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LGBTQ+ History at Cornell

LGBTQ+ History at Cornell

Cornell’s Gay People’s Center Serves as Pilot Program, March 1972

The Cornell Gay People's Center at Sheldon Court on College Ave was opened in March 1972 in response to the needs of the growing gay community. Jointly financed by the University, GLF, and Graduate Coordinating Council, it was run as a five-year experiment. The new space gave the gay rights student group, Cornell’s Gay Liberation Front, more freedom to hold meetings and parties and served as a safer space than their former office in Willard Straight Hall where students feared being outed. However, the Gay People's Center was not immune to street vandalism and harassment as it received obscene phone calls and the bulletin board was once set on fire. In 1973, two Ithaca teenagers were arrested for breaking five windows over a two-week period, which only served to worsen relations between the Center and the manager of real estate for the University. Earlier that year, he ordered the Center to remove its banner from the front window because he said it was encouraging the vandals, "like waving a red flag in their faces."


November 1967 | The Cornell Daily Sun runs an article by Daniel M. Taubman: “Homophile League Chapter May Form Here,” verifying that the Cornell administration wouldn’t object.

May 10, 1968 | Cornell Student Homophile League Founded

A year before the pivotal NYC Stonewall Riots, Cornellians formed the Student Homophile League (SHL), becoming the country's second gay rights group to be organized on a college campus (after Columbia University's SHL). To protect privacy, Jearld F. Moldenhauer '69 arranged for Cornell's Scheduling, Coordination, and Activities Review Board (SCARB) to recognize the group without submitting names of its members. Known around campus for his progressive politics, Father Daniel Berrigan of Cornell United Religious Work agreed to serve as the group's first faculty advisor.

Source: History of the First LGB College Student Groups. 

June 28, 1970 | Cornell Students Marched in NYC's First Gay Pride March

On the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Cornell students marched in NYC's Gay Pride March wearing t-shirts they silk-screened themselves on the lawn between Anabel Taylor Hall and the Law School.

 

December 3, 1970 | Cornell's Gay Liberation Front Begins a Three-Month Boycott Against a Collegetown Bar

During Cornell's very own Stonewall (minus the riots), several hundred people, many from Cornell's Students for a Democratic Society and the newly formed Cornell Women's Liberation, demonstrated in front of the bar as about fifty members of Cornell's Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and supporters sat inside, refusing to buy drinks or leave. In the months prior to the boycott, gay Cornellians established Morrie's as theirde facto gay bar—albeit on the down low. When a homophobic Cornell Daily Sun columnist exposed this open secret in print, the bar's owner kicked out GLF members that same night and the night after. The boycott was effective, receiving widespread attention in the nation's gay news media, and ended three months later with a written apology from the bar's owner. Sources: History of the First LGB College Student Groups, Cornell Daily Sun: "Boycott Morrie's", Cornell Daily Sun: "GLF Concludes Boycott of Bar".

June 1979 | Cornell LGBT Alumni Group Conceived at Reunion

At their class's first reunion, Art Leonard '74 and Mark Schwartz '74 became interested in planning an event for gay alumni at their next class reunion. Leonard recounts that "these talks crystallized into the idea of starting a gay alumni association for Cornell. Since neither of us had been active in the on-campus gay student organization while undergraduates, we had no direct contacts on campus to do this, so we decided to just proceed on our own."

Source: "How CUGALA Got Started & The Early Years". 

December 1979 | Cornell Alumni News Prints a Letter Recruiting Gay Alumni for a LGBT Alumni Group

Cornell Alumni News printed a letter by Art Leonard '74 and Mark Schwartz '74, calling upon gay alumni to contact them about the formation of a gay alumni organization. A first meeting was subsequently held in NYC between Leonard, Dr. Richard Marcus '54, Steven Siegel '68, and Bob Roth '71, who was the president of Cornell's Gay Liberation Front as a student. Meanwhile, Schwartz started developing a local chapter in San Francisco.

Source: "How CUGALA Got Started & The Early Years".

June 30, 1980 | CUGALA's First Appearance in the NYC Pride March

Art Leonard '74: "One of our first activities was to provide a mechanism for LGBT Cornellians and their friends to march together under a CUGALA banner in the annual NYC Pride March... which we did for the first time in 1980 with a homemade red banner that said, 'Cornell Alumni.' An alumni organization in the Gay Pride March was a new phenomenon, worthy of mention by the New York Daily News in its coverage of the march."

March 1988 | Cornell University Library's Human Sexuality Collection Established

Early attempts by CUGALA and David Goodstein '54, publisher of The Advocate, to start a book fund and archive for LGBT materials were rebuffed by the University in 1981. Meanwhile, the Mariposa Education and Research Foundation accumulated a library of research materials related to human sexuality, particularly gay and lesbian sexuality, at a time when AIDS began to decimate gay communities nationwide. When Goodstein approached the University again, he and Bruce Voeller, a scientist and cofounder of both the Mariposa Foundation and the National Gay Task Force, began negotiating the terms by which a permanent human sexuality collection would be established at Cornell. According to Art Leonard '74, after Goodstein died, "he achieved in death what he could not in life through a conditional bequest to Cornell..." Voeller then donated the Mariposa Foundation's archives, thereby fulfilling both their missions to establish major institutional support for human sexuality scholarship. As one of the world's largest of its kind, the Human Sexuality Collection preserves primary sources that document historical shifts in the social construction of sexuality, with a focus on U.S. lesbian and gay history and the politics of pornography. Former director of the Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections, Tom Hickerson says, "The pages in these archives convey the color, the sound, the texture of people's lives. A hundred years from now, when people want to know, really know, about the human toll of AIDS, this is where they'll look." Sources: Cornell Magazine: "Sex in the Archives", "How CUGALA Got Started & The Early Years" by Art Leonard '74. 

ca.1992 | CUGALA Established a Book Fund for Cornell University Library's Human Sexuality Collection

 

1992 | University Vetoes Two Proposals by Students for a LGBT Living Center

Like many other minority program houses and community centers, the LGBT Resource Center was born out of controversy and protest. During the 1992-1993 academic year, LGBT students lobbied twice for a living and learning unit modeled after Ujamaa, Akwe:kon, and the Multicultural Living Center (McLLU)—the latter two of which were established within the preceding two years. Both proposals were endorsed by the Student Assembly, a public forum, a random survey of 300 students, and a referendum in which 786 students said they would live in such a house. "This unit would have been the third such living center in the nation" if then-President Frank H.T. Rhodes didn't veto the two proposals. Although President Rhodes claimed that "he would deny any additional program houses to any other 'racial, religious, ethnic, or special interest group'" because "any additional living centers would only further fragment the campus," the Latino Living Center was formed as a result of 1993's Day Hall Takeover in the fall. In the takeover's aftermath, President Rhodes "offered LGBT students a 'study group' to deal with homosexual issues but which had no time frame, no mission statement, no financial backing, no guarantee of any implementation of its findings, and no written report requirement."


1994 | LGBT Resource Office Established

Despite multiple refusals, LGBT students continued advocating for a living center—especially after the Latino Living Center was established later that year. As a consolation, then-President Frank H.T. Rhodes granted the students a "study group" that eventually led to the formation of the LGBT Resource Office (LGBTRO). The students then conceded their efforts to build a living center, on the condition that LGBTRO fall under the Office of the Vice President of Student Academic Services so LGBT people "would have a direct voice to administration." Most importantly, the LGBTRO began to serve the entire community of students, staff, faculty, and alumni. In May of 1998, its name changed to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center. Susie Lerner (1994-1995), Carlisle Douglas (1995-1998), Gwendolyn Dean (1998-2008), Matthew Carcella (2008-2013), Brian Patchcoski (2014-2018), and Christopher Lujan (2018-present)  have led the center as coordinators or director. Since its founding and first home in Anabel Taylor Hall, the Resource Center has moved from White Hall to Caldwell Hall due to renovations in 2001 and now resides in 626 Thurston Ave (formerly the Alumni House) as of 2011.


1995 | An undergraduate minor in a new Cornell program in LGBT Studies (then called LGB Studies) is first offered

To expand and institutionalize the sexuality component of the Women's Studies program, a minor in Lesbian, Bisexual & Gay (LBG) Studies was established at both the graduate and undergraduate levels—around the time when queer theory was taking root in academia. The interdisciplinary program is devoted to the study of sexuality and its importance to the organization of social relations. Scholars in the field are primarily concerned with the lives, politics, and creative work of sexual minorities. The program currently includes courses that study sexuality and sexual minorities from anthropological, psychological, sociological, biological, political, historical, literary, and artistic perspectives. In 2002, Women's Studies became Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies to "shift the emphasis of the program even further toward the intertwining of gender and sexuality with structures of power and inequality," and, in 2009, the LGB Studies changed its name to LGBT Studies in 2009.

2011 | A rare group of 10,000 gay-themed photographs, dating to the 1860s, is donated to Cornell University Library by Harry Weintraub.

2014 | Cornell host its first-ever LGBT Alumni, Families, and Allies Reunion as part of Reunion weekend.

2019 | Loving House: The LGBTQ+ Living and Learning Unit is Established

Nearly 25 years after the initial proposals for a LGBT Living Center were vetoed by administrations, the Student Assembly passed a resolution in November 2017 to create a queer inclusive program house, which was endorsed by President Martha E. Pollack in March of 2018. In August of 2019, the Loving House opened its doors in Mews Hall to the inaugural cohort of 30 residents. LGBTQ+ Liaison At-Large Ian Wallace ‘20, was a cosponsor of the S.A. Resolution with Joseph Anderson ‘20, and was also an integral member of the working group that formed the basis for Loving House. 
The purpose of Loving House is to create an environment that protects and supports Cornell University's community of LGBTQIA+ students. Loving House is an intentional residential space that is inclusive to all identities to foster an environment of close-knit support and safety.