Cover:Moving Forward

Moving Forward:
Lesbians and Gay Men
at Michigan State University

Report of the University-Wide
Task Force on
Lesbian & Gay Issues
Volume I


CHAPTER 4

A Rich Heritage:
The History of Lesbians and Gay Men at MSU (Cont.)




BUILDING COMMUNITY

Everywoman's Conference

Early in 1973, campus feminists felt that their demands for an end to sex discrimination on campus had been met with what some referred to as "supportive lip service" by the university administration, but that no substantial improvement was forthcoming. To develop a viable feminist political force on campus, they called for an Everywoman's Conference, saying "a women's conference is now needed at this critical time in the history of the Women's Movement at MSU. As a call to everywoman concerned for herself and her sisters, this event could catalyze our energies and increase our effectiveness as a political force in the community and on campus."27 Included in the program was a workshop titled "Gay-Straight Relations in the Movement," led by Gayle Swanbeck and Barb Grey.


Gay Liberation Movement As the 1970s progressed, the Gay Liberation Movement established a slate of regular activities on campus. Omark reported in his dissertation that meetings in 1973­74 attracted between 11 and 19 men, but that some sponsored events, such as dances, were very popular. He noted that "many gay males were repulsed by Gay Lib's activist stance and publicity-seeking and did not attend any of its meetings."28

During the 1974 - 75 school year, GLM received an average of 72 calls per month. Members had a Gay Thanksgiving potluck supper and a regular group of people went swimming at the Intramural Building each week. The organization began two rap sessions and offered panel discussions to campus groups.29


Violence in Laingsburg

On May 28, 1974, GLM members Bill Steele and Carl Frankel drove to Laingsburg to participate in a panel discussion at the high school. The session went well and the young men left without incident, according to The Lansing Star.

The next afternoon a talk show on Lansing radio station WITL began receiving phone calls from angry Laingsburg parents who were upset by the appearance of gay men on the high school panel. Several gay listeners called the station, and, according to the newspaper, "WITL hadn't had a busier phone since Stringbean died."

The following Sunday, Steele and Frankel drove to Laingsburg hoping to talk to people. They placed a Gay Liberation sign on their car and sat on the hood. According to the paper, "Punks smashed their sign, people yelled at them and spit on them. Drunks with guns stared at them. A woman told them, 'I hope they kill you.'" About 5 p.m. a fight broke out. When the police were called, the two decided it was time to leave Laingsburg.30


Lesbians Organize Off Campus

Lesbians who wanted to be politically active tended to find their community off-campus. East Lansing Lesbian Feminists formed in the fall of 1973 "for all gay women of all ages from all walks of life" and met at the Women's Center.31 By 1975, the Women's Center in East Lansing was offering abortion counseling, a newspaper collective, a women's music collective, rape counseling, a gay women's rap group, a speakers bureau, and feminist counseling. That same year, the Women's Center became the Lesbian Center. Members soon found themselves embroiled in a lawsuit with their landlady who did not want to rent to lesbians.32 Although the center moved to Lansing and suffered a fire in 1982, it is still in operation.

In the Lansing area, there were at least 16 other feminist organizations, ranging from the Ambitious Amazons, who published Lesbian Connection and ran the Lesbian Center, to the Women's Restaurant Collective which was planning to open a women's restaurant in the area. While most of these organizations were not strictly for lesbians, lesbian involvement was strong in many of them.33


As Well as On Campus

Lansing Area Lesbian Feminists had become a registered student organization in 1974 and was closely tied to the Lansing Lesbian Center. In 1975, a notice appeared in the Lesbian Center newsletter that a "discussion group is forming for women faculty who are lesbians or concerned about lesbianism in the context of professional life and/or the women's movement."

The Woman's Media Collective began producing "Woman's Voice" on WKAR Radio on Sunday afternoons, featuring women's music, conversation, and commentary.34

By early 1978, Michigan State University offered a Women's Resource Center in the Student Services Building, an Office of Women's Programs, a Women's Studies Collective, and the Associated Students of MSU Women's Council. In the mid 1970s, the Women's Resource Center offered a library; published Michigan Woman biweekly; and sponsored brown bag lunches, a referral center, independent study in women's issues, a traveling display, and a program for student groups.


Frye Offers Feminist Theory

Marilyn Frye, an MSU philosophy professor, began teaching "Philosophical Aspects of Feminism" in 1974. As an out lesbian offering a separatist political analysis, she was able to make real for lesbian students the possibility of living and working openly at a time when virtually all gay and lesbian professors were deeply closeted.


East Lansing Passes Rights Ordinance

From 1972 to 1974, MSU activists had kept pressure on the East Lansing City Council to pass a gay rights ordinance. When it finally passed in 1974 prohibiting discrimination in employment or public accommodations, it was over the objections of Wilbur Brookover, architect of the MSU Antidiscrimination Policy and mayor of East Lansing, according to The Lansing Star.35

The ordinance was irregularly enforced. The Lansing Star reported harassment of same-sex dancers at the Rainbow Ranch and at Dooley's. In April 1975, gay dancers were harassed, then expelled along with the customers who were harassing them. They then moved to Beggar's Banquet, where they were also harassed, but the management at Beggar's called the police to protect the gay customers.36


Gay Minority Aides Established

According to Mary Haas, now director of the MSU Department of Residence Life, a staff position called gay minority aide existed for two years in the residence halls. Hubbard Hall had the gay minority aide in 1976-77 and Snyder-Phillips Hall, in 1977-78.37


ONE STEP FORWARD...

The Anita Bryant Years

By 1977, the gay and lesbian presence on campus was firmly established. The Gay Liberation Movement had become the Gay Council, a much more "mainstream" name. But as gay rights activists began to make strides nationwide, homophobic resistance also became more visible. Anita Bryant, nationally known as a spokeswoman for the Florida citrus industry, launched a virulent antigay crusade that provided a climate for increased tension and controversy on campus during 1977.


Inclusion as a Protected Group

Early in 1977, the MSU Antidiscrimination Policy that had been established in 1970 was reviewed. Proposed changes included consolidation of the Committee Against Discrimination and the Antidiscrimination Judicial Board; elimination of the university's responsibility to pay for each of the contesting parties' counsel; and elimination of an outside arbitration process. Under the proposed changes, if two contesting parties could not reach an agreement within the ADJB process, the decision would be referred to the university president and the Board of Trustees rather than to an outside arbitrator.

Proponents of the proposed changes, including ADJB Executive Secretary Sallie Bright, argued that revisions would accelerate the grievance process and reduce costs. Opponents argued that the revisions were made without sufficient consultation with minority and women's groups and would make the policy ineffective in stopping discrimination on campus. Faculty members Zolton Ferency, Bob Repas, and C. Patrick "Lash" Larrowe fought the revisions.38

While the Board of Trustees on February 25, 1977, adopted the revisions substantially as proposed, Trustee Jack M. Stack moved to amend Article II of the proposed policy and procedures by adding "age, political persuasion, and sexual orientation" under Kinds of Discrimination Prohibited. The motion to amend carried unanimously.39For the first time, gays and lesbians were specifically protected against discrimination on campus.

In a recent telephone interview, Stack said that there had been no organized pressure on him to introduce the term "sexual orientation" into the policy. He recalled that he had been in favor of civil rights for gay people for a number of years.40

The kinds of discrimination that were to be prohibited on the basis of sexual orientation included (1) disparity of treatment in employment, job placement, promotion, or other economic benefits; (2) limitation of access to residence or to participation in educational, athletic, social, cultural, or other activities of the university; and (3) harassment. The policies applied to (1) all educational, cultural, and social activities occurring on campus; (2) university-sponsored programs occurring off-campus; (3) housing supplied or regulated by the university for students and staff, including fraternities and sororities; and (4) employment relations between the university and its employees.41


Everywoman's Weekend Returns

After a four-year absence, Everywoman's Weekend was revived in January 1977. Offering programming relevant to both heterosexual women and lesbians, the weekend included workshops such as "Sexism and Heterosexism," led by Marilyn Frye and Carolyn Shafer, and "Dialogue about Lesbianism."42 The following year, in April 1978, guest performers included lesbian singers Willie Tyson and Cass Culver. Theologian Mary Daly, also a lesbian, was a guest speaker.43


Gay Blue Jeans Day

Despite the positive step of including sexual orientation in the antidiscrimination policy, tensions erupted in October 1977 when MSU joined other campuses in proclaiming Gay Blue Jeans Day "as part of an attempt by the National Gay Task Force to increase public awareness of the problems facing gays." The purpose was "to help determine how many gays are on campus and to let forgetful nongays caught in blue jeans feel the oppression suffered daily by gays," according to Gay Council member Dan Jones.44

State News columnist Ira Elliott wrote afterwards, "I never imagined it would blossom into a campus issue. I thought its purpose would be lost, drowned in snickers and misunderstanding." To a letter writer who complained that homosexuals should have the courage to proclaim their sexuality openly without "gay lib," Elliott responded, "That's about like saying women of the 19th century should have had the courage to wear slacks and blow cigarette smoke in their husband's faces or have abortions."45

Another letter writer argued that Gay Blue Jeans Day created a situation where the minority was ruling the majority. Jones responded

...the majority dictated to themselves. If they didn't oppress a minority, no negative stigmas would surround that group and people would have felt comfortable wearing what they wanted. I pose the question, 'Why were some people afraid to wear jeans on Friday?' You let yourself be dictated to...46

Attempted Ouster

On the heels of the Gay Blue Jeans debate, ASMSU Student Board President Kent Barry introduced a bill calling for the elimination of Gay Council from the ASMSU Code of Operations. The bill was to eliminate the Gay Council as a council representing a minority student group, with an accompanying loss of funding. Barry argued that because gay people choose to be homosexual, they are not in a minority in the sense that black and handicapped people are. Being black or handicapped is a "physical" condition, while homosexuality is a "mental" one, he said.47

In a meeting packed with supporters of the Gay Council, the ASMSU Student Board on November 8, 1977, voted Barry's bill down 8­1, with two abstentions. The State News commended the decision and attributed the vote to the "intense pressure" put on the board by concerned faculty, Gay Council representatives and the media.48


Challenging Anita

The day after ASMSU voted to retain the Gay Council, local activists demonstrated on the state capitol steps to protest a proposed Michigan House resolution commending Anita Bryant. The rally, sponsored by the new Lansing Gay Liberation Front, attracted between 50 and 175 people.49 Richard Varin, a member of Gay Council, was quoted in The State News, "The only way Anita Bryant can be fought is for all gays to come out of the closet."

Back on campus, friends and members of the local gay community set up an information table next to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Education Club table to protest its annual citrus fruit sale in the Union. Club president Wayne Cook said that no one had thought of Anita Bryant when the sale was organized. According to Cook, club members at the citrus table were harassed by cold stares, graffiti, snide remarks, and even had their table stolen.50


Dan Jones for President

In 1978, Dan Jones ran for ASMSU board presidency as an openly gay man. During the campaign, columnist Ira Elliott endorsed Jones, saying, "When the current ASMSU administration was looking to push Gay Council back into the closet, Dan Jones fought the small-minded and won. Under much the same circumstances involving the Women's Council and the Office of Black Affairs, he defended those groups with similar vigor and spirit."51 Jones was elected ASMSU president, then successfully survived a recall attempt during his term. However, even though the recall had failed, Jones resigned his position as the meeting ended.


PUSHING FORWARD

Housing Rights

Gay and lesbian groups from throughout the Lansing area joined together on August 23, 1979, to form the Lansing Association for Human Rights (LAHR). The by-laws of the new organization stated, "The purpose of LAHR is to coordinate gay and lesbian activities in the Lansing area through increased communication, to organize social groups and events for area gays and lesbians, and to assist in local, state, and national gay male/lesbian activism."52

Almost immediately, LAHR became involved in campus activism. By December, LAHR and the Gay Rights Lobby of Michigan sent a letter to the MSU Board of Trustees protesting that, when renting university apartments, "the university rental policy discriminates against nonmarital families and single individuals on the basis of marital status." Their letter requested that the Board of Trustees eliminate marital status and sexual preference factors in the determination of rents. Under the existing regulations, legally married couples could rent a one-bedroom apartment for $156, while such an apartment would cost $188 for two single individuals.

Apartment manager John Roetman said, "If the family units were available to single individuals, families would be driven out." He noted that one reason for the higher rates for singles was that maintenance services and kitchenware were provided in the singles units. Lyle Thorburn, assistant vice-president of MSU Housing and Food Services, added that most single students stay only nine months, whereas families occupy the apartments year around.53


May I Have This Dance?

As the decade ended, Dan Jones and Ben Lowry attempted to register as a dance team in the eighth annual Dance For Strength Marathon, scheduled for February 1980 at the Meridian Mall and sponsored by Delta Tau Delta. When the fraternity refused to register the couple, marathon chair Mark Torigan said that two men could not enter because the event's major sponsor, Miller Brewing Company, had reportedly threatened to pull out "if the situation with the gays became too volatile." The stakes were high, since that year's dance became the number one nonprofit, nonprofessional fund-raising event in the country for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Forty-four male/female couples raised $144,000 in pledges.54

Undaunted by their rejection, about 20 gay and lesbian couples arrived at the marathon at about 11 p.m. and gathered around the outside of the dance floor chanting, "hey hey, ho ho, this gay oppression has got to go." They then danced alongside dance-a-thon participants, but outside the roped area. Jones estimated that the gay-lesbian group raised about $100 before they left at 12:15 a.m.55


Crackdown in Lansing

During the spring of 1980, 39 gay men, including an MSU instructor, were arrested in downtown Lansing for solicitation of undercover Lansing police officers in the neighborhood of Lansing's gay bars. When LAHR invited the arrested men to come forward and give their stories, six responded with written statements. All six stated that the arresting officer physically encouraged or approached the defendant, and all were asked by the officer what type of sex they enjoyed. The human rights group then demanded an investigation of police practices regarding enforcement of the solicitation law against gays. While the police department failed to cooperate with the requested investigation, Ingham County Prosecutor Peter Houk suspended prosecution of individuals charged with solicitation if no money had changed hands.56


Gay Alligators

When plans for Gay Pride Week were announced in mid May 1980, The State News proclaimed that "Blue Jean Day is a thing of the past."57 But during Gay Pride Week, May 16 through 24, posters appeared proclaiming Friday, May 23, to be Gay Alligator Day, sponsored by the "Greek Action Committee," and calling gay people to wear alligator shirts that day. An anonymous individual later took credit for the idea, which was not connected with the Lesbian-Gay Council Pride Week activities. 58 In a recent interview, the originator of Gay Alligator Day explained that the Izod alligator emblem was commonly associated with "preppy" fraternity boys and that Gay Pride Week coincided with Greek Week that year. The tension between the gay activists and members of the fraternity system had led him to conceive of Gay Alligator Day.


On Television

An interview series exploring local lesbian and gay life as the community entered the 1980s aired on WELM television from May 10 through May 16, 1980. The four-segment program was sponsored by LAHR and the MSU Lesbian-Gay Council and was produced by Rick Rappaport.


We Challenge You...

Listing 377 administrators, staff, and student leaders by name in a full-page State News advertisement on January 13, 1982, the Lesbian-Gay Council addressed them with this message:

We challenge you - the administration, the faculty, the fraternities, the sororities, the residence hall councils or any other group in the university community - to meet with usŠDo you dare to take our challenge? Be careful. We may change your mind.

The ad generated a flurry of angry letters to The State News, but spokesperson Matt Gatson reported that there were fewer negative responses than expected. In fact, he said the ad had resulted in a number of requests for educational panels. He stated that he had gone through the proper channels in publishing the ad. "The overall goal is to let people know it's okay to be gay," Gatson said.59


Maranatha Protests Gay Funding

In April 1982, protesting the funding of the Lesbian-Gay Council, eight students from the Maranatha Christian Fellowship signed refund cards at the ASMSU office to withdraw that portion of their university fees used to fund ASMSU programs. The 50-member fellowship said in a signed statement, "We could be using [the money] to put in our own treasury where it will be used for the glory of God instead of something which is immoral. So therefore we wish to retrieve these dollars so we can put them to better use."60 Maranatha member Trent Erway said members would arrive in groups of 10 throughout the week to obtain their refunds.

At that time, the Lesbian-Gay Council received $2,400 annually from a total ASMSU Programming Board budget of $140,000. Executive Director of ASMSU Therese Grossi said that MSU prohibited discrimination against any individual based on sexual preference and that ASMSU would follow that policy.61


Gay Rights or Last Rites

On April 14, 1982, a display ad in The State News called for students to "Take a Stand Against Homosexual Perversion" by attending a lecture by the Rev. Stephen Harrison, "noted heterosexual Bible teacher," at 110 Anthony Hall. His talk was entitled, "Gay Rights Could Be Our Nation's Last Rites."62 The meeting, sponsored by The Way, attracted more than 200 people, with about half expressing support for gay rights.

According to The State News, "Among several attacks at gays, Harrison attempted to satirize a statement by a New York bishop that the ordination of a lesbian priest was 'a great step forward.'"

Halfway through the statement, the gay rights supporters responded with a 45-second standing ovation for the bishop's remark. The progay part of the audience often heckled Harrison, who, at one point, threatened to call campus police. Harrison closed the meeting with a half-hour reading of biblical scriptures, following a satirical presentation of gay-related terms and phrases.

According to The State News, Harrison invited people to stay and discuss the Bible after the formal meeting, but said, "If you're going to cause a disturbance then get the f--- out." He then outlined a "three-pronged plan" to "eliminate homosexual perversion around campus."

When Matt Gatson, director of the Lesbian-Gay Council, charged that Harrison's appearance violated MSU policy by not allowing questions and free discussion of the ideas presented, John Stauffer of The Way said, "That's the way it was designed to be. If there were to be a question-and-answer session, it would have been absolute chaosŠIf you were to let them ask one question, you lose total control."63


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