Mudd Library’s University Administrative Fellow for the fall 2016-2017 semester curated an online HistoryPin exhibit to document the history of minority sexualities at Princeton University. In this post, she provides broader context for the materials she chose to highlight.
By Ariana Natalie Myers GS
For much of its history, Princeton University students who experienced attraction toward their own gender kept it secret. Some alumni were later outed as homosexuals, such as Alan Turing ’38 (GS), famed World War II cryptographer who was the victim of brutal punishment by the British government once his sexuality was uncovered. Kirk LeMoyne “Lem” Billings ’39, onetime roommate of President John F. Kennedy at Princeton and close associate of the Kennedy family, was outed by friends after his death in 1981.
Princeton University opened its doors to female undergraduates in 1969, and the first 130 women moved in for the fall semester. The decision-making process and its aftermath was fraught with controversy, with concerns ranging from the presumed “unproductivity” of female alumni to the costs of campus expansion to the anticipated loss of Princeton’s “unique charisma” and “manly dedication.” Many of those opposed to coeducation coalesced into the organization Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP). Proponents of coeducation argued that the proximity of women would decrease homosexuality. This latter position was tacitly supported by Dr. Louis E. Reik ‘33, University Director of Mental Health, and his associate Dr. Willard Dalrymple, Director of University Health Services, in an interview with the Daily Princetonian in 1966 in which Reik stated that a “tendency which was latent before might well be strengthened here” (on a single-gender campus). In a subsequent interview with Dr. Reik in 1969, he contradicted his prior statements and argued that coeducation would not have a notable effect on homosexuality, since he considered that it developed before the age students typically attended college.
With women on campus and the spirit of Stonewall in the air, the moment was right for gay liberation to come to Princeton. Old taboos came tumbling down when on May 12, 1972 the Prince ran a classified ad reading “CLOSET QUEENS UNITE!” This ad sparked the formation of the Gay Alliance of Princeton (GAP), a “viable social alternative” to the closet for gay men and women at Princeton, in September of that year by students including Arthur Eisenbach ’74.
This new openness around homosexuality was met with considerable hostility from some on campus. GAP members Douglas S. Brown ‘79 and Michael Mintze ’78 had hung a banner reading “Gay Alliance of Princeton” outside their dorm window in 1903 Hall, but on February 21, 1976 a group of eight students broke into their room and ransacked the place, stealing the banner. The remains of the defaced GAP banner were anonymously mailed to the Prince’s office days later with a note: “Hetero is Bettero.” The administration eventually let the suspected culprits off with probation, and while noting that gay students enjoyed the same rights as other members of the University community, declined to explicitly introduce sexual orientation into its equal opportunity policy. In the winter of 1979, the campus Pub was closed after a group of gay students were assaulted there by other students. In October of 1985, after nearly a decade of pressure, the University added sexual orientation to its list of protected categories.
Gay student organizations experienced schisms in the early 1980s. Perceiving male domination in GAP, a cadre of women broke off to form Gay Women of Princeton (GWOP). This prompted GAP to rebrand itself as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Princeton (GALAP), a name which stuck until the 1990s when it became the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Alliance (LGBA). Lesbian and bisexual female members continued their tradition of independence by forming Women-Oriented Women (WOW) in the 1990s. Another group, the Coalition Against Homophobia, was formed in 1988 explicitly in response to campus harassment against LGB students. The LGBA assumed its current name, the Pride Alliance, in 1999 in order to include transgender and other identities under its umbrella. The Queer Graduate Caucus (QGC) was formed in 2003 to build a community for graduate students.
The Women’s Center was the first administrative office on campus to develop strong connotations of homosexuality in the popular campus mind. On 25 February 1982, the Daily Princetonian ran an article mentioning that its detractors described it as “a haven for radicalism, intolerance, and lesbianism.” The Office of Religious Life would run into similar criticism in the ’90s and early 2000s when it began to serve as a voice on campus for LGBTQ students.
In 1989, students led a series of demonstrations, including a sit-in at Nassau Hall, in order to protest the presence of CIA recruiters on campus due to their hiring policy which deemed homosexuals a “security risk.” Eventually siding with student protestors, the University banned CIA recruitment on its grounds. The CIA revised its policy before the next academic year began.
Hoping to raise awareness of the daily struggles faced by gay and bisexual people, GALAP organized the first Gay Jeans Day on campus for October 11, 1989. This was a national movement which began at Rutgers University in 1974 as a day when those who respected gay, lesbian, and bisexual people would wear jeans around campus. The event was met with vehement opposition from some sectors, and when GALAP announced it would hold the event again the next year, the Whig-Cliosophic Society decided to host a debate about it.
The organizers invited Daniel Mendelsohn *94, a Ph.D. Candidate in Classics and GALAP member, as a guest speaker. Among his many arguments in favor was that it “highlights in a graphic way the pain felt by gay and lesbian closeted Americans.” Twenty-seven audience members participated in the discussion during the debate, at least one of whom contributed the argument that homosexuality was “morally wrong.” In the end, the audience voted 66 to 26 in favor of the pro-Gay Jeans Day side, with 6 abstaining.
Students continued to mobilize activist forces through the 1990s in order to counter national misinformation and inaction campaigns surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which heavily impacted the gay community, and continued harassment on campus, such as that described by Amy Escott ’95 in the Daily Princetonian, in that flyers for the LGBA and WOW were not only being torn down immediately after they were posted, but were also turning up ripped, urinated on, and even burned. This manner of intimidation continued through the turn of the millennium.
In response to these issues, the University administration created the LGB Concerns Task Force in 1994, which set out to measure and document the problem areas and threats facing LGB members of the University community. Through a combination of anonymous surveys and personal testimonies, the task force made the case for a stronger administrative support network for LGB people. This eventually resulted in the creation of LGBT Student Services Coordinator position in the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students in 2001. Under the guidance of the first holder of this position, Debra Bazarsky, it evolved into the LGBT Center, where she served as director from 2005-2015.
The University also introduced the Ally Project in 1998, which was a campaign to build a support network for LGBTQ students among the faculty and staff. Participants who expressed a desire to serve as a resource for students would place a sticker such as the one below in their office windows and doors.
The history of LGBTQA+ activism at Princeton University bears witness to the determination, zeal, and fortitude of organizers struggling to build a more accepting campus community. This is, of course, an ongoing effort, as the decade after the creation of the LGBT Center has demonstrated. This history is still being written. Student organization leaders who wish to have their groups’ activities and internal records preserved for posterity should fill out this brief transfer form in order to have their efforts documented at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library.
Ariana Natalie Myers GS is a Ph.D. Candidate in History at Princeton University. She was the recipient of Mudd Library’s University Administrative Fellowship for the 2016-2017 fall semester. She is also the current president of both Princeton’s Queer Graduate Caucus and the Graduate History Association. Her historical interests include religious conversion, environmental warfare, and misfits of all sorts.
Historical Subject Files (AC109)
Women’s Center Records (AC248)