She met your dad. You were born in Ukraine. How did your life progress until you made it to the States? Just that part.
Alexei Romanoff: Well, what was really interesting about that was that by birth, I had dual citizenship because of my mother being an American Citizen, I was a citizen of the United States already, but I also had Ukrainian citizenship. Now, that was during
Alexei Romanoff: [00:02:00] a time of turmoil because the fascists were coming eastward at that time. I am a product of mixed marriage. My grandmother was Manchurian, Chinese, my mother's mother. My grandfather was Ukrainian, from the central part of the Ukraine, Galicia. As the fascists were coming eastward,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:02:30] my father already had died, because he died very early in my life. My mother was afraid with the fascists and Nazis coming to the Ukraine that she decided to go to Manchuria to make sure I don't get hurt at that point. We traveled through Siberia
Alexei Romanoff: [00:03:00] all the way over to the two ... close to Manchuria in what was Russia, the Soviet Union at that time. I had a strange situation.I had a caretaker who took care of me after I was born. She was Italian. I had my father who was Ukrainian. I spoke Ukrainian to him, and my mother spoke English to me from the time I was born.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:03:30] She felt I needed that. I was quite confused over languages. The Cyrillic alphabet, my mother had got me one of these blackboards with the Latin letters across the top and said it was Cyrillic, because she wanted me to be schooled in both. She took me on this journey that
Alexei Romanoff: [00:04:00] went across the Trans-Siberian Railroad. We got all the way to Manchuria. We crossed the border from Soviet Union into Manchuria. At that time, in 1932, Japan had taken Manchuria, that part of China. They renamed it Manchukuo. When we got there,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:04:30] there were a lot of Russian expats living there, but my Manchurian family was there. We were taken to this home, my mother took me to this home, and I was very young still.In Manchuria, they have what they call a family wall. It's pictures of all the members of the family dating back quite a ways and information.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:05:00] I looked on the wall, and way at the bottom, there was a picture of me on that wall. I knew I felt comfortable because this was my family, different than the way I look, but my family. We stayed there for a period of time when it started to look like there was going to be problems. My mother had to try and get us out of there.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:05:30] We went down to Macau from Manchuria near Harbin to Macau because that was a Portuguese colony in China at that time. We were able to take a freighter there who had Portuguese flags painted on both sides of it. It wasn't a luxury lighter. It was a freighter, a work ship.We had to travel to all
Alexei Romanoff: [00:06:00] neutral countries from Macau to Portugal, from Portugal to Brazil, from Brazil to Mexico and then into United States, because all of those countries were neutral during the second World War. That was my beginning.
Mason Funk: Wow. It's quite an odyssey. How old were you when you arrived in New York? Start, if you would, just to give us a new thought, say, "I arrived in New York around the age of" whatever.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:06:30] I'm guessing right now because I don't really know the exact year. I arrived in New York around, I think I was four years old or so, five maybe. It was very interesting. In fact, at that time, I went to P.S. 93 on 93rd Street, New York City.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:07:00] The principal knew I was Ukrainian. He went around to all the classes and asked, "Was there anybody who spoke Ukrainian?" Now, part of the culture at that time was you didn't speak out unless you were spoken to when you are very young. He took me around to all the classes and no one spoke Ukrainian, but then he had an assembly at the school and he said,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:07:30] "Does anyone speak English and Ukrainian?" I raised my hand, "I do." Because he had never asked me if I spoke English, only if I spoke Ukrainian, didn't make sense there. That was my beginning and my introduction to the United States.
Mason Funk: That's great. That's great. After you arrived in the States and you were living with your mom in New York,
Mason Funk: [00:08:00] were you comfortable? Were you financially comfortable? Was it more than time stuff?
Alexei Romanoff: Yeah. We were fairly comfortable. My mother, she had been in George White Scandal, Ziegfeld Follies and show business. She always provided well for us. She was a very strong woman and-
Mason Funk: Who else was in your family besides you and your mom?
Alexei Romanoff: [00:08:30] Well, in Pennsylvania, it was her parents, at the time, though my grandmother had already passed here.
Mason Funk: Okay. You had your mom and you and then her-
Alexei Romanoff: Parents.
Mason Funk: In Pennsylvania, but no siblings. Just you and your mom.
Alexei Romanoff: Just me, but we had some relatives who had already immigrated from the Ukraine on my father's side
Alexei Romanoff: [00:09:00] that was here. It was absolutely marvelous living there in those years.
Mason Funk: How so?
Alexei Romanoff: There was a freedom that I had. I knew how to go under a subway turnstile. I could end up in any part of the city I wanted to go to because no one paid attention to this kid there. I would end up in Coney Island.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:09:30] I would end up in Brooklyn. I'd end up in Bronx. I would just run around. I guess I was a little worldly-wise. There wasn't really a danger.
Mason Funk: When did you first start discovering something like your own attraction to men or that there was such a thing as a gay underground or a gay culture?
Alexei Romanoff: [00:10:00] Well, my mother being in show business, I was around other people. We had a little group. There was like eight of us, eight or nine, that while our parents were on stage performing on Broadway, we would get together. We called ourselves The Trunkers because that was born in a trunk. That's a show business classic thing, the children born in the trunk.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:10:30] We called ourselves The Trunkers. While our parents were performing for matinees, we would go up to Bryant Park, which is on 42nd Street and 6th Avenue. It's still there today. It's very different than it was. It was a bushy park. We used to sit there and talk and do a little looking and things like that. There was this man, and I'm going to go into this now
Alexei Romanoff: [00:11:00] because he made a big impression on me. We called him Mother Bryant.To this day, I don't know his real name, but he was eighty-six years old. As I often have said, he doesn't seem as old to me today as he did then, but he would sit and talk to us and tell us what it was like to be gay in 1890.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:11:30] The thing was that the reason gay people from smaller towns went to big cities, they were anonymous there, in the big cities. What would happen is that when he was there, if you were in a group of more than three, and the police knew you were gay, they would come in and beat you up. That was in the 1890s. They didn't want to put you in jail. They wanted you to leave that town.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:12:00] You went to cities that were anonymous. That's directly from him. He wasn't a lecherous man. We were younger. He was like a grandfather to us. He was real nice.Once a week, we would go down to Horn & Hardart's on 42nd Street, which was an automat. Thats where they prepare the food behind
Alexei Romanoff: [00:12:30] and they stuck it in compartments and you put coins in to get your food out in there. He would have one meal at the place, either a lunch or a dinner. It was either in matinees or it was in the evening performance there. We would be around. We would go with him and sit down at the table. Some of us would just have water and others would have some tea or something like that or a soft drink. He would sit and talk to us
Alexei Romanoff: [00:13:00] about what it was like in life and what we should look out for and how we should conduct ourselves. He was a real mentor.I remember once he was sitting there, and he kind of looked up and he looked at us and he said, "When you're my age and ready to leave this earth, if you haven't left your community in a better place and the world
Alexei Romanoff: [00:13:30] as a whole, you haven't lived." That didn't get to all of us who were there. Some of them, "Oh, yeah," but to me, it was, "Oh my God. I understand something. There is a purpose for me being here." That was my enlightening. Now, a little while later, I had a partner. A couple of years later, I had a partner and-
Mason Funk: [00:14:00] How old are you now? Just give me an idea how ... just-
Alexei Romanoff: I was fourteen then.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Alexei Romanoff: I had to be seventeen, sixteen, something like that. In New York City, it was really hard to rent a place for two men. Two women could rent together, but they would not want to rent to two men particularly in the village of all places.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:14:30] After what Mother Bryant said to me, I had this partner a couple of years later. We saw an advertisement in a laundromat because no one had laundry in their quarters. Their apartments and places were just too small. In this laundromat, I saw on a corkboard, Small apartment for rent, view of the river. It didn't say East River.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:15:00] It didn't say Hudson River, but just view of the river. I called my partner up at the time and I said, "I would like to go and look at the place because we want to move in together." He said, "Okay." We went and looked at it.Well, the view of the river is, if you went out to the fire escape and hung over about two feet, you got about two inches of the river from there. We went over to the landlord because they
Alexei Romanoff: [00:15:30] lived on the premises at that time. You would go and give them the first month's rent, and they would give you the keys. There were no leases or stuff like that. We go up and we look. We like the place. We talked to each other. We walked back to him. We said, "We like it. We'd like to take it." He said, "What's the relationship between you two?"
Alexei Romanoff: [00:16:00] I stopped for a minute, and I stuttered, and I said, "He's my partner and my lover." I look back at him and he was looking at me with his mouth hanging open and eyes wide as though to say, "What the hell have you just done?"The landlord then said to me, "Can you guys afford the place?" I said, "Yes, we have your first month's rent here.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:16:30] We both work part-time. We're going to the university. We're being educated. I sit out on the Boulevard on the weekends and I sell my artwork and study." He said, "Okay, give me the first month's rent. Here's the keys." I stopped and tears came to my eyes.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:17:00] I said, "Thank you Mother Bryant, because I was honest about being gay." To this day, I have never lied. I don't offer it to say, "I'm gay. I'm gay. I'm gay." If someone asks me, I tell the truth, to this day. That was the experience of my life. I do these things now to talk to younger people that
Alexei Romanoff: [00:17:30] I can pass that heritage onto them. Needless to say, that relationship didn't last a whole long time, but it was comfortable.
Mason Funk: Well, let me ask you this, help us to understand for young people who might be watching this someday. If I do the math, this was, maybe, like in 1953, '54, '55, somewhere there.
Alexei Romanoff: Yeah. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Help us to understand what the climate was that made it really challenging for you to be that open.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:18:00] Well, first of all, you couldn't rent a place-
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, say it, "Around the mid 1950s."
Alexei Romanoff: I'd say a little earlier than that.
Alexei Romanoff: Yeah, mid 1950s, a little bit earlier, I was still very young. You had to watch what you are doing because you could be picked on, you could be injured. We developed a language at that time that you
Alexei Romanoff: [00:18:30] hear a little bit about. The word, "gay," that was so that if we were sitting in a restaurant and someone came in that we thought was a homosexual, we'd say, "Isn't he gay?" Or "Isn't she gay?" That was a way of communicating with each other without having anybody else know what we were talking about. You got to understand at that time, to be gay,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:19:00] you could be put into a mental institution. It was considered a sickness. You could be given shot treatments or chemical castration at that time. It wasn't all joy there. You had to be careful, even in a big city. That's why that language came up. You hear it's still spoken today
Alexei Romanoff: [00:19:30] because it was our codes here.At that time, we didn't refer to many of the women as lesbians. They were gay girls and gay boys. Now, we made one huge mistake at the time. We said, "He's gay. He's straight.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:20:00] He's kaykay," that meant he was bisexual. Saying you were gay and then saying that the person who was not gay was straight gave a comment connotation that somehow you are crooked and they were appropriate. It was never meant to be that way.
Mason Funk: Now, do me a favor. I noticed sometimes you're looking at Kate because you're probably being polite, but try to avoid looking at Kate.
Mason Funk: Just look here.
Alexei Romanoff: I think I did that when I was speaking of the lesbian thing.
Mason Funk: Right. Okay.
Alexei Romanoff: I'm just ... It's-
Mason Funk: Yes. It's natural.
Alexei Romanoff: It wasn't a separate community. It wasn't as separate as it is now. Well, the rainbow flag just tells you how separate it all is. I understand why
Alexei Romanoff: [00:21:00] names have to change over periods of time and the connotations, but I had a lot of very close friends, both men and women in the gay community. I just want that to be really clear there.
Mason Funk: That's great.
Alexei Romanoff: When I sat out on the boulevard selling my artwork, it wasn't only paintings. I made jewelry at the time.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:21:30] What I would do is, I would go into what we call second hand stores. I'd buy all of the sterling silver, silverware. I had a mallet and anvil. I used to pound it into necklaces and into wristbands and all. Then there was a place that made artificial eyes near the village.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:22:00] If you went in there, they didn't always match and they couldn't use them, but they sold them off. I used to put it in the sterling silver that I would make into jewelry. I made necklaces. I made wristbands. I made all sorts of stuff. God only knows, I was in the village and they were using sandals, men wearing sandals at the time. That was considered outrageous.
Mason Funk: Wow. Okay. Let's fast forward a little bit.
Mason Funk: [00:22:30] We've got a lot of ground to cover. Now, let's move to you. I'm not even going to ask you how you got to Los Angeles, but we're in Los Angeles now.
Alexei Romanoff: We're in it already. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Let's jump there.
Alexei Romanoff: I had a partner who died a year before I moved, '58, to Los Angeles.
Alexei Romanoff: I arrived here in 1958.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor and say, "I arrived in Los Angeles."
Alexei Romanoff: I arrived in Los Angeles in 1958,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:23:00] on February 15, 1958. It was a marvelous place. I had had a lover who died the year before from cancer. I wanted a change of atmosphere, too many memories. I called up a friend who had lived out here. I said to him, "Where should I go if I'm going to go to California?"
Alexei Romanoff: [00:23:30] He said, "Silver Lake." It's a very gay community, very friendly community. There was a lot of older people there who are friendly. Because he lived here half a year and half a year in New York. He was my childhood buddy for as far back as I could remember. I arrived here with a friend, another friend, Bruce,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:24:00] who a year later after making the decision, after seeing coaxial cable broadcast on television of the Hollywood freeways and a little bit of the city and all like that with the beautiful palm trees and the greenery everywhere and everything. I decided that's where I wanted to go and I came out here.
Mason Funk: How did you eventually end up opening a bar, the bar called, New Faces?
Alexei Romanoff: [00:24:30] I was working in a bar called The High Spot. It was on Hyperion Boulevard down in Silver Lake as an interim position. Evidently, my reputation got out as being friendly and so on and so forth, because I've always been a talker and a person who liked to meet new people and everything.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:25:00] I was in this bar. This woman, her name was Lee Roy. L-e-e was her first name. Her last name was Roy. She came over to the bar and she said, "You know, I'm trying to open a bar here." She didn't know a name or anything, a gay bar. In those days, all gay bars, they had heavy drapes over the front windows or they were painted out.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:25:30] People were afraid to be outed there. You could never see in a gay bar.She says, "I'm going to open this one on Sunset Boulevard. We've already got the place rented. I would like you to come and help me set it up and with your experience." I thought it was a really good thing. She ended up giving me
Alexei Romanoff: [00:26:00] a 45 to a 50% ownership in it for doing what I did. It took us 90 days of closing down and making sure that all of the old clientele would be gone. That's how I got involved in New Faces. Now, six months or eight months before the raid in the bar, New Year's Eve-
Mason Funk: [00:26:30] Black Cat.
Alexei Romanoff: Black Cat. Black Cat and New Faces.
Mason Funk: Right. Start-
Alexei Romanoff: New Faces was-
Mason Funk: Let me interrupt for a second. Start over and say, "Six months before the raid at the Black Cat."
Alexei Romanoff: It was in both places.
Mason Funk: Okay. Okay.
Alexei Romanoff: Six months before the raid in the Black Cat, they also raided on the same night, the New Faces. She was standing there. Evidently, they saw somebody who ran away from the Black Cat
Alexei Romanoff: [00:27:00] in a white dress. Lee Roy was in there. It was New Year's Eve. Now, the people there weren't doing anything wrong. In fact, the first people that were to be arrested for kissing was a brother and sister. They thought the woman was masculinely dressed. They thought it was two men kissing. That's what started it.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:27:30] It was undercover police officers in there. After they played Auld Lang Syne and everybody was hugging and kissing, that's when the raid started. They damaged quite a number of people. These people ran down from that bar. Evidently, they opened the door. They saw what was going on in there. They ran out. They ran down the block to the New Faces. The police followed them.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:28:00] Of course, they were plainclothes. They weren't uniformed officers.They went in, ran into the New Faces thinking there was mugging going on there in the bar. They said something to some people in there. The police followed them in. Well, they saw Lee Roy in a white gown because it was New Year's Eve. They said, "Who is the owner or the manager of this place?"
Alexei Romanoff: [00:28:30] The bartender, I think, said, "Lee Roy," which sounded like a man's name. They went over. They grabbed her. They started beating her because they thought she was a cross-dresser. They ruptured her spleen ... No, not her. They broke her collarbone. The bartender was going to come over the bar to see what's going on with the scuffle that's going on there,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:29:00] and they grabbed him and they pulled him across the bar. He was the one that had the ruptured spleen. Both of them ended on the sidewalk outside, face down, and then later that night, not taken directly to jail, but taken to the hospital. When they found that she wasn't a cross-dresser, they didn't press any charges on her.
Mason Funk: Excuse me one second. I'm just trying to catch the thread of where I am in these stories.
Mason Funk: [00:29:30] One thing that I want to understand is, it sounds really simple to say that the cops were undercover, that they were in plainclothes, but to someone who's never seen that or witness that, I have a hard time picturing like, you're in a bar and you essentially don't know who's a cop and who's gay?
Alexei Romanoff: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Can you paint a picture of that?
Alexei Romanoff: Well, there was a lot of undercover work done in the gay bars. A lot of people
Alexei Romanoff: [00:30:00] were taken out for lewd conduct in those bars. Now, lewd conduct could be anything. I had two friends who were lovers. They were both male and living a couple of blocks from a bar. One of them was standing over his partner while they were talking and some other friends.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:30:30] The partner was sitting in the chair and he happened to tilt his glass, and he spilled some alcohol on his partner. He went like this to brush the wetness off. They were arrested for lewd conduct. I went with them to their trial. The officers claimed that he was propositioned there and he said - andI've never heard a gay person speak like this -
Alexei Romanoff: [00:31:00] he was asked, "Let's go home and have a daisy chain." He said in the court when they asked him, "What does that mean?" He said, "They told me that's where we all sit around in a circle and do each other." I'm using a more placid term, but do each other. Nobody ever does that. No one ever talked about a thing like that. That was ridiculous.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:31:30] Anyway, you had two things you could be charged with. I think it was 447A and 447B. If you were arrested on A, you had a file if you lost your case. You had a register as a sex offender for the rest of your life, but if you plead guilty to the latter one,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:32:00] you pay the fine, and you were slapped on the wrist, and you were allowed to go free. No jail time.
Mason Funk: What ended up happening a lot of times?
Alexei Romanoff: They plead guilty to what they call the lesser charge, so they didn't have to sign as a sex offender. They wouldn't lose their jobs and things like that. Part of that what went on.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:32:30] Now, the officer, my two friends told me, the officer that arrested them had bleached hair the time they arrested them, but when he came in to court, he had dark hair, so that someone would've thought in the bar that he was gay, because he bleaches his hair. There was all sorts of things like that of people. You knew there were places you didn't go into
Alexei Romanoff: [00:33:00] at that time such as Akron's, which was like a world plus market. It was directly across from KCET on Sunset Boulevard. It was in that shopping center across the way. It was a place that had unusual things for the home; bedspreads and things that gay people would be interested in
Alexei Romanoff: [00:33:30] decorating their homes with because it was unusual stuff. We liked that at that time. We weren't as worldly-wise.
Mason Funk: I'm sorry. One second.
Kate Kunath: It's not stopping, isn't it?
Mason Funk: Okay. Now, I'm going to sneeze. Hold on. Good timing.
Alexei Romanoff: God bless you.
Mason Funk: It was the right timing. Thank you. Okay.
Alexei Romanoff: We wouldn't go into Akron's bathroom, because we knew-
Mason Funk: Bathroom?
Alexei Romanoff: Their bathroom there.
Mason Funk: Oh, okay.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:34:00] Because there would be undercover police officers in there, and if you look like you were gay, you could get arrested even though you didn't do anything.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, back up because when you said, "We wouldn't go into Akron's bathroom," you skipped a couple beats, which is explaining-
Alexei Romanoff: Akron's was a place that had unusual things from all around the world.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:34:30] Gay people liked, at that time, to have unusual decorations in their homes. It was stuff that you couldn't find anywhere else there. We used to shop there quite a bit, but we didn't go into the restroom. If you did, you took your whole being in your hands to do it. That was what that was like. That's where
Alexei Romanoff: [00:35:00] things were happening that shouldn't have been happening to decent law abiding people. I had a place waiting for me when I came to California. I have to let you know that there was a huge Japanese community in Silver Lake, restaurants and people who had stores.The first person who rented me my place
Alexei Romanoff: [00:35:30] in February when I came to Silver Lake was a Japanese internee from the Second World War from the concentration camps that we had. She was the kindest woman in the world. Mother Ginsho, we used to call her. She just was so sweet. She kept leaving food for me. I'd be working, and I'd come home and there would be a nice little Japanese tray with food in it.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:36:00] I never had that with any landlord or landlady before. She would tell us a little bit, and I would take her to doctor's appointments. If I was going shopping, I would stop in and say to her, "I'm going shopping, do you need anything from the store?" We developed a relationship like that. That's what Silver Lake was like at that time.
Mason Funk: Now, let me ask you this, by now, we're in the mid 60s, and a couple things are happening.
Mason Funk: [00:36:30] The Vietnam war is happening. There are anti-war protests. What some people won't forget is that Ronald Reagan was elected governor in 1966. What I understood from reading a couple articles was that he lodged a round of raids.
Alexei Romanoff: Well, the Black Cat raid was 1966 going into 1967.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:37:00] What it did was, it didn't change things a whole lot, but it empowered the police to believe that they could ... Now, I'm not talking about the police today. They're decent people. There isn't the problems that we had then. When we did the demonstration for the Black Cat 50th Anniversary, I had to tell the police officers that were there,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:37:30] "I'm not talking about you. I am talking about what was with the corrupt policy in your department." Going back to that, Ronald Reagan empowered the police. Now, when we had the demonstration, the original one in 1967, February 15th,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:38:00] there were more than just the gay community supposed to happen on that demonstration. We were going to have our demonstration where we were. There was going to be a demonstration on Sunset Boulevard down in West Hollywood against police brutality, because three months earlier, the police had attacked anti-war demonstrators, and they beat a lot of them almost to death.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:38:30] Also, in the Sheriff's Department, police and sheriff, this was about the black community. This was about the Latino community. This was about a lot of different places. Now, that evening, when we had the demonstration, it was that night. It wasn't in the daytime because we had to work.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:39:00] We had the demonstration. None of them news media, though we were afraid the news media would show. None of them did in spite of that, and they were notified, but the free press showed up at that time. They covered it with the pictures. all the pictures we have today, PRIDE
Alexei Romanoff: [00:39:30] that we organized that demonstration. It was 500 to 600 gay men and women, lesbians, and those who support us. We were afraid, because if our pictures were in the papers and things, we would lose our jobs. We would lose our homes.
Mason Funk: Was the idea that by having supporters there, then if they took your picture, you wouldn't know-
Alexei Romanoff: [00:40:00] No. It was-
Mason Funk: Tell me that in a complete sentence.
Alexei Romanoff: It wasn't that the supporters stood out. We all looked similar. What it was was that somebody from outside our own community were supporting us against police brutality and all these other things in Watts, in Alvarado Street, all the Latino communities, the anti-war people having to say.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:40:30] All on the same day it was supposed to happen, but only two of them, because some of the black community objected to being connected with the gay community. Some of the Latino community objected to it and some of the other things. None of the other demonstrations came off on the day it was supposed to, but ours did and the anti-war demonstrators.
Mason Funk: [00:41:00] Just one sec.
Kate Kunath: Where was this demonstration? I don't know if that was clear. I might have missed it but ...
Mason Funk: Yeah. Tell us-
Alexei Romanoff: Okay. The Black Cat was on Sunset Boulevard. It's a restaurant there. The owners are very supportive of who we are and what we did. They allowed us to have the 50th Anniversary.
Mason Funk: Where did the original demonstration take place?
Alexei Romanoff: There.
Mason Funk: Okay. Tell me that in a complete sentence.
Alexei Romanoff: The original demonstration took place at the Black Cat. That was the one
Alexei Romanoff: [00:41:30] that had the most damage from what had happened on New Year's Eve, and this is fifteen days later.
Mason Funk: Okay. What was the demonstration like? What actually happened there?
Alexei Romanoff: We made a lot of signs. People showed up. We made flyers. I think it was [inaudible] press then because nobody had printers. We made flyers. If someone threw a flyer down on the floor, we would run and
Alexei Romanoff: [00:42:00] pick it up so that the police couldn't bust us for littering, or we kept moving so the police couldn't bust us for loitering that night.
Mason Funk: You would march up and down.
Alexei Romanoff: Up and down and chant. There were signs that we had made up. You could see some of those signs today in the photographs of that demonstration because the free press took those photos.
Mason Funk: [00:42:30] What do you mean when you say, "The free press"? As compared to what?
Alexei Romanoff: The legitimate press, the newspapers.
Mason Funk: Who was the free press?
Alexei Romanoff: The free press was a hippie anti-war group of people, pro gay, all this starting with the hippie generation.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:43:00] There was a leeway to that. We felt gratified because prior demonstrations happened in the world. There was the Mattachine Society, who was an organization of just a few people. They demonstrated in front of the White House during a McCarthy era against the gays being fired.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:43:30] Harry Hay was the founder of the Mattachine Societies. Their headquarters was in Silver Lake. They're up on top, right off of Silver Lake Boulevard. We had just gotten, a couple years ago, their headquarters designated as a historical landmark. We got the name of the street that comes off of Silver Lake Boulevard
Alexei Romanoff: [00:44:00] renamed to the Mattachine Society steps, because there's a group of steps that go up the hill to where they originally met. They were the first organization that challenged the Post Office, who wouldn't deliver their newsletter and won the case. It was in a brown paper envelope that was nothing that was objectionable.
Mason Funk: Right.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:44:30] That all extended out of there, that little community, with landlords that supported us, with people who didn't discriminate against us. The only problem we had was from outside.
Mason Funk: Why do you think the cops would even bother with what was going on in Silver Lake? Why couldn't they just ignore it and live and let live, so to speak?
Alexei Romanoff: It was lucrative.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:45:00] Because you plead guilty to the lesser charge, and you paid your fine. There was no jail time or anything like that.
Mason Funk: If it was only for the purpose of making money, why would the cops beat people up?
Alexei Romanoff: It was a misunderstanding of who homosexuals were. We were perverts, as they put it. When some of
Alexei Romanoff: [00:45:30] the demonstrations people ended up at the Sheriff's Department in West Hollywood, and when they would come in to the jail there and be booked, the jailers at the time were not sheriffs, but they were another group of law officers who took care of the jail. They would shout out "pervert aboard". Meaning that there's a homosexual who was brought in to the jail and that would make you a target.
Mason Funk: [00:46:00] Again, I ask to help us understand the mentality, those guys who were working in the jail, they weren't going to make any money ...
Alexei Romanoff: No.
Mason Funk: ... they weren't going to necessarily ...
Mason Funk: ... have a chance to beat you up. Why did they want to yell, "pervert," or "pervert aboard"?
Alexei Romanoff: Because they disliked gay people just for being gay. It was considered abnormal. You were a deviate. You didn't belong alive. You didn't belong in society.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:46:30] That's the thought. That was taught.
Mason Funk: No one was telling them they had to yell, call you guys perverts. I'm just trying to understand, was it just kind of a term-
Alexei Romanoff: Hatred.
Mason Funk: Hate. Okay.
Alexei Romanoff: Hatred. Discrimination. Discrimination of all types is discrimination whether it's for race-
Mason Funk: Why do you think they hated you so much? Why did they hate you?
Alexei Romanoff: Because we were considered deviates.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:47:00] We went against the norm. In those days, the norm was very important. I came out in Greenwich Village. When I came out to my mother, my first relationship I had in Greenwich Village, and I'm retrogressing right now. My first relationship I ever had in my life, and it lasted about four weeks,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:47:30] which is normal for that age. I was really young. It was with another young person. It wasn't someone picking me off or some pervert. I came home, and I was moping around. My mom didn't notice. I went up to her and I said, "Mom, I just had a relationship and it didn't last long." She says, "That will happen to you at your age."
Alexei Romanoff: [00:48:00] I walked back in the other room and I said, "I don't know if you've noticed how I'm moping around and that I've been really sad." She says, "You're supposed to be." I said to her, "What do you mean?" She says, "You're a beatnik, the Beat Generation."Yeah, I had my bongos. I was very young. I had my poetry in the newspapers and so on and so forth. I dressed all in black.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:48:30] I had black jeans. I had a black turtleneck. I had my little scruffy goatee here. I carried poetry around. I went to coffee houses and sat and listened to poetry. I had my bongos that I would join in when we were playing them and things like that. She says to me, "You're part of the Beat Generation." Meaning, she just thought I was ... Oh, by the way, I had a cat. That was a solid black cat,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:49:00] because I dressed all in black. He had the longest tail I've ever seen on any cat. I named him Thanatopsis, which was the messenger that went in Greek mythology from the upper world to the lower world, the world of the dead. I had this cat for the longest time.I said to my mom, "Well, I'm really sad." She says, "I'm sorry to hear that, but you're going to go through this."
Alexei Romanoff: [00:49:30] She walked in the other room continuing what she was doing. I said, "I'm going to come out to her." I went up to her and I said, "Mom, I'm gay." She says, "I knew," and she walked away. At that young age, I thought to myself, "I just told her I was sad, and then I told her I'm gay, which means I'm happy." I went back to her and I said, "Mom, you don't understand.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:50:00] I'm a homosexual." She says, "I knew." I said, "How do you know? How did you know?" She says, "Don't you think I have experience? I'm in show business. All the people around that worked with me, a lot of dancers, a lot of gay people, very creative people," she said to me. She says, "It'll be okay. Don't worry about it." I had a very easy coming out.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:50:30] I had a loving mother who treated me very well and wasn't one of the people who discriminated against me.Now, I'll get back to Silver Lake in that.
Mason Funk: Let me ask you a question. In various articles, I read some people comparing the Black Cat protests to really important events that we all identify with. For example, Selma, Bunker Hill.
Mason Funk: [00:51:00] Do you think that's legitimate and fair and why?
Alexei Romanoff: Well, we just had about two years, three years ago, we had the Black Cat designated a historical landmark. When I was asked why I want to do that, there was an Asian man who leaded that charge. His name was West Joe. He's still around today. I was asked why I wanted this place declared
Alexei Romanoff: [00:51:30] a historical landmark and a plaque put outside, which is there now. I said, "Just like this committee," I said, "Just like you have Bunker Hill, you have Gettysburg, you have Selma, Alabama. When some young gay men who's maybe eighteen when I'm no longer here and able to tell him what had happened,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:52:00] he has a place to go to that's a physical place with a plaque outside. I said, "Just like that. That's why we need that. We need to remember where we came from." We got it.I helped to unveil that plaque with the city councilman, O'Farrell, there. This last time when we recreated fifty years later,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:52:30] the Black Cat demonstration. There were signs that pictures were taken of. There were three signs there, a group of three people. Well, this past thing, they recreated the three signs, the mayor of Los Angeles was carrying the middle sign. I was on his right hand side carrying the other sign and the city councilman, O'Farrell,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:53:00] was there with the third sign. We recreated that picture of what happened.
Mason Funk: Why, in your opinion, is what happened at the Black Cat comparable to, say, Selma or Bunker Hill? What is the theme or the through line that you see there?
Alexei Romanoff: We have human rights, and that's the first time,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:53:30] as far as I know, in the world that that many people came together and called themselves PRIDE and demonstrated outside of a place against prejudice of all sorts. We came out. We said, "I'm gay and I'm proud." There were people who said, "I'm a lesbian or a gay girl, and I'm proud of who I am."
Alexei Romanoff: [00:54:00] We were there. There were 600 of us, first time in the whole world. The first time that that had ever been done. It should've been done a lot earlier.
Mason Funk: Actually, let me ask Kate one question, just technically. I noticed the sun is getting really intense in that kind of behind him. It might even pop through. Are we okay still?
Kate Kunath: [00:54:30] I think we're okay.
Mason Funk: I think we're fine. Actually, it looks really balanced.
Mason Funk: It's really nice.
Kate Kunath: There's still detail here.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Okay. Good. I have in my notes here that PRIDE was an actual organization.
Alexei Romanoff: Yes.
Mason Funk: It stood for Personal Rights In Defense and Education. I don't think anybody realizes that PRIDE ... We say pride parade, pride this or that. I don't think anybody realizes that once a upon a time, that was an organization around the same time as the Mattachine Society. Tell us that piece of history.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:55:00] Well, Harry Hay was a member of the Mattachine Society. He created it. We were a different organization. We were trying to make focus and get some acceptance and get what we were experiencing out. We finally said that we have pride in who we are and therefore,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:55:30] we had to have that word that describes why we were doing this and how. The first time it was used was at the Black Cat. It was used as a group before that. I also went on to found another organization and it was called, Gay Pride West Santa Monica Bay Coalition for Human Rights. We marched in the first PRIDE
Alexei Romanoff: [00:56:00] parade and celebration. I've marched in every one of them since the first one to this year. We didn't have a PRIDE parade, but we had a resist march. I was the grand marshal in that.Understanding that we had to take pride in ourselves, not that we were better than anyone else, but we were equal. For the first time,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:56:30] also after that, we had the celebration. It was the street fair and everything like that. It was down on Sunset Boulevard, the first one. I've been in every march since the very first one to this day except for the last one where there wasn't a PRIDE parade but there was a resist march.
Mason Funk: Do you remember why you wanted to start a new organization different from Mattachine?
Mason Funk: [00:57:00] What were they doing that made you think, "That's great, but we want to do something different"? What was the-
Alexei Romanoff: It wasn't that we were younger, and we were, but they did the McCarthy thing. They demonstrated, but there was only nine or ten of them at any one time. They served their purpose, but if you're a woman,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:57:30] if you are going to demonstrate, you have a skirt or a dress on. If you are a man, you had to be in a suit and tie for that. It served its purpose from its time, but it was time we moved on. We created another organization, which I'm sad to say, I'm the last one left alive from that organization,
Alexei Romanoff: [00:58:00] but I'm proud that it was there, and I'm proud of the Mattachine Society. I'm proud of Stonewall, which was a wonderful riot. The difference between Stonewall and our demonstration, we were an orderly demonstration, but Stonewall is a pride to me. I am so proud of that
Alexei Romanoff: [00:58:30] because finally, we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore. If you're not going to accept our rights that we are guaranteed by our constitution, then damn well riot.Now, I not only demonstrated for rights for the gay community. I demonstrated for the Grape Boycott.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:59:00] I went up and I saw Delano, the grape fields with these little kids picking grapes and nowhere to go to the bathroom or wash their hands or water unless their family brought something for them. They were carrying these two little ones. They were carrying these baskets of grapes because they only got paid for the grape baskets, how many baskets they picked.
Alexei Romanoff: [00:59:30] I came back to L.A. because I was living in Santa Monica then, and I went up to what used to be Lucky's Supermarket on Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica in Ocean Park. I had a huge sign, "Boycott Grapes." I sat there with literature. It's not just about the gay community. I have a feeling I have a debt
Alexei Romanoff: [01:00:00] for just being human to pay to other people and for other oppressed people. Because unless everybody has their freedom, none of us have their freedom and their rights guaranteed.When we had Proposition 8 in California, I know I'm skipping over a little bit, but this connects to this. I was up on Lake Avenue overlooking the 210 Freeway
Alexei Romanoff: [01:00:30] with a huge banner that said, "No on Proposition 8." A black man walked over to me and he said, "Give me one reason why I should vote against Proposition 8." I said, "It's forty something years later, I marched for your rights. Don't you think it's time I have all of my rights?" I looked at him and he had a tear coming out of the corner of his eye.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:01:00] He says, "You got my vote against Proposition 8." He says, "Anybody I can talk to." I said, "That's all I can ask of you." There's been other things.
Mason Funk: Were you out there by yourself?
Alexei Romanoff: A small group, maybe five, six people with signs. I led a demonstration in Pasadena around when Proposition 8 passed
Alexei Romanoff: [01:01:30] here. I just went over where there was a group that was going to have a demonstration. When I got there, the guy who was running that demonstration at this church on California, he talked to the minister and the people there and he said, "Do you know who that is there?" They asked me to come up at the head of the stairs, and they said,
Alexei Romanoff: [01:02:00] "Could you help us with this?" I led that demonstration. Later on, David says, "I knew you were going to that." That's my husband. He says, "I knew you were going to that demonstration." He says, "I should've known that you'd end up leading like that."It was just something. I had to be part of it because we marched all the way up to Colorado Boulevard, down Colorado Boulevard, all the way to Lake Avenue,
Alexei Romanoff: [01:02:30] down California again and back to the church chanting, "What do we want? Equal Rights. When do we want it? Now." That's the same thing we chanted at the New Faces and at the Black Cat.
Mason Funk: Wow. Great. That's a great story. That brings us up to the present, but now, we're going to go back to the past again.
Alexei Romanoff: Thank you.
Mason Funk: [01:03:00] Some have said that the trial of the men who were arrested at the Black Cat was the first time that anybody claimed in court that gay people were protected under the constitution.
Alexei Romanoff: The demonstration started that, but we had equal rights and a-
Mason Funk: You were there and said the demonstration-
Alexei Romanoff: At the Black Cat.
Mason Funk: Okay. Start up by saying, "The demonstration at the Black Cat," started what?
Alexei Romanoff: The demonstration at the Black Cat started us,
Alexei Romanoff: [01:03:30] and for the first time in the history of gay rights fights, we said that we had the same rights because the constitution guarantees us those rights. You can't alienate us and put us as a separate category in order to deprive us of our constitutional rights.
Mason Funk: How radical was that at the time?
Alexei Romanoff: Very.
Mason Funk: Tell me about that.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:04:00] Very, because people didn't believe you had equal rights. Remember, they hadn't taken away the stigma in the psychological ... I forgot what it's called, the book.
Mason Funk: The DSM.
Alexei Romanoff: DSM. They hadn't reversed that. Being homosexual was still a sickness.
Mason Funk: How did it feel to know that the big book, the bible of psychology, labeled you as a sick person? How did you-
Alexei Romanoff: [01:04:30] Well, you felt less then if you let them, but I had a parent, my mother, who wouldn't allow me to think that way. She used to tell me, "If you don't like what you see, change it. Don't just complain about it." That's what that was about. We didn't like what we saw,
Alexei Romanoff: [01:05:00] and we tried to change it. All the steps in my life had led up to that.
Mason Funk: What do you mean by that when you say, all the steps in your life-
Alexei Romanoff: Well, different things. Finding my gayness or my homosexuality, whatever you want to call it. It's all good words, and it's a pride to me. I'm so proud that there are others there, that the rainbow flag does mean what it stands for.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:05:30] Our first flag was a black flag with a pink triangle on it. That was our first gay pride flag. What that came from was death camps, because if you are a homosexual, you had to wear a pink triangle. If you are a Jewish homosexual, you had to wear a gold triangle overlaid with a pink triangle to make
Alexei Romanoff: [01:06:00] the star of David. In those camps, no one really understands that it took the allied forces after freeing the death camps to leave the gay people out of those camps. Two and a half years, they stayed there longer because they weren't political prisoners or racial prisoners.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:06:30] They were deviates. They didn't get released. We used the pink triangle as our symbol, taking what they had to wear in honor of those people who died there.
Mason Funk: Great. Okay. Let's see if you can clarify it for me. What I understand, we interviewed Troy Perry previously.
Mason Funk: [01:07:00] It sounds like hell in the demonstration. Was it a year later that the first PRIDE parade happened in Los Angeles?
Mason Funk: Can you tell us that story?
Alexei Romanoff: Well, we were all there. We kept trying to get a permit to hold a parade. They asked, I think it was $5 million insurance. They had never asked that of any other group to have a demonstration or a parade.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:07:30] We all came out of the center, gay community service center at the time. The first one was down in MacArthur Park, Los Angeles. That was to take care of, do away with the VD Clinics from the county and take care of our own because when they went to the county, they were outed, and they would call them about with results
Alexei Romanoff: [01:08:00] where they worked and things like that. We had to do that. The first director of one of the gay community service centers medical part was Ben Teller who was a physician at the time. There were a lot of things that we were doing.We tried to buy a center on Highland Avenue. There was a
Alexei Romanoff: [01:08:30] hospital that went out of business. We tried to buy that in order to have a hospital that a lover or a husband, you couldn't be a husband then, but a lover or a husband who wanted to come in and see their partner wouldn't be questioned and refused entrance because he wasn't a family member, but that was the life. That was what it was about.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:09:00] The only thing you can do when your back is against the wall is move forward.
Mason Funk: How did this eventually lead to this parade? You were going to tell us the story of how the first PRIDE parade happened.
Alexei Romanoff: Well, we were talking about it and they kept asking for a huge amount of capital to secure it. They kept going up.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:09:30] Finally, Troy Perry was there and a number of us were there. We just dashed out onto the street and went and held the parade, the first one, and the different organizations that had been party to that.
Alexei Romanoff: One year after, we had had the second anniversary of the PRIDE parade. I still have the banner from that first PRIDE parade. We ended up
Alexei Romanoff: [01:10:00] in a magazine and that's the only pictures I have of me, which I think I gave you a picture of with the banners, the two banners. I was on one side there. The funny part is, there's a black girl or woman in front that was part of our group in Santa Monica. What happened was, her ancestry dated to the Underground Railroad. She was Canadian.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:10:30] She was a black person in Canada. Her ancestry was escaped slaves who went to Canada, and then she came back to the United States here at that time. She was a lesbian. She's standing right out in front and proud of who she is and where she came from.
Mason Funk: That's great. That's great.
Alexei Romanoff: I don't know if that helps any and-
Mason Funk: Yeah. No, that's really-
Alexei Romanoff: [01:11:00] That's the feeling that was there.
Alexei Romanoff: Now, we also had another incident that happened at the PRIDE parade at another one. There was a thing that was called, the cockapillar. I don't know if you ever heard about it, but what it was, you know what the Chinese dragon looks like? Well, they did a Chinese dragon and we claimed it was a caterpillar, but the police and the authorities
Alexei Romanoff: [01:11:30] claimed that it was a penis. What it was that it was going down the boulevard from Hollywood Boulevard because that's where the first parades were. It was going down Hollywood Boulevard and the police started to charge in to arrest all the people under whatever it was. The crowd closed in
Alexei Romanoff: [01:12:00] and blocked the police off. This is a couple years later after the first. Blocked the police off and the people ran around the corner and down the block there, and all they found was this caterpillar laying on the ground. They were unable to arrest anybody.
Mason Funk: Who named it the cockapillar?
Alexei Romanoff: Afterwards, we named it the cockapillar.
Mason Funk: That's hilarious.
Alexei Romanoff: Tongue in cheek, you know.
Mason Funk: [01:12:30] Yeah. That's great. That's great. When did you and David meet? Just tell us that story.
Alexei Romanoff: Do you want me to tell you the-
Kate Kunath: The X-rated version.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Tell us the real story.
Alexei Romanoff: Okay. I was one of the founders of a club called Avatar. It was a leather club
Alexei Romanoff: [01:13:00] and that sort of thing. To propose safe, sane, and consensual sex and that we ... We had a thing each year that was called the Exploratorium. We were made not to use that afterwards because San Francisco had the Exploratorium and they said
Alexei Romanoff: [01:13:30] they were legally entitled to use it and we couldn't. As one of the founders of the club and everything, I worked really hard in the club. A year before, I actually met David. He came in with a Los Angeles sheriff, and I was security at the time.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:14:00] I had to ask, "Can I put my hands on you?" Because I couldn't just go up and search somebody. I was doing that searching. I went down to feel and I felt, when I got down to his lower part here, on his side in his pocket, I felt a gun. I said, "Is that a gun in your pocket?" He said,
Alexei Romanoff: [01:14:30] "Yes." No, he didn't answer me yet. I said, "Is that a gun in your pocket?"David, who was with him, leaned over and said to me, "No, he's just happy to see you." I thought to myself, smart ass, but I went over to the board and I said, "This guy, he's a sheriff and he has to carry a gun." He says, " Okay, it'll be alright."
Alexei Romanoff: [01:15:00] They went in. Well, the following year, I was doing the same duty again, they are searching people as they came in. A little bit later, David comes walking into this exploratorium. It's just seeing scenes of little stuff that was going on. I said, "Can I put my hands on you?" He says, "What do you think I'm hiding? I've got tennies on.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:15:30] I've got shorts. I got a T-shirt or a sweatshirt on. What do you think I'm hiding?" I literally looked at him and I went, "I'll find out." He hasn't left my side since.We were married in 2008 when we were allowed to be married there. Prior to that, there's a picture over there of him and I that was on a front of Frontiers as being
Alexei Romanoff: [01:16:00] one of the first to register as domestic partners when we were able to.
Mason Funk: Do you think the moral of that story, of how you and David met, is that you met in a flirtatious, sexual way but there was also a chemistry? Is the moral that you need that before anything else can-
Alexei Romanoff: You need to be friends before you're partners
Alexei Romanoff: [01:16:30] because your friendship will last. You need to care about the other person as much as they care about you. I'm no wizard at this. I'm eighty-one years old now. I've had quite a number of partners in my life who have both just passed away like my first one, the reason I came to California on February 15th, 1958.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:17:00] I wanted to get away from that. If I was dedicated, that's the reason that I'm in there. It isn't sex. It isnt not sex. It isn't that, its that you find a soulmate with another person. I don't care if it's a woman, if it's a man, if it's a trans, whatever it is.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:17:30] I marched for three years in a row in the Trans Pride parade. Someone from my own community said to me, "Aren't you afraid someone is going to think you're trans?" I said, "What the hell do I care what they think? What do I care?"I'm giving my feeling and my energy to doing something that is right. I knew Christine Jorgensen down in Laguna Beach.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:18:00] We used to be at the Little Shrimp and there's a bar down there. There was a piano in there and Christine Jorgensen used to sit and play the piano there for her own enjoyment there. I used to sit next to her and talk to her about things.
Mason Funk: For someone who doesn't know, who is Christine Jorgensen?
Alexei Romanoff: The first openly-
Mason Funk: Start with her name.
Alexei Romanoff: Christine Jorgensen was the first openly transitional person.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:18:30] I call them transitional because they're on a way just like I didn't transition to being male, I didn't transition to being female. I was just what I was. They are just who they are. It's no one else's business.
Mason Funk: Tell us more about Christine Jorgensen.
Alexei Romanoff: She used to go to the Little Shrimp. She would sit in there. She lived down in Laguna Beach,
Alexei Romanoff: [01:19:00] which was a heavily gay community besides, and there were a number of the Boom, Boom, Broom, there was the Little Shrimp. There was a number of restaurants and things that went on down there. It was a very nice community, beach side community in Orange County. They still have the pageant of the masters and things like that. It was an artsy community. I was going there because I had a partner
Alexei Romanoff: [01:19:30] at the time, Michael. He lived down in Laguna Beach and I lived up in L.A. or Santa Monica at the time. Occasionally, he would come up here to stay with me. Occasionally, I would go down, maybe every couple of weekends there and spend the weekend with him there. Because we had, as gay people, committed relationships. Not all of us.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:20:00] I don't think it's any different than what the heterosexual community experience is, but we had committed relationships, except they weren't honored like they were by marriage. Marriage was a very important thing.Down in Laguna Beach, Christine Jorgensen used to play the piano there for her own enjoyment. She liked playing the piano. It was a restaurant and a bar.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:20:30] I used to go and sit next to her because I liked the way she played and I wanted to talk to her. I wanted to have a look at how she felt about the world and what it was like because I had mine, but I only could know who I am. I couldn't know how a trans person felt. I'm getting to understand
Alexei Romanoff: [01:21:00] more nor could I understand what a lesbian felt like, but I got to understand when I realized they're my sisters and who they were.
Mason Funk: You must have witnessed over the years or you just referenced that person who said, "Why do you want to hang out with trans people?" Somebody might think you're trans.
Mason Funk: Needless to say, our community has not always been embracing
Mason Funk: [01:21:30] of other people, whether it was people of different ethnicities or trans people. What have you witnessed in terms of the, at times, discrimination within our own community?
Alexei Romanoff: A couple of years ago, I was in the gay pride fair. They asked me to come up on the main stage. I looked down at these people that were there. Young gay men,
Alexei Romanoff: [01:22:00] young gay women, lesbians, young trans people, and I looked at them and I said, "Hello, family," and they went crazy. I said, "No one has ever given us anything we haven't had to fight for. If we don't use it, we'll lose it." I said, "I don't have anything more to lecture you on
Alexei Romanoff: [01:22:30] but take these words from someone who has been there and has lived a full life and a happy life in spite of what other people said should have been a negative and be gay. After I die, I'm not going to worry about what happens to me then because I've lived well now. If there is a God or isn't a God or a Goddess up in wherever,
Alexei Romanoff: [01:23:00] they can't help but look at people through a wider eye than the human beings do." They're coming around a little, but not a whole lot yet. There's still discrimination. Even from people who have been discriminated against.
Mason Funk: What do you think that is? Let's wait for the phone but-
Kate Kunath: [01:23:30] I'm going to switch the curtain.
Mason Funk: Okay. Give us-
Alexei Romanoff: Teenagers and young adults arranged a meeting with us in Brighton, downtown Los Angeles. He was there and he spoke, very supportive of our groups and our organizations. I said to him, "If you look up, they had the pictures. This young organization had the pictures
Alexei Romanoff: [01:24:00] from the demonstration." I said to him, "Do you see anybody smiling?" He looked at them and he said, "No." I said, "They weren't. They were scared as hell." I said to him, "You set the trend of how your men are going to treat us." He agreed with me.
Mason Funk: Let's talk a bit more about Avatar.
Mason Funk: Tell us what that organization was about.
Alexei Romanoff: Well, it had a need at the time.
Mason Funk: Start up by saying, "The Avatar Club."
Alexei Romanoff: The Avatar, as a club, I'm not officially speaking for it now. I'm speaking from my own view because it has its officers. I was president of it at one point, but I'm not anymore. Avatar was a leather organization, motorcycle,
Alexei Romanoff: [01:25:00] leather, some BDSM, that sort of thing. It's called, safe, sane, and consensual is what it's about. An Avatar with a logo on our uniforms that we wore is the rising sun in the Sanskrit alphabet. An Avatar is a deity
Alexei Romanoff: [01:25:30] in Hinduism that comes to earth when man is in trouble and to lead him. He is a teacher. To lead them out of the trouble he's in. We were an educational organization that was safe, sane, and consensual. There was a need for it then because people were getting injured from the type of foreplay and play that they were doing. God bless you.
Mason Funk: [01:26:00] Okay. Keep on.
Alexei Romanoff: There was a necessity and there was three of us still alive who founded that organization. We, approximately half a month ago, just celebrated the 35th Anniversary. During the period of time when it was the 30th Anniversary or 25th Anniversary, I was president of the club.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:26:30] I had been active in the club right along. It was a nice group of men who marched in the parade each year, the PRIDE parade, and had meetings once a month and taught safe, sane, and consensual things.
Mason Funk: What was the importance to you, individually,
Mason Funk: [01:27:00] of that particular practice, BDSM? What does it mean to you?
Alexei Romanoff: Because so many people outside of that community didn't understand who they were and what they do.
Mason Funk: Have been not very well understood even within the gay community.
Mason Funk: Many times, people would have been like "Oh. They do things that are scary or that I don't understand. I really want you to be able to give your perspective on what ...
Alexei Romanoff: Well-
Mason Funk: [01:27:30] ... but hold on until we're-
Kate Kunath: Go ahead.
Mason Funk: Okay. Go ahead.
Alexei Romanoff: Okay. My feeling is that even if we don't agree with the different organizations, any organization that's there to protect people safe, sane, and consensual is an organization that needs to be. It also needs to have another part of it,
Alexei Romanoff: [01:28:00] which says, "Outreach." Outreach to people who will go into places because of their sexuality and be endangered or damaged or hurt. If you can teach safe, sane, and consensual, then you don't come across that.
Mason Funk: Well, what I want to understand is, from your own personal experience, what did this community mean to you? What did you find in the
Mason Funk: [01:28:30] leather community and the BDSM world that was meaningful to you?
Alexei Romanoff: An acceptance, legitimacy to understand there is some people who think the same way you do or I do. We had a sister club when we first formed, which was 35 years ago,
Alexei Romanoff: [01:29:00] and we marched together in the pride parade in leather, first time. Nobody had done that before. The sister club was called Leather & Lace, and was just about as old. Now, I was down in San Diego Pride and I had a button because we gave buttons out at that time. There was big button stuff. I had a button on my uniform that I've had since the first time
Alexei Romanoff: [01:29:30] I was there that Leather & Lace had given me. I was wearing it. There was this young woman there who said, "My mother was in Leather & Lace. I know what it is." I said, "I hope you're very proud of your mother." That was it.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:30:00] These organizations aren't always what they seem on the surface. Underneath, it's more about supporting each other. Because when you get down to everything, no matter what it is, we're all the same. We want to be safe. We want to be secure. We want love. We want to give love. God bless the men and women today who can adopt children without having to lie about
Alexei Romanoff: [01:30:30] who their partners are. Because those children need a home and a place of loving people.
Mason Funk: Yeah. That's wonderful. Hey, Kate, do you have questions?
Kate Kunath: I do.
Mason Funk: Now, she is going to ask you questions, but you're still going to talk to me, okay?
Alexei Romanoff: Talk to you.
Kate Kunath: I'm going to go way back. I was making some notes.
Alexei Romanoff: You got to go really way back.
Kate Kunath: [01:31:00] Going back to the 50s when you were talking about how gays and lesbians were really together.
Alexei Romanoff: Yeah, very much.
Kate Kunath: I wonder if you remember when the division started to build or if that's what happened and even just from your own recollection, not-
Alexei Romanoff: That's what I'm doing. That's all I can speak from, is what I perceive. It might be right. It may be wrong, but it's the way I perceive the world. When I was-
Mason Funk: Talk to me.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:31:30] When I was very young, I was living out on my own. I had an apartment. I had a girl friend who was a lesbian. She had a partner. For some reason, she got tossed out of her house because her family found out she was a lesbian. I had my own apartment at the time, and though I was young,
Alexei Romanoff: [01:32:00] I was aggressive. I said to her, "Why don't you come and live with me? You and Dee." That was her partner. Now, this lesbian, Dee, was an absolute passer at that point because she had to be eighteen, nineteen years old then and didn't have any breasts.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:32:30] Maybe trans at that time. I don't know. It doesn't matter. They came in to live with me. I remember running across the street with Dee against the light. It's New York. This police officer pulled us over and Dee didn't run against
Alexei Romanoff: [01:33:00] the light but I did, being a New Yorker. He said to me, "Why don't you follow your boyfriend's guide and don't jaywalk," and that was Dee, and she was wearing a T-shirt. It was amazing.Like I said, at the time, we didn't refer to each other as
Alexei Romanoff: [01:33:30] homosexuals or as lesbian or homosexual men. We referred to each other the same as if we were a family. She's a gay girl. I'm a gay man. He is butch. She is butch. She is not butch. She is femme
Alexei Romanoff: [01:34:00] or he's femme. It was very the same at that time. I had so many lesbian friends. Of course, I was around. It was easy to make friends, but we hung out in the same places. Anyway, they moved on. They got their own place and their own lives and everything,
Alexei Romanoff: [01:34:30] but when I was living out here, my partner at the time, Woody, had a girlfriend in Pennsylvania. He had moved here from Pennsylvania, had a girlfriend who called him and said that she was realizing that she's lesbian. He says, "Well, the best place you could be is not in Pennsylvania but being here in California."
Alexei Romanoff: [01:35:00] He offered that she could come out and stay with us. We took her to her first lesbian bar that was over in West Los Angeles somewhere. It was so funny because she was so nervous, but I related the same thing the first time I had seen a gay man and particularly, one I was attracted to. She was there.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:35:30] Evidently, she was very feminine yet, not at all masculine. When I was younger, there were butchers and there were femmes. I don't know if it's still the same.
Mason Funk: Keep looking at me. Don't look at Kate.
Alexei Romanoff: Yeah. I was trying to get a little encouragement to say, "I'm saying some" ... right, because I can be outdated.
Mason Funk: That's all right. That's all right. Just keep talking.
Alexei Romanoff: Anyway, there were butchers and there were femmes.
Kate Kunath: There still are.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:36:00] Okay. Thank you. She was so nervous. There was one woman that she particularly liked and the woman was really interested in her. She came over and I ended up introducing her to this woman and this woman to her. I leaned over and I said, "Camille, aren't you going to give her your phone number?" She said, " I couldn't do that." I said, "Why not?" She said, "I just couldn't do that."
Alexei Romanoff: [01:36:30] What we ended up doing is, that weekend, we invited this butcher woman to come over and have dinner with us and Camille at our house to put them together. A funny thing was that she would come and visit Camille because Camille would not go to her place there. She was basically terrified but she loved what was happening. Camille, when she finally was going off to move somewhere else
Alexei Romanoff: [01:37:00] out of our house like that, and I said, "Camille, there's something I got to show you." She said, "What?"I walked into the bedroom, the two bedrooms were backed on to each other. My bed was on this wall, her bed was on this wall. I took the headboard and I went like this and it was going, "Bang, bang, bang." She got so embarrassed. I said, "I'm glad you've had a good time."
Alexei Romanoff: [01:37:30] That's what it was like. We helped each other.
Mason Funk: Do you have a follow up question?
Kate Kunath: I guess, the follow up is, do you remember when that started to change?
Mason Funk: Again, talk to me just so [crosstalk].
Alexei Romanoff: Yeah, I am. I am. I'm trying to think.
Kate Kunath: Or did it.
Mason Funk: Or did it change.
Alexei Romanoff: For some people, it did. The older people, it-
Mason Funk: Okay. Tell me what you're talking about.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:38:00] The relationships were different. They were needed at its time, what was happening. Because women were very undervalued, not particularly in the gay community but just the world as a whole. They might still be fighting that right today. In the gay community, lesbians started to and rightfully started to declare their independence
[01:38:30] in organizations and getting together and Daughters of Sappho, I think, was one of the organizations that happened at that time.
Mason Funk: Don't talk to Kate.
Alexei Romanoff: I'm trying not to. Daughters of Sappho happened at that time. There was a lot of things going on. Rights were happening. We had, besides the flag that had the pink triangle,
Alexei Romanoff: [01:39:00] and by the way, in those death camps, the lesbians wore the same triangle. But life was changing. The hip generation, the hippies, were coming about, things were changing. Women had to declare their independence at that time.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:39:30] I understood it. A lot of people didn't. That proud lesbian who marched with us in the parade that's on that picture in the front who came from the background of slavery and the Underground Railroad to get to Canada. All sorts of things changed. The longer you live, the longer everybody lives, the more different
Alexei Romanoff: [01:40:00] it's going to be. Don't get stuck in what is the situation now. Expand and grow with it. The main thing is that all people are treated with dignity, kindness, and care. Our constitution protects all of us.I mentioned that
Alexei Romanoff: [01:40:30] my mother was Chinese and European mixed. My grandfather was from the Ukraine. My grandmother was from Manchuria, but her father, during one of the famines had brought her all the way and his family to the Ukraine with push carts bringing their stuff. They walked. That's my grandmother.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:41:00] My great grandfather and great grandmother walked from Manchuria to the Ukraine. He stopped there and as the legend goes, he smelled and tasted the earth. He says, "If my family stays here, we will never starve again." That's how they ended up in Ukraine from Manchuria.
Mason Funk: Wow.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:41:30] That gives me a feeling of acceptance because I'm not pure European. I'm not pure Chinese. I had a loving Chinese grandmother and a loving Ukrainian grandfather who were illegally married when they came here. Because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, my grandfather had to say to her, because she came three years with his brother and sister
Alexei Romanoff: [01:42:00] and one daughter after they were married. He was seventeen and she was fourteen when they got married, but after living here for three years, he had to write her and tell her if someone comes up behind you and starts talking Chinese to you, do not answer them. You're listed as Ukrainian. Their marriage was illegal here until 1947.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:42:30] They came here in 1903. You see where I get it from.
Mason Funk: That's great. Kate, do you have another question?
Kate Kunath: I do. I wonder when the civil rights were happening in the 50s and the 60s, did you think ... I don't know what that mix was like, how many white people to black people were out there, but when they were fighting for their civil rights, did you think those civil rights
Kate Kunath: [01:43:00] are the same civil rights that we need? Did you think that they were paving a way? Did you think, some day, we'll fight for our rights too? What was the thinking right when that was happening?
Alexei Romanoff: I don't think I was thinking that deep at that moment to think about that sort of thing. All I knew was, there was a wrong or I wouldn't have marched with them. I also was,
Alexei Romanoff: [01:43:30] which I gave you a picture of and a front page of ... There was the L.A. Times and a Herald Examiner were the newspapers here in Los Angeles. Herald Examiner went out of business. If you look at that picture I showed you where I'm carrying the sign about, "Fight AIDS, Not Its Victims," I didn't look whether they are black victims, whether they are white victims, whether they are yellow,
Alexei Romanoff: [01:44:00] whether they are lesbian, whether they are gay men. All I knew is that the government wasn't doing anything to help anybody. Reagan was president at the time and he could have acted. I just know that people are people. That's the way I was raised. Maybe it's because the miscegenation that was there. That means interracial marriage
Alexei Romanoff: [01:44:30] between my grandmother and grandfather.My grandmother wasn't a wordly person. She had never seen a black person before she came here, but I knew that during the Depression, she was feeding people. It didn't matter if they were black or what because we had a little farm that she was doing then. She would be giving
Alexei Romanoff: [01:45:00] the excess to other people. That's where my background comes from, my understanding. You can't hold a woman or have a woman hold you as a child and hug you and kiss you and then say, "She's another race. Maybe I should be discriminating against her," don't happen.
Kate Kunath: I have another question about, you mentioned
Kate Kunath: [01:45:30] before the raid, you said something about like Auld Lang Syne or it was like a song. It was something that got people all [crosstalk].
Alexei Romanoff: Yeah. That was ...
Mason Funk: Auld Lang Syne.
Alexei Romanoff: ... New Year's Eve, Auld Lang Syne.
Kate Kunath: Oh, what is that?
Alexei Romanoff: That's at-
Mason Funk: That's, should all acquaintance be forgot.
Alexei Romanoff: Acquaintance be forgot. Yeah.
Mason Funk: That's the official, I guess-
Alexei Romanoff: Right after that, everybody hugs and kisses.
Alexei Romanoff: That's all that was being done. In fact, the two first people that were attacked by the police was a brother and sister.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:46:00] She was very masculine and they thought she was a man.
Kate Kunath: I thought it was some big gay mantra.
Alexei Romanoff: Oh, we have enough of those.
Mason Funk: It's not the YMCA song.
Alexei Romanoff: Oh, Village People. Yes.
Mason Funk: Village People. Yeah.
Alexei Romanoff: A year after Stone Wall happened, they wanted to celebrate. They actually called us out here. We had already had a pride celebration.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:46:30] What was the nice thing about the pride celebration, it was free to go into, the first one. We went down Hollywood Boulevard all the way down, came around, came back, and it's a street ... there was an empty lot there, if you can imagine in that place, between Gower and Highland, an empty lot. They had set up the place.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:47:00] There were rides, a little roller coaster like you see at fairs. There was a Ferris wheel there for that. PFLAG, which is the Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians, set up a booth there for the first time with a Polaroid camera, the one that you just have to go over the film with this setter
Alexei Romanoff: [01:47:30] that preserved the picture with a sign there, partners, for lovers who were there. They took pictures and gave us in little picture framing things that says, "Lovers for life." That was PFLAG.
Mason Funk: [01:48:00] Other questions?
Mason Funk: No. Okay. We have four standard questions at the end of every interview. Well, let me ask you this, if somebody ... you meet someone at a party or the grocery store who says to you, "I'm thinking about coming out." It could mean anything, but if somebody says to you, "I'm thinking about coming out," what simple piece of guidance would you offer that person?
Alexei Romanoff: [01:48:30] That's hard to judge for somebody else. I would just say, "Do what's right for you. You'll find your life is going to be much easier once you do come out because there's nothing worse than living life a lie."
Mason Funk: Great. Thank you for that. What is your hope for the future?
Alexei Romanoff: [01:49:00] My hope for the future is not what could be but what should be. A young man should not be dragged behind a truck to his death for being gay. People shouldn't be discriminated for being gay or a lesbian and not get a job that they're well qualified for.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:49:30] I believe this is going to be true in the future because I've seen what the past has presented in my life. I'm a very happy man. I'm eighty-one years old. I've had a wonderful life. I've had a lot of experiences. I intend to have more. I have a wonderful husband and person
Alexei Romanoff: [01:50:00] who cares about me and make sure I'm okay. I've had some health problems as anyone will if you get to be my age. The idea is, any time above ground is good time. Just go and live your life. Don't hate, help. That's all I could say to my community. Watch who supports you and at a proper time, you support them.
Mason Funk: [01:50:30] Why is it important to you to tell your story?
Alexei Romanoff: Because if you don't know where you came from, you're bound to relive the past. This is for young people and older people who had to be in the closet for years to understand that your life can't be anything but good once you're honest with it.
Mason Funk: [01:51:00] Lastly, and you've already touched on this, this project is called OUTWORDS. It really is a project to capture stories like yours from all across the country. People who are in their 70s and 80s and even 90s. What do you think is the importance of doing this? What is the importance of a project called OUTWORDS? If you could say the word, "OUTWORDS" in your answer, that would be helpful.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:51:30] I think the important part of people knowing my story and other stories in OUTWORDS is the fact that you don't have to discover everything all over again. Somewhere in there, you'll have Mother Bryant talking to you of what's important and what's appropriate at your time.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:52:00] Everybody shouldn't live a life like I do or have. Everybody should live a life that's right for them, but never fear truth, because truth in the end will help you and everybody else. I see a bright future for us. I'm not hesitant even though what's happening in our government and everything can be horrible, but I see a bright future for us.
Alexei Romanoff: [01:52:30] When I did an interview for Voice of America to be slated to Eastern Europe, I said to them, "What is this neofascism that's coming rampant through?" I said, "Don't you realize that those are the people that killed your grandparents?" Chechnya and some of the other places
Alexei Romanoff: [01:53:00] where people are still disappearing for being gay and never seen again. Thank you.
Mason Funk: Fantastic. I think we covered a lot of territory. That was really great. We have to do something called, Room Tone, which is just recording this room with no one talking for 30 seconds, and then we'll be done. Room Tone (silence).
Kate Kunath: [01:54:00] Okay. Good.
Mason Funk: Okay. Fantastic.
Alexei Romanoff: Did you want to get a shot of David and I together?
Mason Funk: Sure. Absolutely.
Alexei Romanoff: You know.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Kate Kunath
Date: March 21, 2018
Location: Home of Alexei Romanoff, Pasadena, CA