Every June, Americans recognize Gay Pride Month via famous parades and other advocacy events promoting marriage equality, adoption, health, teen bullying and suicide prevention, and other social and political issues related to LGBT rights, which directly impact an estimated 10% of the population (and indirectly impact a far higher percentage of loved ones). Because the country is still slowly growing to accept sexual and gender identity minorities, this means many college students head off to their higher education careers isolated, lonely, depressed — or worse. Most campuses these days offer some semblance of a support structure to ensure a safe experience for all LGBT students, and queer studies courses, minors, and majors have started popping up in catalogs across the country. And it’s all thanks to some of the following pioneers, who took a chance on equality when such things still stood as highly taboo.
In 1989, City College of San Francisco revolutionized LGBT and queer studies when Jack Collins established America’s very first department promoting the inchoate field. Founded upon Dan Allen’s pioneering 1972 gay literature course taught in the English department, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Studies Department really wowed students, teachers, and administrators when it launched, attracting hundreds of enrollees for some of its courses. Because the school sits in one of the world’s most LGBT-friendly cities, the classes beneath the organization’s umbrella often benefit from the surrounding communities’ participation and input.
More famous for Alfred Kinsey’s in-depth studies of American sexual habits at a time when such things popped monocles and inspired pearl-clutchings, Indiana University also happens to exist as a largely LGBT-friendly campus. Activist Shane Windmeyer of Campus Pride fame also established the Lambda 10 project here alongside the school’s Greek leaders in 1995. Today, it exists as the only nonprofit fully dedicated to making fraternity and sorority houses safe spaces for LGBT students. Notable, because neither institution enjoys the healthiest reputation for inclusiveness, tolerance, and equitability.
Spring 1970 saw this historically progressive college offering up the nation’s very first undergraduate course in queer theory. Other schools in Illinois, New York, and even Nebraska quickly followed suit, paving the way for an entire academic field. The Gay Bears Collection pulls from Berkeley’s extensive archives — as well as its own inquiries — to provide students, faculty, staff, and visitors with detailed information about both hidden and not-so-hidden names, dates, and faces involved in the campus’ LGBT history.
Many — if not most — colleges and universities these days sport some form of official LGBT outreach, usually through an organization or dedicated student services department. University of Michigan launched the very first back in 1971, inspiring more and more to follow suit and provide comfort and safety to an unfairly marginalized segment of the community. Known as the Spectrum Center, it has spent the past four decades ensuring an equal place for LGBT students, faculty, and staff.
One of the oldest, most inspiring LGBT student organizations in the nation started at Kent State University in 1971, following the precedent set by Berkeley’s groundbreaking undergraduate courses. It started out as the Kent Gay Liberation Front and set about organizing talks, rallies, and even classes on the cause of equality. More than 70 people showed up to the very first meeting scheduled by sociology student Bill Hoover and English professor Dolores Knoll, and the school’s administrators largely supported their banding together and coming out.
When it comes to the more staunchly traditional Ivy League schools, one probably doesn’t think them bastions of LGBT tolerance and equality, though Yale has historically held a more progressive stance on the matter than its associates. It became the first of its type to organize a Gay Rights Week, rally, and dance celebrating sexual and gender diversity in 1977. Three years later, the school established a Gay and Lesbian Co-Op, which continued promoting LGBT rights, hosting lectures, promoting poetry and film, and other events furthering the cause.
Thanks to LGBT Phoenixes, America’s third-largest city enjoyed its very first gay rights organization, which quickly branched out into groups and events not affiliated with an academic establishment. The University of Chicago Gay Liberation Front banded together in 1969, and OutLaw — dedicated to LGBT law students — followed suit in 1984. By 1992, it was offering the very same domestic partnership benefits to lesbian and gay couples as it did heterosexuals.
Oberlin College frequently lands on lists of the most LGBT-accepting institutes of higher learning in the United States. While its older nature meant at some point it did, in fact, reflect the overarching climate’s prejudices, by the 1960s some semblance of sociopolitical revolution began burbling to the surface at the Conservatory. The 1970s saw more organizations, rallies, dances, and other events bringing the fight to campus, with the Oberlin Gay Liberation Front establishing itself in 1971. More contemporary scholars enjoy the Oberlin College LGBT Community History Project, which offers up first- and second-person accounts of LGBT community history both at the school and the broader social climate.
Yale may be one of the most notable Ivy League schools when it comes to sexual and gender identity equality, but it certainly doesn’t fly solo. Since 1967, the Columbia Queer Alliance has served as a safe haven and political rallying point for its LGBT student community — the very first of its kind in the world. Originally known as the Student Homophile League, organizers had to fight, fight, fight, and bite, bite, bite for years before Columbia officials finally green-lighted their group. It stood as one of the cornerstones of the equality movement before the Stonewall Riots two years later inspired others to action.
Thanks to the efforts of Daniel R. Pinello and his 1971 Williams Advocate article “The Homosexual at Williams: Coming Out,” students felt inspired to embrace their sexuality and group together in 1976 as the Williams Gay Support Organization. Reaction to its establishment and subsequent events, which included frank discussions about AIDS, coming out, and even a support hotline, showing love and support to a marginalized minority proved extremely mixed, if not outright hostile. In fact, much of the administration actively shot down attempts to celebrate diversity and promote equality. It wasn’t until 1985, when instances of bullying whipped up a crowd of 300 supporters, that the campus started turning around.