THIRTY FIVE YEARS AGO, in March 1973, seven men and one woman gathered in a Manhattan apartment discussing problems facing LGBT academics. Their discussion continued in subsequent meetings involving more people and led to the realization, as John D'Emilio, one of the seven initial participants, put it that "as gay teachers, scholars and writers, we could contribute to the gay movement and to our own liberation by organizing in a formal way." (Introduction to the proceedings of the first Gay Academic Union conference).
In the introduction to the proceedings of the first Gay Academic Union conference, D'Emilio wrote
"The organization came into being almost by accident; the first meeting was not really a meeting at all. On a Saturday afternoon late in March 1973, seven men and one woman -- college faculty, graduate students, a writer and a director, all gay -- gathered informally in a Manhattan apartment. We were mostly strangers to each other. We were all interested in discussing problems encountered in doing research. We came from a variety of academic disciplines. some of us had done research in what might broadly be construed as gay studies while others were virtually untutored. Our conversation ranged widely. We talked in highly personal terms of the difficulties of being gay in a university setting, how we coped with being in the closet, if that were the case, or what sort of reaction coming out had engendered ... Perhaps most enlightening, however was the discovery that our academic training, regardless of discipline or particular research interests, allowed each of us to contribute something of substance, some insight to the discussion. Ideas bounced about the room; we fed off each other intellectually ...
Over the summer the Gay Academic Union (GAU) found a structure and organized its first conference. That first conference over Thanksgiving weekend (November 23 and 24, 1973) at City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Spring and summer planning were fraught with internal discussion and organizational issues but the conferees who met in November presented a wide range of papers addressing the topic The Universities and the Gay Experience. Keynote addresses were delivered by Martin Duberman and Barbara Gittings. Panelists discussed "Scholarship and the Gay Experience" and Coming Out in the Universities". A Women's Caucus also presented. Reportedly a bomb threat during the conference briefly emptied the auditorium.
The Gay Academic Union both celebrated the gay experience in higher education and advocated for the rights of LGBT academics within tertiary institutions. It also advocated for the inclusion of gay studies in academic course offerings. Conferences continued into the next decade, growing in size and diversity of topics. By the late 1970s, gay and lesbian caucuses had begun forming within the professional associations of academic disciplines: the Association of Lesbian and Gay Psychiatrists organized in 1978, the Anthropology Research Group on Homosexuality in 1978, the Committee on Lesbian and Gay History in the AHA in 1979, and more formed in the 1980s. Throughout the 1970s, regional and local Gay Academic Unions spread across the country as local academics confronted issues within and across their disciplines. Chicago's Gay Academic Union participated in the founding of the city's Gerber-Hart library and archives.
Gay Academic Union Statement of Purpose (1973)As gay men and women and as scholars we believe we must work for liberation as a means for change in our own lives and in the communities in which we
find ourselves. We choose to do this collectively for we know that no individual, alone, liberate herself or himself from society's oppression.
The work of gay liberation in the scholarly and teaching community centers around five tasks which we now undertake:1. to oppose all forms of discrimination against all women within academia.We assert the interconnection between personal liberation and social change. We seek simultaneously to foster our self-awareness as individuals and, by applying our professional skills, to become the agency for a critical examination of the gay experience that will challenge those generalizations supporting the current oppression. we are people with a variety of life experiences and institutional affiliations, and we represent a diversity of academic disciplines. Our hope is that by pooling our experiences and sharing our expertise, we will be able to begin the arduous job of challenging the sexist myths that now dominate public discourse and influence private association.
2. to oppose all forms of discrimination against gay people within academia.
3. to support individual academics in the process of coming out.
4. to promote new approaches to the study of the gay experience.
5. to encourage the teaching of gay studies throughout the American educational system.
Resources on The Gay Academic Union
David Aiken, a Washington, DC-based journalist, broadcaster on Friends Radio, and a founder of DC's Gay Liberation Front in 1970, wrote extensively on local and national gay political, social and economic issues in the 1970s. He personally covered the second (1974), third (1975), and fourth (1976) GAU conferences in New York City and produced broadcasts from them for Friends Radio in Washington, DC. Drafts of three of his articles reporting from GAU events are available online:
The second conference, Toward Community, November 29 and 30, 1974.Other resources:
The third conference, (with no overriding theme)
The fourth conference, The Role of Lesbians and Gay Men in Politics, November 26 - 28, 1976.Proceedings of the first conference in 1973 (an 8MB file!)Elsewhere online:
Flyer announcing Gai Saber, the GAU journal
GAU membership form 1975
Entertainment flyer for the 1975 conference
Schedule of the second conference
GAU trifold brochure
GAU fourth conference programGay Academic Unmasks, 1973.