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UNC Queer Student Organizations from 1974 to Present

Lambda 1977

An issue of Lambda from 1977

By Drew Pierce

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the surrounding Chapel Hill area has a long history of being relatively queer friendly, especially for a town in the South. Part of this, at least at the University, can be blamed on the existence of queer student organizations at UNC. Starting with the Carolina Gay Association in 1974, queer student groups have been a large presence on campus and have been able to welcome new students and give them a social atmosphere where they are able to express their sexuality with other like-minded people and allies in a safe, non-oppressive place.

Student Organizations

The Carolina Gay Association was founded in 1974 by Dan Leonard. The group sought mostly to provide a social atmosphere and an arena for gay people to interact with one another. One of the major contributions that CGA gave to the student body was Lambda, a queer student newsletter, with more recent editions being more of a magazine format. Started in 1976, Lambda is the oldest queer student publication in the country. In the first issue of Lambda it outlines it’s “Gay Orientation Week”, a program put together by the CGA in order to introduce incoming students to CGA and let them experience what CGA has to offer . The CGA frequently put on dances and picnics in order to give gay students a safe, non-oppressive place to socialize[1].

Aside from providing a social atmosphere for gay students, the CGA also sought to educate people about queer issues. In that inaugural issue of Lambda, the CGA stated that their mission was always to “liberate and educate”. They did this by providing speakers to come to any class that requested it, maintaining a “gay library for students who wish positive, reliable information on the gay lifestyle.” They would also frequently man a table in the Student Union with educational materials in order to educate the student body as a whole on queer issues. In addition to educating people on queer issues, the CGA and Lambda also advertised Peer Counseling services that had been available to gay men at UNC since 1972. While this was not started by the CGA, it gives a very good idea of the openness and acceptance that was to be found at UNC in the second half of the twentieth century[2].

Lambda 2005

An issue of Lambda from 2005

Name Changes

The CGA went through several name changes over the next thirty years in order to increase its inclusivity to other members of the queer community. In 1985 it changed its name to the Carolina Gay and Lesbian Association, or the CGLA, in order to be more inclusive towards women, as up until then, the CGA had been almost exclusively male[3]. While this gay male domination shaped the group for the next several years, at one point in the late 1990s, the group was very heavily female, and in recent years has become fairly even in terms of gender ratios[4]. In another effort to increase diversity, the name was changed once again in 1992 to B-GLAD (Bisexuals – Gay Men, Lesbians and Allies for Diversity) in order to include bisexual people. B – GLAD was then changed to QNC, or Queer Network for Change in 1998 in order to be more inclusive to transgender people, who had previously been only a very small part of B-GLAD and previous iterations[5]. In the 2000’s, QNC began to lose membership from its straight allies and it was soon replaced by GBLT-SA, another organization that had been started to promote queer political activism on campus. GBLT-SA was officially started in 2002 and maintained the queer student presence on campus[6]. Recently, an additional name change has been proposed by the members of GBLT-SA to be more inclusive to varying sexual orientations and gender identities, although the voting process has not yet begun to decide what the new name will be.

The Rise of GBLTSA

In 2002, with QNC rapidly losing membership from straight allies and weakening as a group, a junior named Alice Newton created GBLTSA. The group was initially founded out of a POLI 73 class called Politics of Sexual Identity, which was taught by Pamela Conover[7]. The group sought to bring in political activism and straight allies that had not been present in recent years in queer groups. The group is now the largest queer organization in the southeast United States. It has over 620 members on its email listserv and received more than 22,000 dollars in funding from the UNC Student Congress in 2009[8].

The Old Well

The Old Well, a classic symbol of UNC

Political Activism

Throughout its history, GBLTSA has been more focused on political activism than the CGA and its iterations were. Although the CGA almost always responded to crises within the queer community, it was far more of a social group than GBLTSA. In 2005, when an openly gay UNC student, Thomas Stockwell, was the victim of a gay bashing on Franklin Street, the group was spurred to truly begin to campaign heavily for gay rights and increased recognition on campus[9]. The group then spent the next year working towards gender neutral bathrooms on campus. The school administration eventually agreed and gender neutral bathrooms are put now put in all new buildings on campus or any major renovations[10]. Even in just the past year, GBLT-SA has backed a large campaign against NC Amendment One as well as spearheading a campaign to obtain a gender neutral housing option for UNC’s student campus housing. While this measure was unsuccessful for the 2012-2013 school year, GBLT-SA has dedicated itself to supporting the gender neutral housing act in order to get it passed and in action for the 2013-2014 school year.

References

  1. "Gay Orientation Week." Lambda, Augus 1976.http://www.unc.edu/glbtsa/lambda/archives/1976/augustorientation.pdf (accessed April 19, 2012).
  2. "What Are All Those Faggots Doing With Our Money?" Lambda, Augus 1976.http://www.unc.edu/glbtsa/lambda/archives/1976/augustorientation.pdf (accessed April 19, 2012).
  3. Oral History Interview with Cecil W. Wooten, July 16, 2001. Interview K-0849. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. http://docsouth.unc.edu/sohp/K-0849/excerpts/excerpt_7039.html#fulltext
  4. Oral History Interview with Ian Thomas Palmquist, June 27, 2001. Interview K-0848. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.http://docsouth.unc.edu/sohp/K-0848/excerpts/excerpt_6901.html
  5. Oral History Interview with Ian Thomas Palmquist, June 27, 2001. Interview K-0848. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. http://docsouth.unc.edu/sohp/K-0848/excerpts/excerpt_6901.html
  6. Trevor Hoppe, Email"Interview with a UNC'er about the GLBT-SA," Decem 06, 2005, April 19, 2012,http://www.trevorhoppe.com/blog/archives/2005/12/interview_with.html.
  7. Trevor Hoppe, Email"Interview with a UNC'er about the GLBT-SA," Decem 06, 2005, April 19, 2012,http://www.trevorhoppe.com/blog/archives/2005/12/interview_with.html.
  8. Katie , Hoffman. "UNC Gay Life Changing." The Daily Tar Heel, Augus 06, 2009.http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2006/09/unc_gay_life_changing (accessed April 19, 2012).
  9. WRAL, "Chapel Hill Police Investigate Assault Near UNC Campus." Last modified March 01 2005. Accessed April 19, 2012. http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/115758/.
  10. Katie , Hoffman. "UNC Gay Life Changing." The Daily Tar Heel, Augus 06, 2009.http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2006/09/unc_gay_life_changing (accessed April 19, 2012).