Out and PROUD
LGBT Acceptance at Stanford and Beyond
June 29, 2014
Roaming the hilly Castro district, the air is breezy and the atmosphere is full of liberation. Rainbow flags line the buildings, fluttering in the San Francisco wind. People are relaxing, embracing the open atmosphere, when all of a sudden music can be heard blasting from a street corner. A man clad in nothing but a thin, droopy tank top, a bright red thong, and sequined devil ears starts twerking. Puzzled bystanders look on in shock, laughing. These far-reaching fingers of equality have spread outside of the liberal epicenter of San Francisco, extending all the way from Berkeley to Stanford University. However, it was not always like this. The path to acceptance opened up avenues to pride, while spreading across the country and breaking down barriers.
The community of LGBT, standing for the common sexual identifications Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender, has grown over the past years immensely. Throughout the years, homosexuality has become more widespread and accepted. Before the 20th century, homosexuality was taboo, a type of love kept behind closed doors. Though there is still progress to be made, acceptance has become more widespread thanks to the help of organizations and powerful figures, including Harvey Milk, one of the most prominent gay activists and the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in the state of California. People resisted stereotypes and fought for their rights, pushing for acceptance as individuals.
Though much progress has been made, the journey leading up to the turning point was full of struggles. “It’s definitely been a different experience for me,” says Andrew, a docent at the GLBT Museum in San Francisco. “It wasn’t until I got away from everybody I established who I was as a person and started coming out.” Andrew has lived in San Francisco for four years and has seen a lot of change in the LGBT community, including the passing of the Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA. “It was just nuts,” he recalls. “There were tangible themes to be proud of aside from the fact of pride and ‘we’re gays’”
Despite the positivity, negative steps continue to be taken. Multiple gay bars have been closing recently, turning into non-gay bars. “The vibe definitely has changed between the establishments and organizations and what replaces them,” Andrew says. This crushes the feeling acceptance around the district, increasing tensions.
Promoting acceptance in higher education has been a highly discussed topic across the country for quite a long time. Stanford University’s history of acceptance has made progress. The first open homosexuals at Stanford date back to 1911-1912, when Alberta Lucille Hart and her partner Eva Cushman continued their relationship despite the unconventional feelings of the time. Later, Hart identified herself as a male, dressing in masculine clothing and undergoing a sex change. A broad movement of acceptance for all sexualities swept the United States from the 1960s through the 1970s. The university recognized the presence of the LGBT community on campus in the 1970s, when multiple organizations sprung up. The creation of the Gay People’s Union led to the establishment of the firehouse, today’s LGBT community center at Stanford. The establishment of GLAS (Gay and Lesbian Alliance at Stanford) was a major turning point in the 1980s, when the battle of AIDS ran rampant throughout the world. Riots and the creation of more groups on campus led to the ban of discrimination based on sexual orientation in June of 1986. The 1990s brought even more change. The number queer students at Stanford increased and a major student center established specifically for gay students embraced change. According to Gerard Koskovich, a historian on gay life at Stanford, a rebirth of militant LGBT organizations occurred, spreading to San Francisco. This led to another establishment of a student-run organization for the LGBT community on Stanford. A feeling of acceptance was established and the student body became more unified.
The changes made in previous decades help the LGBT firehouse center remain today. The firehouse provides an area for queer or gender queer students to seek guidance on coming out and more, in addition to providing a place where they can find acceptance and equality, as well.
Due to Stanford’s proximity to liberal San Francisco, many have questioned whether the university is accepting of others. “People respect each other’s beliefs, religious beliefs, political beliefs,” says Chang Woung Park, a current student at Stanford. “There’s a lot of different student organizations on campus that help facilitate that.” Park discussed the awareness of the LGBT community on Stanford, saying that there is a center for LGBT students and an organization that puts on events promoting acceptance. “I think Stanford of all the different campuses is very accepting of LGBT,” Park says. “We have always been accepting of LGBT population and their cultures.” The LGBT community at Stanford has increased in strength and pride due to the wide acceptance of the community.
This community of acceptance has significantly changed over the years, growing in pride. The annual San Francisco Pride week brings celebrations of individuals and sexuality. There is a continuous awareness and acceptance of self. It is events like these that change our perspectives on these topics. The shock of the different ways of the LGBT community is melting away due to acceptance and pride introduced in higher education. As we look to the future, the rainbow flag is right along the flags of the world, flowing together as one.