In May 1995, the Iowa House of Representatives tacked an amendment onto the higher education budget that would prevent universities from using any state funds “to implement or carry out a program or activity that has either the purpose or the effect of encouraging or supporting homosexuality as a positive lifestyle.” Named for Charles Hurley, the state representative who introduced it, the amendment was in direct response to the InQueery conference. The University pointed out that no state money had been used for the conference, but conservatives in the legislature wanted to make sure that nothing like this happened again. Hurley told a reporter, “Why do they have to be so obnoxiously pro-homosexual as to turn off the good will of the people that are feeding them.”25
The issue also made the Chronicle of Higher Education, which quoted Hurley as saying that the bill would prohibit class lectures from portraying homosexuality in a positive light, because “eight or nine out of ten taxpayers think it is repugnant.”26
Hurley also said that the conference had promoted homosexuality “in our faces.” Governor Terry Branstad was quoted as well, saying that the university “should view the measure as a very clear signal.” Hurley’s parting shot when the Senate failed to support the amendment was that “they might not see the light…, but they will feel the heat.”27
The amendment did not become law, but it increased the rift between the university and state politicians, who increasingly were going after any representations of LGBT people at any level of education. LGBT activists at the university again had to go on the defensive and provide the administration with language to counter this bill.
Regardless of conservative legislative efforts, right-wing groups like The Campus Review, and other claims about the university being too “pro-gay,” in 1998 we were able to get approval for an interdisciplinary sexuality studies program. I was the first chair and the instructor of many of the core courses. This program existed as a stand-alone program for several years with no controversy. A few years after I left the university, it was re-organized as a separate certificate program within Women’s and Gender Studies.
Our successes in the 1990s, I truly believe, were in large part due to the fact that the LGBTQ campus community came together, organized, and advocated for the conference, the sexuality studies program, and changes in university policies and procedures. Anti-LGBT efforts like those of The Campus Review led to a uniting of advocacy groups, which in the 1970s and 1980s included a mostly gay male Gay Student Union and a separate Lesbian Alliance.
I left the University of Iowa in 2005 and am saddened by the roll back of progress in the state of Iowa, which adversely affects higher education in the state. For example, the state’s divisive concepts bill of 2021 sets up faculty for an impossible task, as L. K. Cox and K. H. Tachau, two law professors at Iowa, put it: “Iowa professors are expected to avoid divisive concepts while protecting free speech--a task to stymie the most dedicated trader in the marketplace of ideas.”28
At the same time, the legislature is seeking to eliminate faculty tenure, which protects academic freedom, job security, wages, and benefits. Unfortunately, Iowa is not alone in these contemporary challenges. The time to intensify LGBTQ advocacy at universities is here once again.