"Pinko Commie"

The Liberated Left? 

The cover of the October 1957 publication of The Ladder, which was the first nationally distributed lesbian publication in the United States. The cover features a black and white drawing of a white woman removing a theatrical mask, referencing the concept of "unmasking," a homophile phrase that can be understood as a precursor to the concept of "coming out." 

The cover of the August 1958 edition of ONE Magazine, which became the first pro-gay publication in the United States upon the publication of its first edition in 1953. It features a black and white, full body sketch of a white man on the right side, with the text "I am glad I am homosexual" on the left side. 

It would appear that the rise of LGBTQ+ centered activism at Union College began later than the national rise of such movements. The phrase "homophile" does not appear in the Concordiensis even once in the window when the homophile movement arose in the 1950s and 1960s. The Concordiensis, or any other campus publication, do not make any reference to the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. It is worth noting that Stonewall occurred in late June and early July, when school would have been out of session, but even in the subsequent fall term, nothing about Stonewall or gay liberation in general made its way into campus publications. 

It would be irresponsible to assume that because the homophile movement and the Stonewall Uprising don't appear in official campus literature, students, staff, and faculty didn't react to, or play a part in, subsequent activism that occurred across the nation. Out of necessity, queer history has always involved the formation of covert and underground networks, organizations, and methods of communication. 

However, it is important to note that the late 1960s and early 1970s were tumultous times on Union's campus, as was the case with many colleges and universities during an era of mass student protests. Anti-ROTC and anti-Vietnam War protests, as well as protests for racial justice that were born out of the Civil Rights Movement, are well-documented in our archives. A leftist student publication, the Union Press, printed several editions in 1970, and classes were even canceled by the administration in the aftermath of the Kent State University shooting to allow Union students to participate in protests and canvassing in the Schenectady area [1].

The spirit of youth counterculture that overtook the world from approximately 1968 to 1972 clearly came to Union College - yet protests or other forms of activism focused explicitly on LGBTQ+ rights do not appear to have taken place, even in leftist, progressive, and activist spaces on campus. This exclusion of LGBTQ+ activism from progressive spaces has historical precedence: 

I could imagine these comrades, Black and white, among whom color and racial differences could be openly examined and talked about, nonetheless one day asking me accusingly, 'Are you or have you ever been a member of a homosexual relationship' [2]?

At the very least, even if there was some sort of LGBTQ+ centered activism at Union during the era of mass protest, they have not taken up any space in our institutional memory. 

Despite the apparent dearth of LGBTQ+ centered activism on campus during the era of protest, leftists and LGBTQ+ people were still often conflated. 

The Lavender Scare, while lesser known, accompanied the Red Scare of the 1950s and left a reverberating, lasting legacy. In the decades to follow, there was often an inextricable link drawn between leftism and queerness by those who were critical of leftist movements. Some gay rights organizations of the mid twentieth century, such as the Mattachine Society, had many members who were Communists, and some leftist spaces did explicitly advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, but the blanket conflation of the two was, of course, a vast oversimplification, but one that took a very strong and popular hold nonetheless.

You can't hardly separate homosexuals from subversives [3].

This longlasting conflation at Union, then, was a microcosm of wider public opinions and associations. Take a look at the following excerpts from the Concordiensis, dated in order: May 15, 1970; April 15, 1982; and November 3, 1983 [Content warning: use of slurs against gay men]. Highlights mine for emphasis. 

One wonders if the campus leftist movements of the late 60s and early 70s knew of the deeply entrenched conflation of leftism and queerness, and if an attempt to challenge or avoid this stereotype is what left queer activism out of their otherwise intersectionality-based work. 

[1] For more information on counterculture and protests at Union College, consult the "Student Protests" Picture File (SCA-1025), the "Student Protests" Vertical File (SCA-1026), the "Roger Stewart Collection of the 1970 National Student Strike" (SCA-1157), the "Robert Baker Papers" (SCA-1183), the "Harold C. Martin Collection" (RG-02-021), or the Encyclopedia of Union College History sections "The Campus Mood and the Computer Center" (pages 111-112) and "Vietnam War" (pages 765-770). 

[2] A quote from Audre Lorde, a self-described "Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet," discussing her realization during the 1950s that the one taboo among antiracist and otherwise socially liberated leftists was homosexuality. Retrieved from Faderman, Lilly, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth Century America, 1991, page 144.

[3] A quote from Senator Kenneth Wherry of Nebraska (1943-1951) from 1950. Retrieved from Faderman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, page 143. 

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