Michael Norris and Alfred Hildebrand entered Emory College as freshmen
in the fall of 1991. Neither graduated, but the legacy the pair
left behind resonated long after they departed the campus.
An incident in which the two gay students were harassed led to
a formal complaint to the administration, then a high-profile protest
that morphed into a sit-in at the presidents office, which
ushered in a blue-ribbon committee to study the campus climate regarding
The end result was the creation of the Presidents Commission
on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Concerns and the expansion
of the Office of LGBT Life. Those two organizations, once oddities,
are now entrenched and uniformly accepted at Emory.
I think were just a [regular] part of the campus now,
said Saralyn Chesnut, director of the Office of LGBT Life. Its
not a big deal. When I was hired, it was very controversial and
there was all this hoopla about it. In my job description, they
couldnt use the word advocate. Now, things have
March 2, 1992, was a watershed date in the history of Emory. That
afternoon, close to 100 students marched across campus, finishing
with several of them staging a sit-in at the office of then-President
James Laney. The students, who were primarily gay, were protesting
the administrations handling of a harassment case involving
Norris and Hildebrand, and they delivered a nine-point proposal
The two students were seen kissing in a common area in Thomas Hall.
The ugliness that followed involved around 40 other students threatening
them and showering them with obscenities.
Norris and Hildebrand lodged a formal complaint, but they and several
other gays on campus were dissatisfied with the administrations
responsewhich, for instance, did not remove a student advisor
who had participated in the harassment. The rally, which received
national coverage, followed.
Less than a month after the sit-in, Laney created a blue-ribbon
committee to study the campus climate toward homosexuals. That committee
grew into the Presidents Commission on LGBT Concerns, and
each of the demonstrators proposed nine pointswhich
included antihomophobia training and the inclusion of sexual orientation
as a protected category in Emorys Equal Opportunity Policy
statementwere eventually granted.
Ten years ago, I never wouldve thought wed make
the strides weve had, said Chesnut, who was a graduate
student at Emory in 1992 and participated in the demonstration,
which also led to the creation of her directorship that fall. Previously,
the office had been staffed only by part-time employees.
Norris and Hildebrand, however, never saw the these changes come.
Both transferred out of Emory.
Each year since 1993, the first week of March has featured the
Pride Banquet, which honors the demonstrators who took to the Quadrangle
in demand of equal rights for all lifestyles. it is now a staple
of Emorys spring schedule and carries with it the full blessing
and participation of Emorys highest administrators.
The first Pride Banquet, however, wasnt really a banquet
at all. Instead it was a collection of skits, written and performed
primarily by students. A professor read some poetry. No administrator
It wasnt until a few years later that the event began to
resemble its current format of a sit-down dinner with a guest speaker.
President Bill Chace will be on hand to deliver a brief address
and to present cash awards for best undergraduate and graduate essays
on a queer studies topic. This years event, which will be
held Tuesday, March 5, is undergoing only minor changes. For the
first time, the banquet will be held in the Miller-Ward Alumni House,
and the dinner will be buffet style.
Chris Copeland, 97L97T, will be the guest speaker,
and Mark Jordan, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Religion and chair
of the LGBT commission, will emcee the event. A graduate of Emorys
Law and Religion Program, Copeland is associate pastor of Decaturs
Oakhurst Baptist Church. When Oakhurst hired Copeland, who is gay,
the Georgia Baptist Convention expelled the church from its membership.
Our mission is only half complete, Jordan said. Weve
made a lot of progress on the hot-point issues, like domestic-partner
benefits and antihomophobic programming, but there are still large
issues to be resolved.
One of those large issues, he said, is the somewhat difficult relationship
between homosexuals and the Methodist Church. According to Jordan,
this struggle makes Copelands presence all the more relevant.
His experiences remind us of the areas in which we havent
made much progress, Jordan said.