In 1964, the year the Empire City Motorcycle Club came into being, New York City proudly hosted the World’s Fair; the Ford Mustang, arguably the sexiest car ever made in America, began rolling off the assembly line and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law making it illegal to discriminate based on race, religion or sex... but not sexual orientation. New Yorkers were still several years away from transforming the gay liberation movement with the riots at Stonewall. Indeed, there were very few places on earth--not even in the most progressive and cosmopolitan city in the world--where a group of gay men could convene and feel free.
So how did the city’s oldest gay motorcycle club exist? Emeritus club member, Emil Solis (81, not pictured) who I spoke with by phone and who joined the ECMC with his partner Bill in June of 1965 explains: “We kept a low profile. It was a very dangerous time. People had jobs and apartments. There was no protection. You could be fired or evicted if your boss or landlord decided to do so.”
Clearly, the rewards were worth the risk. While there is certainly a mutual appreciation for the hyper-masculine: the leather, Levi’s and muscular motorbikes the real appeal, then as well as now, is the camaraderie. Eddie Murphy, a retired NYC police detective and a member of the ECMC for nearly two decades says, “If anyone of us is in trouble or needs something we can provide, we’re there. There's just no ifs, ands, or buts about it. We're there.”
“The most important part is the sense of family and belonging and brotherhood,” says Mark Wind, a psychologist with a practice in Manhattan and the club’s longest active member. Mark joined the ECMC in 1975 at a time when “the stereotype for being a gay man was being effeminate. It was important for me to break that stereotype. Just like becoming a gay professional was important to me at a time when being gay was linked to very fringe-y type people.”
Ed Caraballo, the current president of the club likes to think of it as a celebration of masculinity. “It’s being who I am, being comfortable with who I am. In order to be sexy you have to feel sexy. You have to be confident. You have to feel sure of yourself. People are attracted to that.”
If, in the Twenty-first Century, the American road can still liberate us the way it once mythically did, then the motorcycle is the ultimate means of freedom. For many of us, the romance of losing oneself on the horizon begins as soon as we learn to ride a bicycle. Most of us grow-up and abandon (wisely perhaps) any ideas of flying up and down winding roads at high speeds on nothing more than two wheels. But for a brave few, the thrill of the open air rushing over the body is as close as the polished chrome machines in the garage.