Jim Andris, Facebook
The Columbia, Mo. Pride Celebration of 1978
by Jim Andris
Early in 1971 a student group, Gay Lib, organized and sought student activites funds and a meeting place on the campus of University of Missouri Columbia. There ensued a seven year struggle between individuals in Gay Lib, first through various levels of administration at UM, and then through the court system. Some of this is documented in the original case by the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, 558 F. 2d 848 Gay Lib v. University of Missouri.
This case is worth reading, since it draws on other significant cases decided around similar events in the early to middle 1970s. In particular 408 U.S. 169 - Healy v. F James was a 1972 case in which the Students for a Democratic Society had been denied recognition as a student group at Central Connecticut State College; Gay Students Org. of Univ. of New Hampshire v. Bonner, 509 F.2d 652 was a 1974 case where there had been public complaint about a dance sponsored by a recognized campus gay group; and Gay Alliance of Students v. Matthews, 544 F.2d 162 was a 1976 decision for a group of gay students seeking recognition at Virginia Commonwealth University.
These facts are quite significant for the history of GLTB rights in Missouri and the U.S.A., since they show that gay and lesbian students were quite early riding a national wave of activism on college and university campuses. Clendenin and Adam write of this matter:
In part public awareness of this issue grew out of a controversial attempt at MIT of the Student Homophile League to hold a dance for gay students on campus in May, 1970, which the MIT administration refused. In December of 1971, Robert Reinhold, a reporter for The New York Times—interviewing officials and students from several college campuses—stated that "thousands of college students are proclaiming their homosexuality and openly organizing 'gay' groups on large and small campuses across the country."
It seems clear that the drama that unfolded at University of Missouri Columbia between early 1971 and February, 1978—when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit decision in 1977—was a significant part of this new awareness and effort of gay and lesbian college and university students.
An eyewitness account of events on the day of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Feb. 21, 1978 was given by Cea Hearth, then known as Glenda Dilley, to Jim Andris in an Aug. 10, 2010 interview.
Andris: Ok, so you’ve been telling me a lot about how you got involved in the Columbia, Missouri gay students’ association. Maybe you could just say a little bit again for the microphone about how you got involved in that.
Hearth: I guess I had been a member of that group for two or three years and I, we were concerned about our lawsuit that was being heard by the Supreme Court at that time. The lawsuit had actually been filed several years before then, but it had slowly made its way up to the Supreme Court. And the people, this fellow, Larry Eggleston, who knows, had filed it several years before, but he was no longer really a part of the group which was meeting at the ess, Episcopal Student Union or something. And so we were not allowed to meet on campus which was the point of the lawsuit. So we were just meeting there, and I stayed on, I finished my masters degree and stayed on for a year because I was interested in, you know, helping the group see that through, and since I wasn’t teaching at that time, gay people, of course had no teaching rights, I was able to be spokesperson for the group and have my name in the paper, so we needed such a person, and I felt like, felt up to doing that, so I did.
Andris: Ok, and so you were the president of this student organization at Columbia during the time when the decision actually came …
Hearth: Came down, yeah.
Andris: from the Supreme Court that you could legally hold your student organization meeting on campus.
Hearth: Right. And that was, I’m not sure exactly when that was.
Andris: Later 70s, I’m thinkin’ this was 1979, … [Later research revealed that the date was Feb. 21, 1978]
Hearth: Coulda been.
Andris: so. The other thing if you wouldn’t mind repeating it once more but you told me a neat story about waiting for the police in Columbia to escort you from where you were over to the campus.
Hearth: yeah, Student Union. ‘Cause we hadda meet, we were assigned after we won the lawsuit and we were then able to meet on campus, we had been assigned a room in the Student Union, so we were going to make a little march from the Episcopal place about six blocks away to the Student Union. And since there were some detractors, some people who were not happy that we were allowed to meet on campus, we had arranged to have a police escort. Well, the police blew us off, and didn’t care, so uh we waited maybe 30 minutes, they didn’t show up. So I was in the restroom, and, you know, realizing we couldn’t stay there and cower, we had to make the walk, and as I was thinking about that and making little prayers and so forth, I got a, I suppose it would be an infusion of divine energy, and felt, you know, that we would be able to make the walk. And I took this energy with me and back to the group, and we went off, in this group there were about twenty of us, at least to start with, we did pick up some people along the way who joined us. But I was, I had my guitar and I think I must of played a song or two along the way. I felt a little better with my guitar and leading the group. And I ‘member two [laughs] of the men carried a banner that said that we won recognition, now let’s talk. So we were something, but interestingly enough, both my brother and sister, who happened to be gay, somehow ended up in that march, and how they knew about it and got there, I’m not sure. But it was kind of, had potential to be treacherous, people, frat boys were out there, throwing sticks and little rocks and so on, and hooting and so forth, but the only ones who were hit by the projectiles were press people, which, of course, put them on our side, certainly more than the people throwing the stones. So anyway we made it over there, and then pretty much no one really bothered us once we made it to the room.
Gay Pride Weekend at UM Columbia, Sept. 29-30, Oct. 1
We are fortunate to have two first hand accounts of the Pride Celebration that was planned by the student organization Gay Lib after an extended struggle with the University of Missouri to gain recognition for their group. One account is by Galen Moon, the other is by Sue Robinson. Galen Moon was born about 1902 in Louisiana, lived in Atlanta, and came to St. Louis around 1975. He was one of the major forces in organizing the first Gay and Lesbian Community Center in St. Louis, known as Metropolitan Life Services Corporation. MLSC remained in existence until just about the time period when the U.S. Supreme Court decision came down. From his article, republished here from Gaylife, we get a good picture of the varied activities that were planned for that weekend and feeling of jubilation and liberation that permeated the gathering. Galen's account is well worth reading. These pride activities apparently had a powerful influence on the soon to develop pride activities in St. Louis.
Clendinen, Dudley and Adam Nagourney. Out for Good: The Struggle To Build a Gay Rights Movement in America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999, 716 pp.
558 F. 2d 848 - Gay Lib v. University of Missouri. United States Court of Appeal, Eighth Circuit, Submitted Feb. 17, 1977. Decided June 8, 1977. First Amendment requires University of Missouri to recognize the rights of the student group Gay Lib to receive recognition and meet on university premises. Gay Lib sought this recognition since early in 1971. Suit was brought by Lawrence A. Eggleston, employee of UM, Darrell Napton, and Sarah MacNamara and Doug Hudson, undergrad students at UM.
RATCHFORD V. GAY LIB, 434 U. S. 1080 (1978). U.S. Supreme Court denied petition for writ of certiriori filed by UM. Decided Feb. 21, 1978.
The Gay 30's. This online article by Lucinda Fleeson is interesting in that it may place Galen in the context of the Chicago "Panzy Craze" of the 1920s and 1930s.