century ago, gays were all but invisible on most Southern college
campuses, and Emory was no exception. In the late 1960s,
nobody on any college campus talked about being gay, says
Saralyn Chesnut 94PhD (left), director of Emorys
Office of LGBT Life, who received her undergraduate degree from
the University of Georgia in 1972. The only time I ever
heard about it was in a class on abnormal psychology.
Marks 70C, founder of the Washington, D.C.-based Lambda
Literary Foundation and editor of the Lambda Book Report,
says that while there was no shortage of political activity
on campus when he was a student in the late 1960s, the sexual
revolution and accompanying openness about sexual orientation
lagged behind. Marks was beginning to sense that he might be
gay during his student days, but he didnt feel secure
enough to acknowledge his feelings to his friends.
think I did have some awareness, but I was just not comfortable
coming out, he says. I sure didnt want my
fraternity brothers to know. But I came out the summer after
I graduated, so I was definitely figuring things out at that
decade later, little had changed. Like Marks, Steve Koval 83C
remembers almost nothing about gays on the Emory campus. I
was oblivious to the gay scene, if there was one, says
Koval, an Atlanta attorney who came out as a gay man after being
married a few years. There is no question that people
were just more closeted back then. To think I went through four
years of college and cant think of anyone I knew to be
openly gay. That says something.
Student Government Associationof which Koval was presidentfunded
a gay student organization, but the identities of the students
were kept secret. We didnt even know who the contact
person was, Koval says. It was such a touchy thing
the mid-1980s, students formed the Emory Lesbian and Gay Organization
(ELGO), a group that offered both support and advocacy. In 1987,
ELGO leaders and a handful of openly gay faculty and staff members
began an effort to get sexual orientation added to the protected
categories of the University Equal Opportunity Policy. At that
time, gay equality was fast becoming a hot issue on college
campuses as the national movement picked up steam. More than
sixty universities, most in the Northeast (and none in the South),
had a policy that specifically protected gay people from discrimination
in hiring, job security, benefits and use of facilities, and
pay based on sexual orientation. Leaders of the 1987 effort
cited Emorys progressive stance on human rights
in their argument for the change, while outlining the negative
effects the omission of sexual orientation had on gays as well
as the general University community.
conducted a survey of gays on campus, to which fifty-one gay
or bisexual students, alumni, and staff responded. The results
indicated that 95 percent of respondents had hidden their sexual
orientation from at least one member of the Emory community.
Seventy-one percent had experienced some form of violence or
harassment, and 98 percent had heard anti-gay remarks from colleagues
at Emory. Many lesbian, gay, and bisexual members of the
Emory community live in a world of secretiveness and fear,
the survey concluded.
in these records, now housed in the Office of LGBT Life, are
fifteen personal statements from gay men and lesbians, most
of them students. A 1988 graduate wrote of being asked to resign
as a Bible study group leader because he was known to be gay.
One recalled frantically scrubbing the word FAG,
scrawled in red magic marker, off his door before his parents
arrived to take him to lunch; a woman found the word DYKE
scratched into her door and quickly taped up a poster to cover
it. Another male student was asked to resign as student director
of the choir after his photo appeared in the Emory Wheel carrying
the ELGO banner.
in the LGBT office files are also various pieces of documentation
of ugly incidents, some of an alarmingly violent nature. A flyer
faxed to ELGO around this period in 1987 has these words scrawled
at the bottom: Dear ELGO, I have a problem about homosexuality.
It exists. It is obvious that all fags should be killed yet
there are still organizations such as this. . . . Please post
information concerning meeting times and locations so I will
know where to hide the bombs. Sincerely, A concerned and moral
all accounts, such hateful extremism was the exception at Emory,
and incidents were dealt with on a case-by-case basis. But without
protective policies being spelled out, ELGO leaders argued,
victims of harassment were at the mercy of individual administratorshowever
they might choose to interpret non-discrimination clauses.
Donna Smith 91PhD came to Emory as a graduate student,
the fledgling gay community was beginning to flex its wings;
yet the problems of anti-gay harassment had not been dealt with
in any formal way. Freshmen were showing up on campus
who were out, they were getting harassed, and their [resident
advisors] were not at all prepared to handle it, Smith
says. The kids would get nasty notes, graffiti, snide
remarks in the hallways. I felt like the undergraduates were
the most vulnerable constituents we had. They needed to be focusing
their energies on studying and developing as young adults, not
dealing with harassing situations.
the leadership and support of Fox, then dean of Campus Life,
Smith in 1991 helped to establish the Office of LGBT Life, which
was staffed twenty hours a week by herself and Michael Wyatt.
increasing number of students were openly declaring their sexual
orientation, and there were some I felt needed support systems,
Fox says. My door was not being knocked down by students
in trouble, but I had a general sense that the office was needed
at that time in history.
than two years later, Chesnut, a literature scholar, lesbian,
feminist, and longtime Atlanta activist, was hired as director
of the Office of LGBT Life. She told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution,
This just feels like the most natural thing in the world
for me to be doing. My life feels a lot more integrated. As
a gay person, you get so used to trying to hide a big part of
yourself. Its just such a relief to not have to do that.
set to work creating programs, counseling students, answering
concerns, and generally warming the climate for gays at Emory.
She rapidly became involved in making changes on the administrative
side of the University as well, working with the Presidents
Commission on LGBT Concerns. Within a year of her arrival in
January 1993, sexual orientation was added to Emorys Equal
Opportunity Policy, a move that had been urged and anticipated
by gays and supporters since the unsuccessful 1987 campaign.
Chesnut and a handful of other administrators set their sights
on a new front: domestic partnership (DP) benefits. At the time,
fewer than thirty universities nationwidea list that included
Harvard, Yale, and Stanfordoffered benefits to the partners
of employees not legally married (homosexual marriage being
illegal in every U.S. state). In July 1995, Emorys Board
of Trustees approved the measure. Duke University took the step
that same month, and Emory and Duke became the only two Southern
universities to offer DP benefits.
decision sparked a blaze of reaction on all sides. While Emory
publications, the gay Atlanta newspaper Southern Voice, and
the AJC received a cascade of letters and editorials lauding
the move, there were plenty of dissenters, including a 1942
alumnus who wrote to the AJC that he was now embarrassed
to call Emory his alma mater.
some 106 University employees take advantage of these benefits,
and they have attracted new faculty and staff from institutions
that dont offer such a program.
of these is Mark Jordan (left) , Asa Griggs Candler Professor
of Religion and departing chair of the Presidents Commission
on LGBT Concerns, who came to Emory in 1999. A highly respected
Catholic scholar who is also openly gay, Jordan has written
extensively on gays, homophobia, secrecy, and hypocrisy in the
Catholic church. His work made him a controversial figure in
his former post at the deeply Catholic Notre Dame. When Jordan
got an offer from Emory, he called the academic dean at Notre
Dame, who quickly promised that whatever Emory was proposing,
hed match it. But Jordan was weary of struggling as a
gay Catholic scholar at a conservative institution. He says
he had been asking for some time that sexual orientation be
added to Notre Dames non-discrimination policy, and that
gay student groups be officially recognized by the university,
to no avail. Now he told the dean there was no point in making
him a counter-offer unless it included adding sexual orientation
to the non-discrimination clause. Notre Dames president
said no, and Jordan packed his bags.
was an open-and-shut issue for me at that point, Jordan
says, relaxing in his office this spring, where he had been
fielding dozens of calls from the New York Times and CNN about
the Catholic priest scandal. I knew Emory had sexual orientation
in its non-discrimination and EEO policies. I knew it offered
DP benefits. I knew about Saralyns office. I had talked
to gay faculty here about their experience, and they assured
me that, for faculty at least, it was very welcoming.
Drew Boles 02C was looking at colleges, he wanted to find
a campus where he could be himself. He had been openly gay since
he was fifteen, and he wasnt about to go back into the
closet for the next four yearsnor did he wish to spend
them looking over his shoulder and scrubbing obscenities off
his dorm room door. So finding an environment where he could
be comfortably out was a top concern for Boles and
this in mind, the entire Boles family dropped by Emorys
Office of LGBT Life during their initial visit to meet Chesnut
and check out the schools gay-friendly offerings. They
were concerned about me going to a place where I would be safe,
Boles says. That was a very big factor in my decision
to come to Emory.
Boles was a freshman on an all-male hall, someone did scrawl
an anti-gay slur on his door. But, I never felt in danger
or anything, he says. My RA was very supportive.
I just filed a complaint, followed the standard procedure, and
went about my life. I think Emory is a really proactive campus,
especially with having the office as a safe space. I have felt
very comfortable here.
became the first Emory undergraduate to major in music composition
and to present an honors project of original works. He requested
and helped to develop the honors track in music composition.
In March, three of his compositions were performed at an Emory
Chesnut says, gay students, like Boles, are out
when they arrive at Emory. The Office of LGBT Life produces
a complete roster of social events and activities for gay students.
Each year Emorys Gay and Lesbian Film Festival draws hundreds
of spectators from both within the University community and
beyond. Half-a-dozen organizations, including social, religious,
and political groups, serve the needs of LGBT people on campus.
gays at Emory face a challenge now, says Chesnut, its
students] think everything has been done. Weve become
so much a part of the institution that weve lost our edge,
Chesnut says. Its both good and bad. We still need
to raise visibility of gays on campus, to educate othersI
still think there is more to be done, much more. We took things
so far and we have an obligation to keep pushing, to not just
stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. Being
a student is about being active, creating social change.
close to Emory suggest that maybe the gay community is just
growing up, its members striving for a balanced life in which
being gay is only a part of their identity. Catherine Young
02C, former president of Emory Pride, says she found it
tough to keep the one hundred members of this central gay student
organization worked up about gay issues, because they were so
busy with schoolwork and other time commitments.
maybe, she suggests, thats the whole point.
the infamous Emory apathy, she says, with a smile. It
actually gives me a kind of hope when Pride is not so active.
It should be okay to not have a common enemy, to be focusing
on other aspects of being a student. Maybe thats a good