- Gay Liberation to Campus Assimilation: Early Non-Heterosexual Student Organizing at Midwest Universities by Patrick Dilley
New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019, 261 pages, $99.99 (hardcover)
Dilley’s new book about LGBTQ college students was published almost 20 years after his pioneering Queer Man on Campus (Dilley, 2002), in which he focused on the history of individual experiences and identities of “non-heterosexual” college men since the 1940s. In Gay Liberation to Campus Assimilation, Dilley shifts attention to the collective activities and accomplishments of LGBTQ college student organizations at public, [End Page 261] Midwestern universities from the late 1960s through the early 1990s. Accomplishing the difficult challenge of narrating and succinctly summarizing the history of these organizations, Dilley demonstrates that their members made important contributions to their campus and the larger LGBTQ rights movement far away from the LGBTQ metropoles of New York and San Francisco.
In chapter 1, Dilley outlines his methodology and foci. Conducting archival research at 16 Midwestern universities, Dilley centers his attention on 6 institutions: Indiana University, Ohio State University, University of Illinois, University of Kansas, University of Michigan, and University of Minnesota. Dilley also visited national gay and lesbian archives and conducted oral history interviews.
Chapters 2 and 3 concentrate on the formative years of LGBTQ student organizations during the 1970s. The earliest college student groups were strongly influenced by the Gay Liberation Front, an LGBTQ activist organization that articulated a largely radical reconfiguration of American social mores. As such, the first LGBTQ student organizations pursued two overarching goals: providing a space for college students to come out and advocating for a new social order to transform prevailing heterosexist sexual and gender norms. However, many members gravitated toward one goal over the other, and by the mid-1970s most student organizations focused on providing social events and safer campus climates for LGBTQ students, which was the first step toward campus assimilation. Many campus leaders, including student affairs professionals, and many politicians worked to eliminate early LGBTQ organizations. In contrast, many of these organizations received support from student government leaders, campus newspapers, and both campus and community organizations.
Chapter 4 highlights changes that occurred as LGBTQ student organizations moved through the 1980s. According to Dilley, many LGBTQ organizations at Midwestern universities fought for normalization during this decade, a process that included ensuring the safety of LGBTQ students, maintaining campus recognition for their organizations, and securing funds for their activities. In particular, LGBTQ organization leaders urged campus administrators to adopt non-discrimination clauses that included sexual orientation. Administrators usually tried to stall these initiatives, but by the end of the decade most LGBTQ organizations had succeeded in creating more inclusive nondiscrimination policies. In their advocacy regarding nondiscrimination policies and other initiatives, LGBTQ student organization leaders in the 1980s drew parallels between sexual minorities and racial minorities. “No longer was ‘gay,’ as an identity, seen to be one in opposition to a normative heterosexual society”—as had been the stance of the earliest LGBTQ campus activists—“but rather as one of many social identities that comprised American society” (p. 155). This was another detour away from liberation toward assimilation.
In chapter 5, Dilley explores the ways LGBTQ student organizations not only focused on campus assimilation but also societal assimilation in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In terms of societal assimilation, Dilley highlighted LGBTQ student organizations’ activism against campus-based Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs. Because of the military ban at the time against LGBTQ servicemembers, activists argued, the presence of ROTC violated universities’ nondiscrimination policies. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Defense predicated research funding on the presence of ROTC on campus. LGBTQ students’ activism helped contribute to a larger public policy change when President [End Page 262] Clinton instituted the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that improved, though imperfectly, the ability of LGBTQ individuals to serve in the Armed Services. However, LGBTQ students’ activism for inclusion into the U.S. military was a far cry from the anti-war sensibilities that informed the gay liberation...