By Gerard Cohen-Vrignaud Daily Staff Reporter

 At a tea they hosted for students in the early 1970s, then University President Robben Fleming and his wife were confronted with an unusual sight, as he recalls with puzzlement in his memoirs "Tempests into Rainbows."

 "... As we stood in the receiving line, two males dressed in evening gowns suddenly approached. One looked like a football lineman, and sported a great, hairy chest made even more evident by his low-cut gown. The other was slender, wore earrings in both ears and lipstick just below his mustache and was dressed in white gown. The big man said his name was Kitty, so that is what we called him. ...Was it simply an act, drummed up for the fun of it?"
 
 
ADRIANA YUGOVICH/Daily University alum David Barber and Ann Arbor resident Tom Desjardin show their affection for each other at last year's Coming Out Day Rally
 
 
What the Flemings witnessed was not simply an act. The two men, dressed in drag, were making a political statement as part of the nascent gay liberation movement on campus.

 The roots of the movement can be traced back to events still fresh in the mind of many Americans. In June 1969, the patrons of a gay bar in New York City called the Stonewall Inn startled the nation, when they spilled into the streets and fought against police raids designed to curb homosexual activities.

"Evidently, the struggle of the patrons was something new to the police," said James Toy, a University graduate student at the time. "The riots went on for three nights. The Stonewall riots were the first gay events that drew national media attention."

 The riots gave steam to gay liberation movements in cities and on college campuses across the country. In January 1970, the first above-ground gay group formed in Michigan at St. Joseph's Episcopal Church in Detroit, calling itself the Detroit Gay Liberation Movement.

 As Toy recalls from working at the church, the first meeting was just a penciled-in note on a church calendar. Toy and a friend trekked from Ann Arbor to Detroit to attend meetings for about two months. In March, the two students decided to create their own gay liberation group in Ann Arbor.

They placed an ad in The Michigan Daily to announce the first meeting of the Ann Arbor Gay Liberation Front, which drew about 100 people. It was the first open meeting for gay people at the University.

 GLF soon gained recognition as a legitimate student group from the Student Government Council, which preceded the Michigan Student Assembly.

 Gay liberation movements were organizing at universities across the state, and Toy and other GLF leaders decided to host a conference on homosexuality at the University.

GLF asked the University for space to hold the conference, as was the right of any student group. In a memorandum to another administrator dated April 20, 1970, Fleming refused the request, citing state laws against homosexual acts.

 "The Michigan Penal Code contains strict provisions on the subject of homosexuality," Fleming wrote. "In order to qualify for the use of University of Michigan facilities, any conference ... ought ... to be clearly educational in nature and directed towards those people who have a professional interest in the field."

 GLF picketed the President's House in protest and SGC urged the administration to reverse its decision. But Fleming refused to back down, claiming the public's negative response to the conference would hurt the University's image.

 Gerry De Griek, SGC vice president, offered to GLF the use of space in the Student Activities Building, which was managed by students. The conference was held in spite of the administration's objections. The University administration sent an individual to the conference to report on the scope of the meeting and its implications, Toy said.

 In July 1970, the manager of the Michigan Union banned GLF from using its facilities for any reason after the group participated in an anti-war protest. Two weeks later, after GLF lobbied against the ban, the Union Board reversed the manager's decision.
Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library
An early '70s poster advertises a "Gay Love" pin.

 
 

Making strides

Having won its first major victories in 1970 and much publicity for its cause, GLF continued to lobby the administration for gay rights. Toy demanded that the University open an office with support services similar to the ones available for female and black students.

 The University acquiesced and an office to address the concerns of gay and lesbian students was created in fall of 1971, the first program of its kind at any university in the nation. Toy started as one of the office's two coordinators and eventually became its director.

 Still, in an effort to minimize exposure from its decision to create such an office, the University named the program the Human Sexuality Office. Not until the early 1980s would the administration include the words gay and lesbian in the office's name.

 The administration also pressured Daniel Tsang, a University student at the time, to change the name of a course he was student-teaching in the mid-1970s.
 
 
Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library
A cartoon pamphlet handed out in the Diag in the 1970s calls the Gay Liberation Movement "satanic."
"The dean of LSA did not want the word 'gay' in the title on the leaflet advertising the class," said Tsang, politics lecturer and bibliographer at the University of California at Irvine.

At the same time as the University was trying to improve its gay relations, the city of Ann Arbor was setting an example for gay-friendly towns across the country.

Ann Arbor issued the first "Gay Pride Week" proclamation in the nation and passed one of the broadest non-discrimination ordinances in the summer of 1972.

 De Griek, who had given GLF space for its conference, and Nancy Wechsler, another University student, were both elected to the Ann Arbor City Council in 1973 and came out of the closet together in 1974 at a council meeting.

 A year later, Ann Arbor voters elected Cathy Kozachenko, to the council - the first time an openly gay person had ever been elected to public office in the nation.
 
 

Government attention

GLF was intimately connected to other civil rights movements of '60s and '70s. In addition to protesting the war in Vietnam with Students for a Democratic Society, GLF supported the women's liberation movement and the Black Action Movement.

 The radical nature of all these groups attracted the attention of the national security agencies. The FBI kept a file on the Gay Liberation Movement at the University.

 In a memorandum to the bureau in Detroit, the FBI director ordered that the GLF be kept under scrutiny:

 "... The Gay Liberation Movement (GLM) is a self-described New Left-type student organization at the University of Michigan. Continue to obtain information concerning the GLM."
 
 
Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library
An article in The Michigan Daily's June 12, 1970 edition covers actions surrounding then University President Robben Fleming's refusal to allow a student group to host a conference on homosexuality on campus.

Patrols and arrests

Prior to the gay liberation movement, police regularly patrolled campus restrooms and other places suspected as gay hangouts to catch people involved in homosexual activities. One such sweep in 1959 resulted in the arrest of more than 30 individuals, all of whom were later charged with "gross indecency."

 The Daily reported on Jan. 5, 1960 that three plainclothes officers were sent to "campus restrooms, making verbal and written agreements with individuals. The individuals were later arrested."

More than a dozen of the individuals were students and one was a professor. The University later suspended most of the students and forced the professor to resign.

 The attitude of the University during the late '50s and early '60s preceding the Gay Liberation Movement was typical for the time. University administrators defended their decisions to crack down on gays because of the danger, as the then University executive vice president told the Daily in 1960, that "normal boys might be pulled into homosexual behavior."

 He added, "Let's have no mistake that it's a sickness like appendicities - no, it isn't like that. There aren't very many cured, and people have incipient tendencies. It just is not appropriate for the University to have on staff such encouragers."

 The pressure on gay men was intense, recalled Edward Weber, a University student at the time and currently a curator of the Labadie Collection at the Special Collections Library.

 "The University did have campaigns where they cooperated with authorities," Weber says. "The University didn't so much mind if you were gay but if you had brushes with the law, out you were. We are a puritanical society that thrives on repression."

 Weber said he was under surveillance by the police when it became known that he was gay. He said a police officer visited his apartment, claiming to be a friend's acquaintance and attempting to engage him in sexual activities. Weber suspected the man to be a police officer and refused his advances.

 "He said he wanted to stay at my place," Weber said. "A few years later when I went to the county jail for some friends, there he was at a desk."

 As the '60s progressed and student unrest became more common, local police stopped focusing on gay men's activities, Weber said. Police could scarcely contain the violent rallies that became more frequently, much less focus on patrolling campus restrooms, he said.

 "I think there was a lot less pressure when all the trouble began in the '60s," Weber said.

02-12-99
 
 

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