VCU to discuss impact of 1974 Gay Alliance of Students case on LGBT campus activism Thursday
This month, VCU’S College of Humanities and Sciences is hosting a speakers series titled, “Celebrating Forty Years of LGBTQ Activism” to commemorate the court decision that allowed for VCU’s first queer student organization to exist on campus.
This Thursday, Dr. Marc Stein of San Francisco State University, will give the second lecture in the series titled, “Students, Sodomy, and the State: LGBT Campus Struggles in the 1970s” at the University Commons.
In the fall of 1976, the Gay Alliance of Students won a case in the U.S Court of Appeals against the university for recognition and the ability to function as any other student group. What happened in this local case would transcend VCU and Richmond and set a precedent for queer rights in the South.
“We invited Dr.Stein to give a talk that would put the local story that we are commemorating into a larger national context,” said Dr. Richard Godbeer, Director of the Humanities Research Center at VCU. “Local stories are never just local stories, the case the students won here at VCU turned out to be a significant legal and historical precedent because it then applied to throughout the 4th circuit which covered several states.”
The victory of VCU’s Gay Alliance of Students fits the narrative of Dr.Stein’s presentation this Thursday as a part of a larger trend of cases involving queer students and their respective universities.
“The successful struggle of VCU’s Gay Alliance of Students in the 1970s was part of a much larger wave of LGBT, campus, and LGBT campus activism in that decade,” said Dr. Stein. “This particular struggle was about gaining official university recognition for a student group, but it fits into a much larger narrative of LGBT campus activism.”
According to Stein, that narrative includes campaigns against anti-LGBT discrimination on campus (for faculty, students, and staff); struggles to establish and fund LGBT, queer, sexuality, and gender studies programs; efforts to encourage faculty to include LGBT content in their courses; projects to improve campus health and safety programs for LGBT people and programs to address bullying and harassment in athletics.
Being queer was not explicitly illegal in the United States legislature, but it was the multiple bans of various sex acts that made queerness illegal.
“In the 1970s, when “Gay Alliance of Students” was decided, state sex laws had tremendous effects on queer students,” Stein said. “At that time, many states criminalize fornication, adultery, oral sex, anal sex, and cohabitation.”
Stein went on to say that while these laws were rarely enforced, they were used to justify various forms of discrimination against queer people and others.
“In fact, in many of the cases that I’ll be discussing, university officials claimed that they were justified in denying recognition to gay student groups precisely because such groups would encourage students to break state sex laws,” he said.
The victory of these students, just few years after the 1968 Stonewall Riots that began the modern day LGBTQ movement, sparked a push for the advancement of queer rights across the south and demonstrated the effectiveness of student activism.
“I think understanding the history of social movements and legal reform campaigns can help us think about new possibilities for social change,” Stein said. “The VCU case also reminds us that colleges and universities are not just sites for studying social change; they are also key institutions for making social change.”.
As we’ve seen recently university activism is becoming more normalized and effective about beginning narratives and creating changes both at VCU.
Dr.Stein’s presentation promises to situate VCU’s story within the larger story of queer student activism.
“I believe that younger queer activism can learn that they are not the only their fight for equality on campus,” Dr. Godbeer said. “This story of VCU and others, shows that there were others who fought for their equality before them…These incredibly brave students won a lawsuit which then set a precedent for several states across the South, that was very important, that was part of this larger history journey toward greater inclusion for LGBTQ people.”
Dr.Stein’s lecture, “Students, Sodomy and the State” will commence this Thursday Oct. 13 at 4pm in the VCU University Commons in Richmond Salons I and II.
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