William M. Chace
the University celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Emory
Pride Banquetin this case not pride in scholarship or
sports or service, but gay pride. More than a hundred students,
faculty, administrators, and alumni gathered in the Miller-Ward
Alumni House to mark the occasion. When President William M.
Chace dispensed awards, Katie Kilborn 02C, a tall, lanky
young woman with close-cropped hair dyed hot pink, came forward
to claim her prize for having written the top undergraduate
essay in the field of gay studies. Her parents clapped proudly
as she shook Chaces hand.
want to thank Emory for being so welcoming to its gay students,
Kilborn said. I would not be here if it did not have such
good policies and support. Thats why I chose Emory.
actually, I came here because when I drove in to visit with
my mom, I saw a girl with a shaved head going into Caribou Coffee,
she admitted. But Im sure she would not have been
here if Emory were not so welcoming to gay people.
an interdisciplinary studies major and theater minor, graduated
with honors in May. As a student, says she always felt fairly
comfortable being open about her sexual orientation. But unlike
her heterosexual peers, she did not take this comfort for granted.
the last decade in particular, University leaders have taken
deliberate, and sometimes difficult, steps to ensure its gay
students, faculty, and staff the welcoming atmosphere Kilborn
so casually described. Its very unusual to have
the system above you be more progressive than the peer group
youre a part of, she says.
annual Pride Banquet marks the anniversary of a landmark in
Emorys history, a 1992 demonstration in which about a
hundred gay students gathered to protest what they took to be
a lack of fairness and support from University leadership. Those
students widely publicized action did not represent the
first time gays on the Emory campus were acknowledged by the
administration, but it was the first time they drew together
and spoke out with one voice. Then-President James T. Laney
listened and answered with an attitude of tolerance and unapologetic
respect that set a new tone for the University community. In
the months and years that followed, Emory became a pioneer among
Southern universities by taking a supportive stance on gay issues.
to the protest, gays had one clear protection under University
policy: sexual orientation was included in a statement forbidding
discriminatory harassment. Gay support groups had
long been a fixture on the student activities scene, and in
1991, then-Dean of Campus Life William H. Fox 79PhD had
helped establish an Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered
(LGBT) Life, which was staffed part-time by graduate students.
felt we were already ahead of the rest of the South on these
issues, and Laneys response to those students only affirmed
our commitment, says Fox, now senior vice president of
Institutional Advancement. Laney was responding to the
real needs of the students, not to the fact that they held a
protest. But that event did raise our sensitivity and awareness.
And we were not speaking hollow words. Im still very proud
of what weve done.
than a year after the demonstration, the Office of Lesbian,
Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Life got a full-time director,
at the time the only position of its kind in the relatively
conservative South. A committee appointed in 1992 by Laney to
advise him on gay issues grew into the Presidents Commission
on LGBT Concerns, a body still at work today. In 1993, Emory
became one of the first Southern institutions to add sexual
orientation to those categories protected by its Equal Employment
Opportunity Policy. And in 1995, administrators and the Board
of Trustees again led the region by offering domestic partner
benefits to same-sex couples.
achievements, among others, were praised at the Pride Banquets
tenth anniversary: a celebratory dinner set against a backdrop
of rainbow balloons and a life-size cardboard likeness of Xena
(the TV warrior princess made famous by her lesbian cult following),
who stood behind the podium sporting a rainbow lei. When he
took the podium to present Kilborn with her award, President
Chace unexpectedly grabbed Xena and pulled her suggestively
close, amid appreciative laughter and cheering. Although his
playful manner at that moment belied the controversy and criticism
he may have faced at times, Chace has kept to the path, forged
by Laney, of inclusion and acceptance of gay people at Emory.
He has not missed the Emory Pride Banquet since his arrival
aim of a good community should be, among other things, to comprehend
the simple and yet profound fact that sexual identity and affinity
is mysterious, profound, and crucial to human life. Chace
says. This community has gone a long way in understanding
that fact; doubtless it has further steps to take before the
mystery, in all of its contradictions and confusions, will be
disclosed. I cannot predict the next unfolding, but history
tells us that the steps are infinite. I am proud of how far
we have gone.
about the 1992 genesis of Emory pride > > >