Appalachian State University LGBT Life, 1969-1978

From OutHistory
Revision as of 13:31, 9 June 2009 by Boone (talk | contribs)
Jump to navigationJump to search

Before Chancellor Herb Wey (1969-1979) officially recognized the Appalachian Gay Awareness Association in 1979, lesbian and gay professors and students had already established informal social networks on campus. The earliest known LGBT campus member was hired in 1929 and actively participated in ASU’s gay subculture during the 1960s. [1] He and gay and bisexual professors socialized with lesbian and gay students while it is rumored that a lesbian professor regularly socialized with her athletes. [1] [2] [3] Many of these professors continued through the 1970s. Mid-century campus members recall a toleration of the lesbian and gay subculture as long as certain lines were not crossed -- they must stay closeted, even behind closed dormroom doors.

Although ASU lacked explicit rules forbidding homosexual behavior, the 1969 men’s resident assistant manual stated that hall counselors should immediately report homosexual cases to the Dean of Men.

"The following situations are not to be handled by Hall Counselors but should be reported immediately to the Residence Counselor or the Dean of Men: Attempted suicides, Serious injury, Suspicision [sic] of taking illegal drugs or the possession of illegal drugs, Homosexual cases." [4]

This manual validates anecdotes of few former students who recall dorm mates being discovered in compromising situations and shortly after, leaving campus. [2]

Professors lived outside of the ever-watching dorm mother; yet, they too had to be careful. Darrell Rogers (pseudonym) was an extremely popular teacher who participated in the campus gay subculture. Many friends and students knew his sexual orientation and protected his privacy. [5] Although one gay friend recalled his acting very flamboyantly, a heterosexual friend described him as a “man’s man,” and evidently many heterosexual friends did not know of his homosexual attractions until after his death. [1] [6]

In 1970, Rogers committed suicide leaving no note. Speculation arose as to what led him to take his life. Accusations of administrative persecution based on his sexuality spread, particularly within the gay population. [7] This belief has been legitimized by his department’s history which reports that he experienced “pressure from some areas of the university because he was gay.” [8] Darrell Rogers himself told friends of frustrations with his departmental chairperson and other administrators. The reputed persecutors have all since died, but some surviving colleagues do not believe they harassed Rogers. One colleague recalls that the one of the reputed persecutors felt disturbed by the suicide although one cannot know whether this response signified sorrow or guilt. Rogers’ personnel files indicate tangible tension between Rogers and his departmental chairperson, although systemic persecution cannot be verified.

Regardless of the root of the conflict, the campus oral tradition perpetuated the belief of anti-gay harassment for many years after his death. No known first-hand accounts from gay campus members have been uncovered; however, the lore passed down indicates strong emotions and belief. Douglas Bennett (pseudonym), who was hired a year afterwards, learned of the accusation from other gay professors who perpetuated the story. One of Rogers’ colleagues recalls that the belief in administrative harassment led gay students in Rogers’ department to paint the chairperson’s office door red in retaliation. [9] Such a strong belief holds power over how professors and students behave. Very likely, this event resulted in employees feeling even less safe in being open about their sexuality. Regardless of its truth, this oral lore gave the impression of a negative campus climate and cultivated a climate of fear.

By the early 1970s, gay students began coopting the Methodist student center, the Wesley Foundation, as a social space while lesbian students threw all-girl parties. Watauga College also served as a safe space for lesbian and gay students. [10] [11] [12]

Life shifted during the mid-1970s with the university beginning to publicly address lesbian and gay issues. In 1976, the university’s counseling center began a homosexual counseling group to discuss “everyday problems due to homosexual preference.” [13]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Jim Sparrow (pseudonym), Interview with Kathy Staley, 9 April 2007 and 17 April 2007.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Nanci Tolbert Nance, Interview with Kathryn Staley, 26 July 2006.
  3. Alice Sherman (pseudonym), Interview with Kathryn Staley, 6 April 2006.
  4. Handbook for Men’s Residence Hall Staff (Boone, NC: Appalachian State University, 1969), 7.
  5. Jimm Cox, interview with Kathy Staley, 18 December 2006.
  6. Patrick Dancy (pseudonym), Interview with Kathy Staley, 9 April 2007 and 17 April 2007.
  7. Staley, "LGBT Life at ASU," 106-107.
  8. Susan Cole, “1959-1970.” A History of the Theatre Department. Self-published, n.d.
  9. Terry Cole, Interview with Kathy Staley, 20 November 2006. Coxx, one of Rogers’ students, does not recall this.
  10. Sharon Price, Interview with Kathy Staley, 10 January 2006.
  11. Anna Beaver (pseudonym), Interview with Kathy Staley, 21 July 2006.
  12. Max Smith, Interview with Kathy Staley, 3 July 2006.
  13. Carol Ferguson, “Counselors Offer Discussion on Homosexual Problems,” The Appalachian, 4 February 1975, 4.

|| | | | | | | | |