A Timeline of the LGBT Community at Michigan State University

1 12 2014

Early twentieth century saw an almost non-existent gay population on campus and even in the area. Students recalled a time when there were no gay bars, no gay community, and not even a real way to identify as gay (History at MSU, Report). The 1950s saw “gay purges” where people would be requested to take a lie detector test at the police station where they were asked intimate details about possible gay relations and would often leave the community (History at MSU, Report). One man was banned from the ROTC after he had been questioned. There was a looming fear for safety and job security if the community found out someone was gay, and therefore creating support groups was not a safe choice. (The Final Report Vol. I of the University Wide Task-Force on Lesbian and Gay Issues, 1992: A History of the Gay and Lesbian Experience at Michigan State University)
In the 1960s, “homosexual activity” was added to the Michigan State University Department of Public Safety Annual report as a category of complaint. Within the first year that this category was added, there were fourteen different reports and six arrests made under that claim. The following few years saw a rise from six to twenty arrests (History at MSU, Report). This decade also saw the basement of the MSU Union Building remodeled after the men’s bathroom became known as a place for homosexual activity. (The Final Report Vol. I of the University Wide Task-Force on Lesbian and Gay Issues, 1992: A History of the Gay and Lesbian Experience at Michigan State University)
Michigan State and the East Lansing community went through great changes in the 1970s. The Gay Liberation Movement became a registered student organization in 1970 and was very active on campus, responsible for the establishment of Pride Week at State. 1970 was also the year that a Human Sexuality course at MSU included materials by gay/lesbian authors and provided a safe space for student to openly discuss sexual orientation. An openly lesbian professor at MSU provided a representation of success to students in the LGBT community of the ’70s. In 1974, the East Lansing Council passed a gay rights ordinance that prohibited discrimination in the workplace and public places. Though harassment still occurred, it gave public places more power to take action, just as Beggar’s Banquet did the following year when people were being harassed in their establishment. 1977 was a big year for change as it included both progress and discouragement. The Gay Liberation Movement became the Gay Council and picked up more power and steam on campus, an anti-gay crusade caused tension and controversy, and an amendment to the anti-discrimination policy was changed to include sexual orientation. A creative event called “Gay Blue Jeans Day” asked anyone who identified as gay to wear blue jeans on a particular day. Any person that was forgetful or unaware of the call for blue jeans and found themselves dressed in jeans on that day may feel the oppression that the lesbian and gay community felt on a daily basis. That same year, the ASMSU Student Board President attempted to disband the Gay Council after he claimed it was not like other minority groups where people are born a certain way and rather “gay people choose to be homosexual” (History at MSU, Report). His proposal was voted down. The following year, in 1978, an openly gay student won the presidency of ASMSU. (The Final Report Vol. I of the University Wide Task-Force on Lesbian and Gay Issues, 1992: A History of the Gay and Lesbian Experience at Michigan State University)

(UA 12.3.14, Box 4454)

Click to enlarge (UA 12.3.24, Box 4454)

In 1982, Delta Sigma Phi suspended one of their brothers on the grounds that he was “incompatible” with the fraternity due to his involvement on the Lesbian-Gay Council. Though the student had already chosen to move out of the house after feeling unconformable when his brother found out about his involvement, Delta Sigma Phi still chose to suspend him from any house activities. The Anti-Discrimination Judicial Board ruled that the fraternity was in violation with the anti-discrimination policy at MSU, but the fraternity repealed it. When they were rejected, the group threatened to sue the school if MSU President Mackey did not veto the ruling. Due to the fact that the Greek community is a separate entity, President Mackey overruled the Board’s decision and reinforced that choice with the claim that Greek Life functioned on a single-sex basis and therefore did not fall under the sex discrimination policy. Multiple deaths in the Lansing area due to AIDS called for a step-up in awareness from both Olin Health Center and the Gay-Lesbian Council. In 1987, The College Republicans tried to fight “Gay Blue Jeans Day” with “Straight Shirt Day” in hopes to offset the mission of the day, ASMSU condemned their attempt. Beginning in 1988, Michigan State saw a string of harassment and discrimination from students to students. A State News writer was attacked in one of the halls and warned that they should stop writing about gay/lesbian issues in the paper. The 1989 Pride Week was all but welcomed with chalked messaged of hateful and demeaning anti-gay messages on the Wells Hall Bridge, some of which directly targeted a Resident Assistant who had helped plan Pride Week. That RA was targeted when his room was set on fire and the State News received an anonymous call that it was only the first strike just before another target found their car soaked in gasoline. The Department of Public Safety claimed that the fire was caused by accident as opposed to intentional harassment, however, MSU President DiBiaggio put out a statement to condemn those who discriminate or harass. (The Final Report Vol. I of the University Wide Task-Force on Lesbian and Gay Issues, 1992: A History of the Gay and Lesbian Experience at Michigan State University)

(UA 12.3.14, Box 4454)

Click to enlarge (UA 12.3.24, Box 4454)

The 1990s was another rocky decade for the LGBT community. The 1990 Coming Out Day was met with a “seltzer bomb” (a two-liter bottle with ingredients that expand and explode), no injuries or damage was done but the Lesbian/Gay Council was outraged at the act (State News, Bomb Explodes at Assembly, 10/17/1990). In 1991, a MSU student brought Sigma Lambda Phi, a socially progressive fraternity, to campus as a place for both gay and heterosexual men to build community. The Final Report of the University-Wide Task Force on Lesbian and Gay Issues was published in 1992, outlining the history and giving suggestions to better the life of lesbian and gay students at Michigan State. Some of the suggestions included improvement in anti-discrimination policies, employment, LGBT curriculum/materials and campus education, admission, Greek Life, and mentioning. Queer Color, a group created for lesbian, bi, and gay minorities was established in 1994. Michigan State University employees were given health benefits for their same-sex domestic partners in 1998. 1999 Pride Week had a special event when the ten year time capsule was opened to show newspapers clippings a letters that helped students put in perspective where MSU and college campuses nation-wide have come in those ten years, and where it still needed to reach. (The State News)

(UA 12.3.14, Box 4454)

Click to enlarge (UA 12.3.24, Box 4454)

The LGBT community grew stronger and move visible as the new millennia came. In 2000, there was a push for a LGBT aide in the residence halls, similar to the minority aides (a position that today has developed into the Intercultural Aides), though the position was never established. Pi Kappa Phi was suspended in 2002 when pledges wore pink shirts with offensive phrases including “Fag Hairstylist” and others into a dining hall. The removed leaders of the fraternity did not try to appeal the national council’s ruling to close the chapter with the chance for recolonization the following fall. That March, MSU hosted a gay conference with an attendance expected to be over 1,000 people and events that included speakers and workshops. The event proved as a mark of success for both LGBT groups on campus and MSU leaders in their progression on-campus. MSU students held a rally in 2005 to show their disapproval with Michigan’s vote of Proposal 2. The Sesquicentennial Parade included a float titled “Cheers for Queers”, created by The Alliance of LBGT and Straight Ally Students, and was met with positive cheers from the crowd. That year also saw Conservative Coming Out Day, equipped with a mock closet, which upset the LGBT community as that group is usually associate with views against the LGBT community and implies certain things about what Coming Out means to their community (10/12/2005, State News). In 2006, Michigan State University was ranked in the top 100 best colleges for LGBT students, according to The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students, written by Shane Windmeyer (State News). Not long after, a bathroom crawl was conducted to raise awareness and fight for gender neutral bathrooms and “inclusion of gender identity in the MSU anti-discrimination policy” (LBGT Resource Center webpage, 4/11/2007). Also in this decade, with respect and open-mindedness, MSU’s Department of Residence Life and its LGBT Resources Center began to work with students to take into consideration transgender students in their living arrangements on campus. Late in this decade, the program New2U was created to help LGBT freshmen acclimate to campus with connections to resources and weekly meetings. (The State News)
The current decade has seen some very positive events coming out of the hard work of the LGBT and Allies in the Michigan State and East Lansing community. In 2011, Residence Halls Association (RHA) partnered with the Red Cross to do a blood-drive that protested the life-ban on gay men. Someone could donate their blood along with a note that the blood was in honor of someone who could not donate, to display the amount of blood that could have been donated if both people were allowed. The LGBT Resource Center held a Queer and Career Conference that year, to help students in their transition into corporate America. That same year, the LGBT Specialization was in the works, as was a LGBT focused study abroad. Also in 2011, Ingham County had the second highest number of same-sex couples, after Washtenaw County (home to University of Michigan). “I am an Ally” program through the LGBT Resource Center gave allies a way “to give visibility and voice to people who are supportive of the LBGTQ community” (LGBT Resource Center: Programs and Services). In 2012, RHA officially passed a policy that allowed gender-neutral housing. In March of that year, the East Lansing City Council recognized the Gay Liberation Movement as a key player in becoming the nation’s first city to “ban discrimination based on sexual orientation” in 1972 and how MSU continues to follow their lead in bringing equality to the LGBT community (East Lansing City Council: A Resolution Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of East Lansing’s First-in-the-Nation Ban on Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation, 3/7/2012). 2013 was another year of pride and awareness at MSU and included Celebrate Bisexuality Day, the finalization of the LGBTQ and sexual studies Specialization. East Lansing also made big moves that year; the city gave same-sex couples the right to place their names in the city directory to be recognized by East Lansing, even if the state laws prevent their formal recognition. The city also received the high score of eighty-six on the Human Rights Campaign report, though it was scored prior to the domestic partnership registry, which would have brought the city to ninety-eight (The State News).
The past year has once again brought pride to the Michigan State University community. The LGBT Resource Center received an anonymous $1 million donation. In recent news, East Lansing scored a perfect 100 point score from the Human Rights Campaign for American cities based on “discrimination laws, relationship recognition, municipal employment policies, inclusiveness of city services, law enforcement and municipal leadership on LGBT issues” (State News, East Lansing gets perfect score from LGBT group, 11/13/14). The history of the LGBTQA community at Michigan State saw many ups and downs. Recent events prove that the tireless work and discrimination endured did not go unnoticed, and Michigan State, along with its City of East Lansing, has shown its commitment to progression.

Sources:
Bathroom crawl (2007, April 11). Retrieved from http://www.lbgtrc.msu.edu/pride.htm.

City of East Lansing, Michigan. (2012, March 7).  A Resolution commemorating the 40th anniversary of East Lansing’s first-in-the-nation ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The Final Report Vol. I of the University-Wide Task Force on Lesbian and Gay Issues, 1992: A History of the Gay and Lesbian Experience at Michigan State University). University-Wide Task Force on Lesbian and Gay Issues records (UA 3.22.1). http://archives.msu.edu/findaid/ua3-22-1.html

Flake, J. (1990, October 16). Bomb explodes at assembly. The State News.

Lillis, M. (2005, October 11). Alliance embraces coming out day. The State News. Retrieved from http://statenews.com/article/2005/10/alliance_embraces_coming_out_day.

Martínez-Beltrán, S. (2014, November 13). East Lansing gets perfect score from LGBT group. The State News. Retrieved from http://statenews.com/article/2014/11/east-lansing-hrc-darling.

 

Resources at the MSU Archives:

Alliance of Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgendered, and Straight Ally Students Records (UA 12.3.24)

University-Wide Task Force on Lesbian and Gay Issues Records (UA 3.22.1)

Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender Resource Center Records (UA 7.16)

Written by Laura Williams

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