The day Santas stormed Macy's to protest for AIDS awareness On Black Friday 1991, AIDS activists protested the department store's decision to not rehire a Santa who had HIV. The man who inspired the protest reconnects with an activist who helped organize it.

The day Santas stormed Macy's to protest for AIDS awareness

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1062598719/1062937794" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NOEL KING, HOST:

Time for StoryCorps. In the late '80s, Mark Woodley was caring for his best friend, who was dying of AIDS. Mark himself was HIV positive. It was a lot to deal with. And then one day, he saw an ad seeking Macy's department store Santas.

MARK WOODLEY: And I thought, I'll apply for that because it's hard to be depressed when you're around an excited little kid. It was just magical, you know, little kids coming in and the wonder in their eyes. And I was part of that. I've never been so loved. I mean, it was love for Santa, but I was the recipient.

KING: Mark was invited back the next year, but then in a routine physical, he disclosed he was taking medication for HIV, and he didn't get the job. Around that same time, Jon Winkleman was organizing with the AIDS activist group ACT UP. Mark and Jon sat down for StoryCorps to remember the moment that they decided to act up.

WOODLEY: How did you first hear about my court case?

JON WINKLEMAN: There was a tiny blurb in the back of the paper about you, and I brought it to the group. And I just said, we should do something about it. So we found cheap Santa suits at a novelty store, and we met at Macy's, started singing regular Christmas carols, like "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer." And then we started walking in. Everyone's cheering and clapping because they think this is so cute and adorable. But we get into the middle of the cosmetics aisle and chains come out of our sleeves. We chain ourselves together in a circle facing outward, and then we start singing (singing) Santa Claus has HIV, fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la. Macy's won't rehire he, fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la.

So they call the police. And there was photos in the papers of Santa being dragged out of Macy's in handcuffs.

WOODLEY: It was genius.

WINKLEMAN: We forced the media and the public to talk about AIDS when they really didn't want to talk about it. We had a sense of humor in our stuff. But the backdrop was people we love were dying.

WOODLEY: Yeah. Sometimes that grief is so sweet. But other times, there's such pain that they didn't get to live a full life the way I have.

WINKLEMAN: I'm so grateful that I'm talking to you 30 years later.

WOODLEY: I feel the same way about you because there's no one to talk to about the people I knew and lost. It's good to have someone who knows it and went through it with me.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS ZABRISKIE'S "JOHN STOCKTON SLOW DRAG")

KING: Mark Woodley and Jon Winkleman for StoryCorps. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Macy's Santa protest. Nineteen Santas were arrested, including Jon. He went on to play Santa at pediatric AIDS clinics.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS ZABRISKIE'S "JOHN STOCKTON SLOW DRAG")

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.