In 1968, Cornell LGBT students started a tradition of political activism, education, social events, and support around issues of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression that continues to this day. As alumni, we take pride in our Cornell LGBT history as well as CUGALA's achievements. There were challenges and victories—both big and small—along the way. Here's a look back at some of our major milestones!
May 10, 1968 | Cornell Student Homophile League Founded
A year before the pivotal NYC Stonewall Riots, Cornellians formed the Student Homophile League (SHL), becoming the country's second gay rights group to be organized on a college campus (after Columbia University's SHL). To protect privacy, Jearld F. Moldenhauer '69 arranged for Cornell's Scheduling, Coordination, and Activities Review Board (SCARB) to recognize the group without submitting names of its members. Known around campus for his progressive politics, Father Daniel Berrigan of Cornell United Religious Work agreed to serve as the group's first faculty advisor. History of the First LGB College Student Groups [PDF].
June 28, 1970 | Cornell Students Marched in NYC's First Gay Pride March
On the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Cornell students marched in NYC's Gay Pride March wearing t-shirts they silk-screened themselves on the lawn between Anabel Taylor Hall and the Law School.
December 3, 1970 | Cornell's Gay Liberation Front Begins a Three-Month Boycott Against a Collegetown Bar
During Cornell's very own Stonewall (minus the riots), several hundred people, many from Cornell's Students for a Democratic Society and the newly formed Cornell Women's Liberation, demonstrated in front of the bar as about fifty members of Cornell's Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and supporters sat inside, refusing to buy drinks or leave. In the months prior to the boycott, gay Cornellians established Morrie's as theirde facto gay bar—albeit on the down low. When a homophobic Cornell Daily Sun columnist exposed this open secret in print, the bar's owner kicked out GLF members that same night and the night after. The boycott was effective, receiving widespread attention in the nation's gay news media, and ended three months later with a written apology from the bar's owner. History of the First LGB College Student Groups [PDF], Cornell Daily Sun: "Boycott Morrie's" [PDF], Cornell Daily Sun: "GLF Concludes Boycott of Bar" [PDF].
June 1979 | Cornell LGBT Alumni Group Conceived at Reunion
At their class's first reunion, Art Leonard '74 and Mark Schwartz '74 became interested in planning an event for gay alumni at their next class reunion. Leonard recounts that "these talks crystallized into the idea of starting a gay alumni association for Cornell. Since neither of us had been active in the on-campus gay student organization while undergraduates, we had no direct contacts on campus to do this, so we decided to just proceed on our own." "How CUGALA Got Started & The Early Years" [PDF].
December 1979 | Cornell Alumni News Prints a Letter Recruiting Gay Alumni for a LGBT Alumni Group
Cornell Alumni News printed a letter by Art Leonard '74 and Mark Schwartz '74, calling upon gay alumni to contact them about the formation of a gay alumni organization. A first meeting was subsequently held in NYC between Leonard, Dr. Richard Marcus '54, Steven Siegel '68, and Bob Roth '71, who was the president of Cornell's Gay Liberation Front as a student. Meanwhile, Schwartz started developing a local chapter in San Francisco. "How CUGALA Got Started & The Early Years" [PDF].
June 30, 1980 | CUGALA's First Appearance in the NYC Pride March
Art Leonard '74: "One of our first activities was to provide a mechanism for LGBT Cornellians and their friends to march together under a CUGALA banner in the annual NYC Pride March... which we did for the first time in 1980 with a homemade red banner that said, 'Cornell Alumni.' An alumni organization in the Gay Pride March was a new phenomenon, worthy of mention by the New York Daily News in its coverage of the march."
July 2, 1980 | CUGALA Incorporated
When CUGALA submitted incorporation papers to the New York Supreme Court for filing, Art Leonard '74 said that "we were told that any organization that included 'Cornell University' in its name would need to have the approval of the University. A little lobbying had to be done on that score—and Steven Siegel's '68 active participation in alumni events proved helpful there—so the University, after some hesitation, gave its approval, and CUGALA was born as a corporate entity." CUGALA is believed to be the first LGBT university alumni organization established in the country. "How CUGALA Got Started & The Early Years" by Art Leonard '74 [PDF].
March 1988 | Cornell University Library's Human Sexuality Collection Established
Early attempts by CUGALA and David Goodstein '54, publisher of The Advocate, to start a book fund and archive for LGBT materials were rebuffed by the University in 1981. Meanwhile, the Mariposa Education and Research Foundation accumulated a library of research materials related to human sexuality, particularly gay and lesbian sexuality, at a time when AIDS began to decimate gay communities nationwide. When Goodstein approached the University again, he and Bruce Voeller, a scientist and cofounder of both the Mariposa Foundation and the National Gay Task Force, began negotiating the terms by which a permanent human sexuality collection would be established at Cornell. According to Art Leonard '74, after Goodstein died, "he achieved in death what he could not in life through a conditional bequest to Cornell..." Voeller then donated the Mariposa Foundation's archives, thereby fulfilling both their missions to establish major institutional support for human sexuality scholarship. As one of the world's largest of its kind, the Human Sexuality Collection preserves primary sources that document historical shifts in the social construction of sexuality, with a focus on U.S. lesbian and gay history and the politics of pornography. Former director of the Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections, Tom Hickerson says, "The pages in these archives convey the color, the sound, the texture of people's lives. A hundred years from now, when people want to know, really know, about the human toll of AIDS, this is where they'll look." Cornell Magazine: "Sex in the Archives" [PDF], "How CUGALA Got Started & The Early Years" by Art Leonard '74 [PDF].
ca.1992 | CUGALA Established a Book Fund for Cornell University Library's Human Sexuality Collection
Despite an initial rejection by the University, persistent efforts to build an endowment to buy gay and lesbian books for Cornell libraries eventually led to an agreement between then University Librarian Louis Martin and CUGALA board members. An account was designated for book fund donations until the $5,000 minimum funding requirement for endowed funds was met. By the early '90s, according to Art Leonard '74, "the CUGALA fund was supporting library subscriptions to LGBT-related publications and some purchases for the collection." "How CUGALA Got Started & The Early Years" [PDF], Cornell Magazine: Letter to the Editor, "On the Shelves" [PDF].
1992 | University Vetoes Two Proposals by Students for a LGBT Living Center
During the 1992-1993 academic year, LGBT students lobbied twice for a living and learning unit modeled after Ujamaa, Akwe:kon, and the Multicultural Living Center (McLLU)—the latter two of which were established within the preceding two years. Both proposals were endorsed by the Student Assembly, a public forum, a random survey of 300 students, and a referendum in which 786 students said they would live in such a house. "This unit would have been the third such living center in the nation" if then-President Frank H.T. Rhodes had not vetoed the proposals. Although President Rhodes claimed that "he would deny any additional program houses to any other 'racial, religious, ethnic, or special interest group'" because "any additional living centers would only further fragment the campus," the Latino Living Center was formed as a result of 1993's Day Hall Takeover. In the takeover's aftermath, President Rhodes "offered LGBT students a 'study group' to deal with homosexual issues but which had no time frame, no mission statement, no financial backing, no guarantee of any implementation of its findings, and no written report requirement." Cornell Daily News: "The House That Gays Built."
1994 | LGBT Resource Office Established
Like many other minority program houses and community centers, the LGBT Resource Center was born out of controversy and protest. LGBT students originally lobbied for a living and learning unit, modeled after Ujamaa, Akwe:kon, and the Multicultural Living Center (McLLU). Despite multiple refusals, LGBT students continued advocating for a living center—especially after the Latino Living Center was established later that year. As a consolation, then-President Frank H.T. Rhodes granted the students a "study group" that eventually led to the formation of the LGBT Resource Office (LGBTRO). Students conceded their efforts to build a living center, on the condition that LGBTRO fall under supervision of the Office of the Vice President of Student Academic Services so members of the LGBT community "would have a direct voice to administration." Most importantly, the LGBTRO began to serve the entire community of students, staff, faculty, and alumni. In May of 1998, its name changed to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center. Susie Lerner (1994-1995), Carlisle Douglas (1995-1998), Gwendolyn Dean (1999-2008), and Matthew Carcella (2009-2013) have led the center as coordinators or director. Since its founding, the Resource Center has moved from Anabel Taylor Hall to White Hall, from White Hall to Caldwell Hall due to renovations in 2001, and now resides in the Intercultural Center (formerly the Alumni House) as of 2011. Cornell Daily Sun: "The House That Gays Built", Cornell Chronicle: "Student programs to set up shop at 626 Thurston Ave".
1994 | Lesbian, Bisexual & Gay Studies Established
To expand and institutionalize the sexuality component of the Women's Studies program, a minor in Lesbian, Bisexual & Gay (LBG) Studies was established at both the graduate and undergraduate levels—around the time when queer theory was taking root in academia. The interdisciplinary program is devoted to the study of sexuality and its importance to the organization of social relations. Scholars in the field are primarily concerned with the lives, politics, and creative work of sexual minorities. The program currently includes courses that study sexuality and sexual minorities from anthropological, psychological, sociological, biological, political, historical, literary, and artistic perspectives. In 2002, Women's Studies became Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies to "shift the emphasis of the program even further toward the intertwining of gender and sexuality with structures of power and inequality," and, in 2009, the LGB Studies changed its name to LGBT Studies in 2009.
Our timeline of CUGALA and Cornell LGBT milestones is not intended to be a comprehensive history, and we realize each member of the Cornell LGBT community may have additional stories to contribute. Because our history is important, and much of it is unwritten or may have already been lost due to the AIDS epidemic, we must take care to compile and preserve as many of our stories as possible for the benefit of future generations of Cornellians. Contact Olivia Tai '11 at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how you can share your stories or contribute your records to Cornell University Library's Human Sexuality Collection.