Queer Awareness Groups at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges

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Some Background on the the Bi-College Community:

'"'Bryn Mawr and Haverford are two small private liberal arts colleges located in Philadelphia’s “Main Line” suburbs. Both have strong Quaker roots and a history of single-sex education. Haverford remained all-male until the late 1970s, going officially co-ed in 1980. Bryn Mawr is still one of most prominent women’s colleges in the United States. Due to their similar religious backgrounds and geographic proximity, Bryn Mawr and Haverford have a unique sister-brother relationship, often sharing funding, organizations, and academic departments, as well as allowing students to cross-register and live on either campus. The colleges are often jointly referred to as the “Bi-College Community.”


Haverford alumni, Ed Steele ’54 and Jim McMasters ’56, describe their homosexual experiences at college as “very discreet and cautious.” While the Haverford environment provided a time for internal reflection and enlightenment, neither felt safe enough to come out as undergraduates.[1] By the 1970s, the attitudes of gay students were changing. Susan Weiss, writing in 1974 for The Bryn Mawr-Haverford College News, wondered why “discussion of homosexuality has been so traditionally muted at Bryn Mawr and Haverford.” Weiss accused both campuses of isolating themselves from the growing gay liberation movement and points out the “conspicuous absence of any organized group of gay people.” By December 1973, according to the article, the American Psychiatric Association had officially removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses (December 1973). The results of a college survey circulated by the article’s author indicated that only 29% of Bryn Mawr women knew any lesbians, a “surprisingly low figure at an all-women’s institution.”[2]


A year later, on October 3rd, 1975, The Bryn Mawr-Haverford College News ran an article announcing the formation of the Gay People’s Alliance, the Bi-College’s first LGBT affinity group. Twenty students attended the first meeting, a very promising turnout considering that coming is “a difficult thing to do” according to Marjorie Patterson, a Bryn Mawr graduate student and a moving force behind the organization. Members were evenly split between men and women, and predominantly undergraduates. Patterson emphasized that attendance was not an indication of sexual preference. The first major event was an on-campus discussion with Tom Wilson and Joan DeForest, of Philadelphia’s Eromin Center, a clinic for “erotic minorities,” with an entirely homosexual staff. The event was open to entire community. The GPA kept bulletin boards at both campuses that contained information and resources that could be retrieved anonymously by “gays who are not willing or ready to take the semi public steps of attending the meetings.”[3]


The GPA remained active through the 1970s and 1980s, sponsoring various events including discussions on “Homosexuality and Religions” with representatives from local gay religious groups [4] and lectures by political activists regarding anti-gay legislation. [5] The events were “well attended and well received by both gay and non-gay members of the community.”[6] In a 1980 article, the GPA stressed acceptance and awareness, urging people to “provide the support that a loved one desperately needs.” [7] In 1986 members of GPA began to consider reforms needed to meet the group’s needs. Based on the results of a survey, GPA decided to increase the support for gay males at Haverford. The questionnaire dealt with several aspects of gay life in the Bi-College community. [8] Throughout its lifetime, GPA remained a widely known organization on campus. Ed Sikov ’78, fondly remembers the “rocking dance parties, by far the best on campus.” [9]

References

  1. Steele, Ed and Jim McMasters. 1999. The Campus Closet. Haverford College. http://www.haverford.edu/publications/fall99/lambda2.htm (accessed 11/15/2007).
  2. Weiss, Susan. “Homophobia and the Bi-Sexual Community.” The Bryn Mawr - Haverford News Magazine, March 4th, 1974. Vol. 1. No. 2.
  3. Davis, Trayton. “Gay People’s Alliance organizes, Attempts to overcome oppression.” The Bryn Mawr - Haverford College News, October 3rd, 1975. Vol. 8. No. 5
  4. Bryn Mawr – Haverford Gay People’s Alliance. “The GPA: a forum of support, of discussion, of information, and of awareness.” The Bryn Mawr – Haverford College News, December 5th, 1980. Vol. 13. No.12
  5. Herman, Julie. “Activist lambastes anti-gay bills before US Congress.” The Bryn Mawr – Haverford College News, Vol. 13. No. 19
  6. Bryn Mawr – Haverford Gay People’s Alliance. “The GPA: a forum of support, of discussion, of information, and of awareness.” The Bryn Mawr – Haverford College News, December 5th, 1980. Vol. 13. No.12
  7. Bryn Mawr – Haverford Gay People’s Alliance. “The GPA: a forum of support, of discussion, of information, and of awareness.” The Bryn Mawr – Haverford College News, December 5th, 1980. Vol. 13. No.12
  8. Voytek, Kip. “GPA reforms to meet Colleges’ need.” The Bryn Mawr – Haverford College News, February 7th, 1986
  9. Sikov, Ed. 1999. The Campus Closet. Haverford College. The Campus Closet (accessed 11/15/2007).


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