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February 12, 1999 - Image 14

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The Michigan Daily, 1999-02-12

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14 The Michigan Daily - Friday, February 12, 1999

FRIDAYFOCUS

.1 r

t

A t a tea they hosted for students in the early
1970s, then University President Robben
leming and his wife were confronted with an
unusual sight, as he recalls with puzzlement in his mem-
oirs "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?"
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 libera-
tion 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 activi-
ties.
"Evidently, the struggle of the
patrons was something new to the
police," said James Toy, a
University graduate student at theA
time. "The riots went on for three V
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, call-
ing itself the Detroit Gay C
Liberation Movement. An early '70s po
As Toy recalls from working at OW" piN-
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 decid-
ed 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 stu-
dent group from the Student Government Council,
which preceded the Michigan Student Assembly.
Gay liberation movements were organizing at uni-
versities across the state, and Toy and other GLF lead-
ers 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 provi-
sions 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 pub-
lic'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 con-
ference 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.
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 stu-
dents.
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 uni-
versity 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 pro-
gram the Human Sexuality
Office. Not until the early
1980s would the administra-
tion 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-
tesy of the Bentley Historical Library teaching in the mid-1970s.
Dr advertises a "Gay "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 set-
ting an example for gay-friendly towns across the coun-
try.
Ann Arbor issued the first "Gay Pride Week"
proclamation in the nation and passed one of the broad-
est 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 T
closet together in 1974 at
a council meeting.A
A year later, Ann tA cartoon pamiolt ned
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.

our
Ste

ri

University alum David Barber and Ann Arbor
resident Torn Desjardin show their affection for each
other at last year's Coming Out Day Rally.
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 infor-
mation concerning the GLM."
Patrols and arrests
Prior to the gay liberation movement, police regu-
larly patrolled campus restrooms and other places sus-
pected as gay hangouts to catch people involved in
homosexual activities. One such sweep in 1959 result-
ed 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 "cam-
pus restrooms, mak-
ing verbal and writ-
ten agreements with
individuals. The
N, individuals were
8 later arrested."
More than a
coreyof the Bentley Historical library do More ta
Courtesy ydozen of the individ-
it in the Diag in the 1970s calls uals were students
"satanic," and one was a profes-
sor. 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 pres-
ident 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 sick-
ness like appendicities - no, it isn't like that. There
aren't very many cured, and people have incipient ten-
dencies. 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
nolice when it became known that he was gay. He

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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.

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