The Student Homophile League, under the leadership of Bob Martin, emerged at Columbia University in 1967 as the first officially-recognized LGBTQ student group. LGBTQ student groups gradually took root at New York University, Cornell, Stanford, and the University of Minnesota, but after the 1969 Stonewall riots, LGBTQ student groups spread more rapidly. By 1971, LGBTQ student groups had been recognized at sixty universities, while numerous others existed without official recognition.
LGBTQ student groups often had to overcome fierce opposition by university administrators for the right to be recognized. The Gay Students Organization (GSO), at the University of New Hampshire, scored the first victory in court in 1973 when judges ruled that the university could not deny the GSO rights that it provided to other student groups. Throughout the 1970s, LGBTQ student groups fought challenges to their funding, use of facilities, and university recognition. Not until state and United States Supreme Court rulings in the 1980s and 1990s would LGBTQ student groups overcome the last challenges to their constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.
“COMING OUT IN A PICKET LINE in 1965 was downright revolutionary. We were just at the start of cracking that cocoon of invisibility.” Born in 1932, Barbara Gittings was a young college student when she decided to learn everything she could about homosexuality. The dearth of information made her haunt libraries, and the lack of community made her form her own. A self-proclaimed joiner and instigator, she began the New York chapter of the first lesbian organization in the United States, the Daughters of Bilitis, and later edited its national magazine The Ladder. In the mid-1960s, risking physical harm and loss of employment, she and a small band of protesters picketed Independence Hall in her hometown of Philadelphia, and continued to do so every Fourth of July for five years. After Stonewall emboldened “my people,” she successfully joined with other activists to lobby the American Psychiatric Association to rescind its definition of homosexuality as a mental disorder. An advocate for LGBTQ literature, she founded the American Library Association’s Gay Task Force, the first professional LGBTQ organization. She died in 2007, survived by her partner of 46 years, Kay Tobin Lahusen.