LGBTQ+ Activism in The Diamondback

In conjunction with the ongoing University Archives exhibit of pivotal moments in the history of LGBTQ+ activism at the University of Maryland, this installment in our #digiDBK series features Diamondback coverage of LGBTQ+ issues and achievements. Campus activism for LBGTQ+ rights began with the Student Homophile Association’s fight for funding and recognition in the 1960s and 1970s. Students fought to add sexual orientation to the university’s 1976 Human Relations Code, which was modified in 1998. Due to the tireless work of community advocates, the University of Maryland is now considered one of the most welcoming campuses in the United States.[1]

2.17.92 Queer Nation Kiss-InDiamondback coverage of LGBTQ+ issues includes reporting on student activism such as the Queer Nation Kiss-In in 1992. On Valentine’s Day, one week after the Human Relations Committee of the University Senate unanimously voted to amend the Human Relations Code to include the term “sexual orientation,” Queer Nation staged a “kiss-in.” [2] Ten couples from the activist group announced the formation of their organization by kissing in front of the Student Union and Hardee’s. Twenty other LGBTQ+ couples supported them by blowing whistles and cheering.  Although the University Senate committee had already unanimously adopted the inclusive amendment, The Diamondback’s documentation of the variety of student reactions to the demonstration the following Monday demonstrated the campus climate at the time.  Some students described the kiss-in as a slap in the face and “totally gross and distasteful,” while others claimed that “[Non-heterosexual people] have just as much right to love as anyone else does.” Members of Queer Nation such as Meaghan O’Keefe responded in The Diamondback that now was the time for activism because they had been “apologetic far too long.”

“We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it!” – Queer Nation motto, chanted by student members at the Valentine’s Day Kiss-In

One month later, when the committee’s amendment to the Human Relations Code reached the full University Senate for a vote, almost every campus senator (with the exception of three in opposition) supported the addition to the university’s anti-discrimination policy. On March 20, 1992 The Diamondback interviewed University Senator Steven Brush, the chair of the Human Relations Committee. He pointed out recent “anti-gay incidents” and letters to the editors of The Diamondback as “evidence of campus discrimination against homosexuals.” The Diamondback reported that during the Senate meeting, one senator asked Brush if the term “sexual orientation” included pedophilia, necrophilia, and bestiality; audience members hissed at the speaker, and Brush responded that sexual orientation “is intended to include homosexuals, bisexuals, and heterosexuals.”

“This [vote] gives me confidence that people on campus and members of the [university] senate are in support of equality.” – Erin Lane, chair of the campus Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Alliance

The Diamondback article also refers to a previous effort to address equality on campus. Chancellor Robert Gluckstern had attempted to change campus policy in 1979, but President John Toll rejected the proposed modification on the grounds of First Amendment protection of speech and a Board of Regents guideline restricting the authority of the campus to expand the definition of the term “discrimination.” The 1992 University Senate Human Relations Committee claimed that those two objections were now invalid because “gays and lesbians on this campus … have in fact been denied the right to advocate their interests … in spite of the First Amendment” and because Prince George’s County already included sexual orientation in its 1991 Human Relations Code. Despite continued opposition in the same vein, members of the campus community, including President William Kirwan, overwhelmingly praised the University Senate’s action.

“Gay [men] and lesbians are a part of the diversity of this campus. They are intelligent, productive members of the campus [and] are department chairs, professors, staff and faculty.” – Gladys Brown, Human Relations Office Director

 

President Kirwan continued to demonstrate receptiveness to LGBTQ+ issues. In 1997, he formed a Commission on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual (later Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Issues.[3] On October 10, 1997, The Diamondback recorded testimony from students, faculty, and staff seeking a deeper commitment from the president’s commission. They discussed the need for a resource center, a studies program, and an extension of domestic partner benefits to faculty and staff. Luke Jensen, the chair of the commission and later the first Director of the LGBT Equity Center, indicated that the commission would make recommendations to the president and expected that President Kirwan would view the recommendations positively. The combination of tireless activism and a receptive administration paid off. The LGBT Equity Center was founded in 1998.[4] The University established the LGBT Studies Program offering a certificate in 2002 and a minor in 2008.[5]

Diamondback 10.10.1997

The University Archives constantly seeks to document the LGBTQ+ population on campus, as well as other marginalized individuals and groups, as part of its mission to preserve all aspects of UMD history. The Diamondback is the university’s primary student newspaper, and its coverage of LGBTQ+ activism and policies provides an invaluable perspective on the university’s history. Thanks to generous donations and a successful Launch UMD campaign, the University Archives is digitizing the entire run of the newspaper, which is currently available on microfilm in the University Archives and McKeldin Library. This post is the eleventh in a series by graduate student assistant Jen Wachtel, who is collecting data for the Diamondback Digitization Project. Check out the Twitter hashtag #digiDBK or the DigiDBK tag on Terrapin Tales blog for previous posts, and look for new posts monthly during the summer session. Don’t forget to visit the LGBTQ+ Pride exhibit in the Maryland Room!

[1] Rankings provided by campuspride.org, the leading national nonprofit organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create safer, more LGBTQ-friendly learning environments at colleges and universities.

[2] The amended first sentence of the code now reads: “The University of Maryland, College Park, affirms its commitments to a policy of eliminating discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, personal appearance, age, national origin, political affiliation, physical or mental disability, or on the basis of the exercise of rights secured by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.” [emphasis added]

[3] http://umd.edu/commissions/PCLGBTI/aboutus/archive/index.html

[4] https://www.facebook.com/equitycenter/info/?tab=page_info

[5] http://lgbts.umd.edu/lgbthistory.html

 

 

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