Gail Rolf did not reveal her secret to fellow classmates while attending college at CSUN in the late 1960s. Sexual orientation, other than the norm, was left unsaid.
“School was a hostile place for me,” said Rolf, who earned a physical education degree at CSUN when it was known as San Fernando Valley State College.
“To grow up knowing that you are different and to know that the only word to describe you was queer, and that queer in those days was a very bad thing to be, was a terrible secret to have to have all of your life,” she said.
Rolf and five other speakers shared personal stories about sexual discrimination and the rise of activism at CSUN at Flintridge Hall in the University Student Union on May 1.
The event, “Out at CSUN Across the Generations” was brought together by the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Alliance and the Center for Sex and Gender Research in an effort to uncover the history of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender movement on campus.
Rolf explained to the crowd that during this period in her life she felt as if she had to disassociate herself from others on campus who were gay just to make sure she wasn’t identified as one of them.
“This is how repressive this was,” she said.
Wayne Plasek, a former CSUN sociology professor, agreed that saying you were gay was out of the ordinary and that usually people were “outed” by others.
He recalled such instances as a college student in Texas during the 1950s. There were witch hunts on campus and people’s lives were ruined, he said.
Hired at CSUN in 1968, Plasek said that the majority of harassment did not come from students, but more from the community and staff members.
“There were homophobic members of the faculty and it does, still to this day, to my knowledge, vary from one discipline to another,” he said.
Other panelists, including Faith Landsman and Liliana Perez, spoke about their efforts to bring about changes on campus.
This surge of activism took place in the late 1980s into the ’90s, when gay and lesbian students openly sought more acceptance and rights.
Landsman, co-founder of Strong Queers United in Stopping Heterosexism, brought some of the fliers her group posted around campus and then showed the audience pictures of those posters vandalized and spray painted with statements such as “HIV positive.”
At the time, the group responded to these remarks with fliers that stated, “But I thought all straight men were rapists – SQUISH knows stereotypes suck.”
Landsman said the organization was fighting for basic rights, including living without fear.
“We walked around campus like we owned it, even though we were pretty freaking terrified,” she said.
Perez, who is now a consultant for California State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, initiated a teach-in to help students gain a better understanding of the movement.
She said although those 150 individuals who attended didn’t want to listen to what SQUISH had to say, they seemed to leave with this realization that the members were just as interesting as other people.
Even with these efforts though, there were still issues within the classroom.
“Unfortunately, in 1991, things weren’t a whole hell of a lot different,” said Landsman.
“In one of my human sexuality courses there were vivid pictures of men having sex with women?on the section on homosexuality there were monkeys having sex,” she said.
By 2000, Eli Bartle, associate professor in the Department of Social Work, agreed to revise a sociology course on homosexuality.
“I felt the course needed both a lesbian and gay teacher,” said Bartle.
Changing the name of the course was another aspect of concern. Sociology of Queers was mentioned, but because of possible negative reaction from parents as well as receiving approval from administrative committees, the class was titled Sociology of LGBT.
“I don’t know why, after 10 years here, there are still bureaucratic rules,” he said. “Whether they’re intended or not, they hold up the process.”
As recollections came to a close, the focus of the discussion turned to revitalizing the unity and activism among the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community that exists on campus today.
Bartle said homophobia is still alive along with ignorance.
“The queer studies minor is a very good start,” he said. “I look forward to seeing and getting this entire campus, not just humanities, involved in it no matter how you define queer or how odd the term seems to you.”
Graduate student, Thomas Gudino, explained activism in terms of spreading awareness.
“I think, as far as for us, is to just be seen, just be heard, and be who we are,” he said.
Rolf urged students to confront issues of discrimination whenever possible.
“We need to be out on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender rights in this country. You need to point out to people that we are still the only group in the United States of America that does not have full and equal protection and rights under the law,” said Rolf.
For students who attended the discussion, getting the chance to hear about the past was what they needed.
“I really appreciate people who have been there and done that, (and) who have been active in these kinds of ways. It’s a good propeller for a lot of people to see professors and this kind of encouragement,” said one person who asked to remain anonymous.
Minda Greenberg, a member of LGBTA, said they are currently struggling as an organization.
“We’re just disconnected from our history because we don’t have any archives about it, but now with the queer studies minor and their office it will help us gain more perspective on the history and how we have gotten to this point,” she said.