It has been 50 years since the University of Nebraska-Lincoln started teaching Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA+) studies in 1970.
And this month, the university has the opportunity to celebrate not only this program, but the entire LGTBQIA+ community with LGBTQ+ History Month, all October.
At UNL, Louis Crompton is credited as the man who took the first big step to bring LGBTQ studies to the University by teaching “Proseminar in Homophile Studies.” Even though Crompton became the first to teach LGBTQ studies, the history of UNL’s relationship with this community started when Oscar Wilde stepped onto campus and shared his writings.
The LGBTQIA+ community has not had an easy road to get to where they are today. Timothy Schaffert, a professor of English and Women and Gender Studies, said UNL was really ahead of the time to start teaching LGBTQ studies.
“Consider the Stonewall Rebellion, which was just generally considered as a watermark in the history of LGBTQ activism, was only just in 1969,” Schaffert said.
Even after the Stonewall Rebellion, the community was challenged by homophobia, Schaffert said. UNL was one of the first to start a program like this and it was not started with full acceptance, he noted.
Pat Tetreault, director of the LGBTQIA+ Center and Women’s Center, recalls the start of her career with UNL, a time when some were not accepting of LGBTQIA+ students on campus.
There was a time, she said, when students wanted to chalk outside the union for “National Coming Out Day,” and some people had responded by writing homophobic comments as well.
“Some of the anti chalking were actually things like ‘deer season queer season’ and really negative things like that,” Tetreault said.
Schaffert said he was a student at UNL in the 1980s and Tetreault said she was a sex education teacher. There were improvements to the rights of students who identified as a part of the LGBTQIA+ community by the time the two were on campus, Schaffert said. There was a community of students who had started a committee to combat hate and homophobia, Tetreault said.
“The homophobia awareness committee in 1989 then shifted and became officially recognized in 1992 as the committee for gay lesbian concerns, and then it eventually became lesbian, gay, bi and trans concerns,” Tetreault said.
Tetreault said, in her experience, a lot of committees were started because of different student and faculty needs for sex education and feeling seen on campus, and they pushed the limits of what was allowed at the time.
“The climate for students and faculty has improved greatly since the 1970s,” Schaffert said. “In 1970 it was still technically illegal to be gay in the state of Nebraska. Louis Crompton was developing this course when he could have been fired, and the University could have been investigated for hiring a gay professor.”
Tetreault said the LGBTQIA+ Center didn’t exist physically until 2007 and it took a lot of activism from students to get it to the third floor of the Nebraska Union.
The center came from committees against homophobia and students wanting education on LGBTQIA+ issues, Tetreault said.
“There were students who were advocating for a resource center that was part of the institution, and not just the students having to be the resource,” Tetreault said, “and so they gave me a space up on the third floor.”
A lot of people think of Nebraska as this conservative state, Schaffert said. They don’t expect to hear about the university being one of the first to teach others about LGBTQIA+ people, Schaffert said.
“The university really did in a large way stand in support of that class, despite opposition of outside entities or regions,” Schaffert said. “And so, from that [Compton] course, it was really individual faculty members and students and staff members who continued that legacy. The university allowed those advancements and progressions.”