The Campus Review, a conservative monthly publication, was founded in the late 1980s by a particularly odious University of Iowa law student named Jeffrey Renander. He was a member of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in its earliest days and was a precursor to the radicalized type of Republican that is common these days. Renander started The Campus Review by embezzling funds from another conservative student publication (The Hawkeye Review), so he was not well liked by other conservatives.2 The Daily Iowan reported this about Renander on the same page that it published an article about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to decline hearing a case about student gay groups (Gay Student Services v. Texas A&M University).3 The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that universities must recognize gay student groups because of First Amendment rights, and the DI story reported that the University of Iowa therefore could not ban “homosexual” student groups from meeting on campus. The Campus Review regularly claimed First Amendment rights to spread hatred and intimidation on campus, so it was good to see the First Amendment used to protect LGBT people.
Although The Campus Review received no university or state funding, because it hired student workers it was eligible to be listed as a student organization, giving its staff privileges to distribute their publications in university buildings and use campus resources and informational forums. In its early days, The Campus Review writers mostly published nasty notes about the Women’s Resource and Action Center (WRAC), lesbian activists, and heterosexual feminists. The paper often referred to lesbians being fat, claiming, for instance, that “saying fat lesbian is like saying canine dog.”4
They also put down feminists, writing in one case, “Putting women in combat isn’t such a bad idea. Just round up all the Amazon lesbians over at WRAC, keep them together until their periods coincide, then unleash them against the enemy during a particularly bad case of PMS.”5
At least one could choose whether to read the monthly newspaper. The sponsoring organization’s more offensive actions were enacted on campus and in the community, and on at least three occasions, The Campus Review put anti-LGBT displays in the high traffic area of the student union.
One of Renander’s first student union displays was a t-shirt depicting two figures in a position implying anal sex inside a slashed red circle and the words “Stop AIDS.” When reporters from the New York Times interviewed Renander, he said, “It points out the obvious; to stop AIDS you have to stop homosexual intercourse.” The university did not intervene and allowed the display to stay up for its allotted two weeks. The dean of students, Philip Jones, said that displays in the student union were a forum for ideas and that The Campus Review had a right to express its political views. Other campus activists, including WRAC director Sue Buckley, declared that the display violated the university’s human rights policy and encouraged discrimination against and harassment of gay people. Renander was quoted as saying, “The bottom line is, it’s a free country. People should lighten up. This was meant to be humorous.”6
The Campus Review activists also demonstrated at Iowa City’s 1990 Gay Pride Rally, purportedly against the abuse of gerbils, stating that gay men inserted gerbils in their rectums for sexual pleasure. Renander explained in The Campus Review, “My friends and I demonstrated against the abuse of gerbils by certain segments of the gay community. We had a gerbil graveyard with 50 little white crosses and our infamous gerbil quilt.”7
That summer, The Campus Review again hosted a display in the student union with its gerbil quilt, which mocked the AIDS memorial quilt. This time the reactionaries also included a copy of a book called The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS. This book is full of misinformation about the spread of AIDS, saying, for example, that heterosexuals were more likely to drown in their bathtubs than die of AIDS. Dean Jones posted a memo nearby the display in the student union that read: “The university is a forum for the free exchange of ideas. While some views are repugnant and despicable to others in a university community as well as to visitors to campus, the right to express those views is protected by the first amendment.” There was an outcry from many because the display was up during freshmen orientation, when many parents were on campus. When Renander was asked to comment on the controversy, he said, “I don’t understand why people get so bent out of shape by a medical fact. It is common knowledge that gerbiling occurs among some [homosexual] men…. Maybe if nothing else, some gerbils will be saved.”8
Genny Beemyn, a political activist and University of Iowa Ph.D. student, tried to counter The Campus Review display with one that featured famous LGB people in history. Renander, however, started a group called The Alliance for the Advancement of Heterosexuality around the same time that the mockery of the AIDS quilt was dragged out again in September 1993, when parts of the actual AIDS quilt were on display in Iowa City. Again the university administration did nothing, referencing First Amendment rights.
In 1991, The Campus Review hosted a display with a picture of cartoon character Bart Simpson with a sling-shot drawn back, saying “Back off faggot.” Under the picture were the lines “AIDS Activist” and “Another Lost Opportunity.” Genny Beemyn and another graduate student filed a complaint with the Iowa City Human Rights Commission and the University of Iowa’s Human Rights Committee. At a meeting of the University Human Rights Committee to which they were invited, Beemyn and the other student were mistreated by a homophobic member, who later resigned, along with a gay committee member who was distressed by the committee’s response. The gay member of the committee, Ozzie Diaz-Duque, was a professor in Spanish and Portuguese and well-respected at the University and in Iowa City’s LGBT community. He resigned because of his perception that the university was “insensitive to homosexuals.”9
University President Rawlings’s response to the Simpson poster was that “such portrayals are insensitive” but he also stated that “one of the things the First Amendment is very useful for is enabling individuals or organizations to say things that we can then subject to withering scrutiny.”10 One might conclude that this means the university was committed to discussion of LGB issues in the classroom, right? The next section describes what happened when sexuality and gender topics were presented in mainstream classrooms.
At the same time, 20th Century Fox, the holder of the trademark for the Simpsons, sued The Campus Review and won, forcing the publication to turn over the posters and pay $2000 in damages. Renander also sued a local restaurant that had refused service to him and friends during this controversy. His case was dismissed by the Iowa Supreme Court for reasons that he could not claim a hate crime because he was not a member of a protected class and did not establish a violation of a civil right.11
On a related note, the next year I was appointed to the Human Rights Committee to fill one of the positions that became available because of resignations. I became its chair in 1996, when I was able to convince the committee to change the university human rights policy to include “sexual orientation and gender identity,” replacing the archaic language of the original policy, which used the ambiguous phrase “affectional and associational preference.” The University of Iowa was the first college in the United States to add gender identity to its human rights code, which is indirectly attributable to The Campus Review’s actions.
In the 2020s, Renander is still stirring up trouble in Iowa. He was elected county attorney of Cedar county just north of Iowa City in 2010, but was reprimanded by local law enforcement in 2020 for his poor treatment of women, as noted in a news story that explained: “The move follows a ‘no-confidence’ vote approved by Cedar County Sheriff's deputies against Renander last week. Deputies have accused him of victim shaming. Multiple sources report Renander told a sexual abuse victim ‘at least you weren't awake for it’ and then blamed her for being drunk and told her she should learn from it. Deputies have also accused Renander of being soft on prosecuting sex crimes.”12
It’s not surprising that Renander colludes in violence against women. Anti-LGBTQ sentiment is often rooted in sexism. In 2022, he resigned as county attorney and was forced to relinquish his law license for ethical misconduct.
Organized groups like The Campus Review, with funding from private sources outside of the university, were able to wreak havoc over a long period of time, in ways that more isolated homophobic or transphobic events or individuals could not do. Of course, there were plenty of isolated events as well, and all of it set up a climate of fear and intimidation at the University of Iowa. The women’s center and gay campus groups frequently received hate mail and threatening messages on answering machines. Harassment outside gay bars was common. Anti-gay hatred was fueled by organizations such as The Campus Review, which hid behind freedom of speech to make hateful comments about the LGBT population in Iowa City. One directly positive outcome of Renander’s and his colleagues’ odious actions was that the LGBTQ community rallied and began a concerted effort to educate the campus. A politically active LGB Staff and Faculty Association was formed in 1991 (later renamed the LGBT Staff and Faculty Association), in large part in response to The Campus Review’s actions.