The Day Santas Stormed Macy’s to Protest AIDS: NPR



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 manage. And then one day he saw an ad looking for Macy’s department store Santas.

MARK WOODLEY: And I thought, I’m going to apply for this because it’s hard to be depressed when you’re surrounded by 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 it. I have never been so loved. I mean, it was love for Santa, but I was the recipient.

KING: Mark was invited back the following year, but during a routine medical checkup he revealed he was on HIV medication, and he didn’t get the job. Around the same time, Jon Winkleman was organizing with the AIDS activist group ACT UP. Mark and Jon sat down for StoryCorps to remember when they decided to take action.

WOODLEY: How did you hear about my trial?

JON WINKLEMAN: There was a little blurb on the back of the journal about you, and I brought it to the group. And I just said, we should do something about it. So we found some cheap Santa costumes at a novelty store, and met at Macy’s, started singing regular Christmas carols, like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” And then we started to come in. Everyone claps and claps because they think it’s so cute and adorable. But we walk into the middle of the cosmetics aisle and chains come out of our sleeves. We follow each other in a circle facing outwards, then we start to sing (sing) Father Christmas has HIV, fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la. Macy’s won’t rehire him, fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la.

So they call the police. And there were pictures in the newspapers of Santa being dragged out of Macy’s in handcuffs.

WOODLEY: That 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 business. But the backdrop was that people we loved were dying.

WOODLEY: Yeah. Sometimes this grief is so sweet. But other times, there’s such pain that they haven’t been able to fully live their lives like I did.

WINKLEMAN: I’m so grateful to be 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’ve known and lost. It’s nice to have someone who knows it and has been through it with me.


KING: Mark Woodley and Jon Winkleman for StoryCorps. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Macy’s Santa Claus Protest. Nineteen Santa Clauses were arrested, including Jon. He then played the role of Santa Claus in pediatric AIDS clinics.


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