Photography by M. Sharkey
In 1964, the year the Empire City Motorcycle Club came into being, New York City hosted the World's Fair; the Ford Mustang, the sexiest car ever made, 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 where a group of gay men could convene and feel free.
"We kept a low profile," says 81-year-old Emil Solis (not pictured), who joined ECMC with his partner, Bill, in June 1965. "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 so."
SLIDESHOW | EMPIRE CITY MOTORCYCLE CLUB
For some, the rewards of membership were worth the risk. While these bikers certainly share an appreciation for the hyper-masculine -- the leather, Levi's, and muscular motorbikes -- the real appeal, then as now, is the camaraderie. Eddie Murphy, a retired New York City police detective and a member of the ECMC for nearly two decades, says, "If any one of us is in trouble or needs something, we're there. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it."
Top row, left to right: Eddie Murphy, Michael Conley, Ed Caraballo, Joe Mitchell, Chaz Antonelli, Giorgio DeAlmeida, Earl Driscoll, Mark Wind & Scot Michael Laney. Bottom row: Darryl Smith, Gary Papouschek, Will Cordero & Geno Knox
"The most important part is the sense of family and belonging and brotherhood," says Mark Wind, 67, a psychologist with a practice in Manhattan and the club's longest active member. Wind joined the ECMC in 1975, when "the stereotype for being a gay man was being effeminate," he says. "It was important for me to break that stereotype, just as becoming a gay professional was important to me at a time when being gay was linked to very fringy-type people."
Ed Caraballo, 46, 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 21st century, the American road can still liberate us the way it once mythically did, then the motorcycle is the ultimate ticket to freedom. For many of us, the romance of losing oneself this way begins as soon as we learn to ride a bicycle. Most of us grow up and abandon ideas of navigating winding roads at high speeds on nothing more than two wheels. But for a brave few, the thrill of the open air and the rush of the wind feel as close as the polished chrome machines in the garage.
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Scot Michael Laney
SLIDESHOW OF IMAGES OF EMPIRE CITY MOTORCYCLE CLUB