The Early Years

The Lawrence Gay Liberation Front

The group began as the Lawrence Gay Liberation front in the summer of 1970, about a year after the Stonewall riots in New York ignited the modern Gay Rights movement.

According to an article in the Fall 1991 GALA Update (a KU LBGT alumni newsletter) by Michael Nelson and Charles Dedmon: "Unattached groups of gay people existed who were interested in forming a local Gay Liberation Front. A social work student, working on a paper about alternative lifestyles, became the inadvertent founder of GLF when one of his interviewees tacked a message with his name and phone number at strategic places on campus frequented by gay men."

The note encouraged these men to make their presence known to the campus as a whole and to find a better quality of life as a gay person. Thus began two of Queers & Allies' central goals-educating through campus visibility, and the formation of a nurturing, supportive community.

But the rest of the University community wasn't quite as accepting.

The group applied for official recognition from the University and financing from Student Senate, but the requests were turned down. Then-Chancellor E. Lawrence Chalmers issued an official statement in September 1970, outlining the University's position: "Since we are not persuaded that student activity funds should be allocated either to support or to oppose the sexual proclivities of students, particularly when they might violate the law, the University of Kansas declines to formally recognize the Lawrence Gay Liberation Front."

In 1971, the group took the University to court for infringing on students' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The American Civil Liberties Union took the group's case. Outspoken liberal lawyer William Kunstler (famous for defending the Chicago Seven after the 1968 Democratic Convention) was brought on to argue for the Front.

Kunstler couldn't speak in court, however. When Lawrence Gay Liberation v. The University of Kansas reached the Topeka District Court in January 1972, Judge George Templar refused to let Kunstler-who was not licensed to practice law in Kansas-speak in court. Lawrence attorney Jack Klinknett argued for the group instead, which lost its case.

Although press coverage of the incident spread across the country (even reaching the New York Times), the University had won its battle to suppress the Front. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Templar's ruling in 1973 and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.

The Lawrence Gay Liberation Front spent the next decade as an unofficial, unrecognized group.


The 1970s

Gay Services of Kansas

Despite its legal victory against the Lawrence Gay Liberation Front, the University and its Student Senate weren't content to let the issue rest. In 1973, the Student Senate issued new guidelines concerning student groups. All could be registered, but they couldn't all be recognized.

The new policy on recognition stated: "To be recognized and eligible for Student Senate funds, an organization cannot be substantially oriented in support or in opposition to: a.) particular religious institutions, activities or beliefs, b.) particular political party activities or programs, or c.) particular and customarily private activities, habits or proclivities."

The GLF was the only student group to ever fall under section "c" of the policy. Although the group continued applying for student senate recognition each year, thanks to regulation they continued to be denied. Money to sustain the group was raised through dances held at the Kansas Union ballroom.

As Ruth Lichtwardt wrote in "A Stroll Down Gayhawk Lane," the introduction to a volume of KU gay and lesbian history:

"The dance was in the Union ballroom. Several hundred people were already there when we arrived, including many from Kansas City who would normally have been at the bars. A DJ with a huge light and sound system was at one end of the room, booming out disco music (yes, it was that era). Crowded tables were set up around the sides, and beer was being sold from a booth.. People we talked to had come in from Manhattan, Topeka and even Omaha for this dance."

A few posters from dances of that era have survived. Themes for the dances included "In the Mood"-the coyly retro 1972 edition of the event. September 18, 1976 saw a no-nonsense "disco dance." By 1979, the "Too Hot to Stop: First Annual Summer Fling" dance was advertised with a picture of a chic couple (male and female, although facing away from each other, and with male-male and female-female symbols on their skimpy shirts).

The dances continued through the '90s-although they slowly lost the importance and prominence of these pioneering efforts in the '70s.

In 1976, the name of the group officially changed from the Lawrence Gay Liberation Front to Gay Services of Kansas. It's not clear why the change was made. No documents in the Queers & Allies office offer any clue why, although it's easy to guess that the emphasis of the group was shifting from late-'60s radical activism to lower-key supportive roles.

In 1977, the group sent a letter to David Ambler (then Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at the University) detailing its services. According to director Todd VanLaningham and coordinator Jean Ireland, Gay Services of Kansas offered: counseling, a legal referral service, information on venereal diseases, 5-6 dances a year along with other social events, speaker's bureau services, a newsletter, a resource center, regular meetings, and a chance to become involved in political activism.

"We are a unique organization and our services generally are not duplicated anywhere else within the University," VanLaningham and Ireland wrote. "It is our concern that these services be maintained and that the Student Senate be able to fund them, at least partially."

The group was still pressing for official recognition. But it didn't come from the meeting with Ambler referred to later in the same letter. Gay Services of Kansas would have to wait until the 1980s for that to happen.


The 1980s

Gay and Lesbian Services of Kansas

After the radical late 1970s, the '80s were a peculiar combination of advancement and gay bashing for the group.

The University never actually recognized the group. Instead, the rules governing student organizations at KU changed. Any group of students that followed student senate rules and regulations became "official." The change only came about after a number of court cases suggested that denying Gay and Lesbian Services of Kansas (GLSOK) official recognition was unconstitutional.

David Ambler, then Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, proposed to end the recognition-funding policy. Student Organizations and Activities Director Anne Eversole developed the system, which was then approved by Chancellor Archie Dykes (who was less-than-tolerant on queer issues, despite his unfortunate last name).

1980 was the first year the University of Kansas-supposedly one of the most progressive universities in the state-recognized a group composed of LBGT students. Funding didn't come for another two years.

The push for actual funding coincided with a decline in the importance of the famous dances. Kansas liquor laws changed in the early '80, and the Kansas Union stopped allowing 3.2 beer at its student functions. Fewer people came (only 200 per dance), and less money was raised, according to Ruth Lichtwardt.

The dances were therefore moved off-campus to the Off-the-Wall Hall (now the Bottleneck). The Union Ballroom or Liberty Hall held less-frequent dances on Halloween and Valentine's time. But the time had come to get money for the group through other sources.

With the approval of GLSOK members, officers went before the Student Senate finance committee for funding. Senate agreed to fund the group-allocating $493 in the 1982-1983 school year. The budget request went through without a hitch, Lichtwardt wrote.

Two years later, however, an array of forces had allied against funding GLSOK. The Freedom Coalition (not to be confused with the later Lawrence LBGT-rights group), a right-wing religious organization, had placed several of its members on the Senate Finance Committee. What's more, a student named Steve Imber began circulating a petition to cut the group's funds. He managed to get more than the required 10% of the student body to sign it.

The petition was stalled throughout the summer of 1984, and was entangled in inter-Senate wrangling in the early fall. But regardless of the petition's success, a new fashion was appearing on campus:

"People were seen in a new T-shirt," Lichtwardt wrote. "It was white with a ghost in a red circle with a slash through it. It was modeled on the 'Ghostbusters' logo, only this ghost had long eyelashes and a limp wrist with 'FAGBUSTERS' emblazoned above it. We had heard rumors which we were unable to confirm that it was Steve Imber who was selling them."

Thanks to some intrepid reporting by University Daily Kansan reporter John Hanna, it was established that Imber was responsible for the shirts. His petition drive went down in flames soon after, and was widely covered in the local and national media.

An ugly spate of homophobic incidents began on campus soon after-ranging from threats to attacks to tampering with the cars of GLSOK members. At the request of a Senate Committee, Imber and GLSOK published an ad in the Kansan asking for both sides to simmer down. The Chancellor similarly urged restraint. And by the Student Senate elections in November of '84, the situation had ended.

The "Fagbusters" era's lasting impact was in politically mobilizing GLSOK members, many of whom ran for Senate and were elected. Funding was assured for 1985, 1986, and so on. (Read more about this incident from a KU alum who was involved with the Student Senate elections in 1984.)

The group marched on for the rest of the '80s. With matters of recognition and funding finally settled, the most tumultuous and radical times of Queers & Allies had ended. In the decade ahead there would be new, subtler challenges-both from outside and inside the group.


The Gay Community (from a Position Paper) - Lawrence Gay Liberation, Inc., c. 1970

Historian's note: This piece is included to give a taste of the stance of the first LBGT activists on the KU campus. Those who call today's Queers & Allies "radical" would be well advised to read this first.

The Gay Community
(From a Lawrence Gay Liberation, Inc. position paper, circa 1970)

The "gay community" should not be confused with the stereotyped "homosexual" community which is as repressive and limiting as the "straight, heterosexual" community, since in both of the latter groups the limiting and harmful stereotypes that society has imposed on femininity, masculinity and sexual roles are emphasized. Many straights limit love to heterosexual situations involving aggressive man and submissive women, and, because of societal oppression, "homosexuals" have been forced into one-night stands and impersonal sexual encounters in contrived situations. By contrast, the gay community offers a unique opportunity for Gays to work for a freedom and self-expression based on consideration of others as individuals, without the overtones of exploitative sexuality endemic in the straight community. This encourages personal freedom of expression and affection toward others of either sex.

Since members of the gay community pursue same-sex relationships, which may or may not involve active sexual expression, they are usually considered (incorrectly) to be exclusive "homosexuals" by the straight world. The result is that the gay liberation movement is derided by those who have been conditioned into considering same-sex relationships sinful and a threat to society or, at best, evidence of sickness. But "sin" is a purely subjective concept, non-rationally and arbitrarily applied whenever convenient; and the concept of "sickness" comes from psychiatrists who have dealt with homosexuals professionally, a biased situation since only those with mental problems seek clinical therapy.

However, the gay movement is a threat to today's society because its purpose is to change the basic premises governing interpersonal relationships, eliminating stereotypes which stifle individual expression and create distorted personalities. The gay movement is thus truly liberating. Allowing oneself freely to acknowledge and fully act on feelings of affection toward others of the same sex is an intensely and personally liberating experience-possible at present only in the gay community.

Gary - from the Gay Oread Daily, October 29, 1971

From the Gay Oread Daily
October 29, 1971.

My name is Gary. I have a lover whose name is Keith. Because I love him more than I love anyone else, because I want to be with him more than anyone else, I am "unacceptable" to society. I don't use hard drugs. I am clean and dress simply in levis and tee shirt, and my hair is not too long. You couldn't spot me in a crowd as being different. I have my individual goals and dreams as you do and your friends. No different. I am, you might say, harmless-no more harmful than I was when I dated girls instead of boys. I have no desire to molest little boys or rape cute guys on the street.

I merely want the security and happiness of love. Like anyone else. No different. I made no decisions as to whether I would like to be with boys or girls. When I was eight years old, I did not say "I think I will grow up to be a homosexual." There was no choice in the matter at all. I realized that I was gay and accepted it.

So, what do I find as a gay person? I find you are disgusted. You oppress me. You try to keep me from being myself. You force me to lie to my parents, my friends, my employers, myself. You try to make me hate myself! What an inhuman way to treat your brother, your brother who is no different.

I have no problems. You are the one with the problem, brother. I must suffer the consequences.

Emergency Position Paper - Gay Liberation Front, April 1972

Historian's note: This is an excerpt of a 1972 position paper from the Lawrence Gay Liberation Front (excised are a list of recommendations for the University to follow and some unrelated announcements). While the paper's author is definitely belligerent, it seems there were matters to be belligerent about. One needs to read between the lines a bit here, but in short it seems a GLF dance was disrupted by another group meeting at the Union. Peace and harmony did not follow.


(April 1972)

Wednesday night was a microcosm of the whole world of oppression suffered by Gay People on this campus. All the elements were there-

...Gay people were taunted by their peers
...Gay people were threatened by their peers
...Gay people were robbed
...Gay people could not claim their legal rights; the person who was injured was forced to remain anonymous because he is gay.

We feel the oppression at every level, especially since we have been denied the means and modes of justice.


In large part the blame for what happened Wednesday night rests upon the administration of this university. By denying the Lawrence Gay Liberation Front recognition as a student organization and forcing the gay people of this campus to spend countless hours of their time, effort, and energies preparing a court case and raising hundreds and hundreds of dollars for legal defense costs the university administration is to blame. To achieve the type of changes that must come about, GAY PEOPLE MUST DEAL WITH PEOPLE-NOT JUST THE COURTS. Yet, because of the university's actions we now find ourselves spending out last hours and our last dime fighting for recognition in the courts. The primary purpose of the Gay Liberation Front is one of education-meeting with classes and groups of people to provide them with the information necessary for an understanding of gay people. We must do this to replace what in most people is an irrational fear of gay people. This is illustrated by last night's events.

Wednesday night the Lay Liberation Front had a dance in the Ballroom of the Kansas Union to raise money for (guess what?) the legal defense fund. Dances for us are no easy matter. We are only able to reserve a room in the Union for seven days in advance, and must pay for their use, unlike recognized campus organizations. Because of this, dances for the Gay Community are a rare affair.

During the dance Wednesday night we were hassled continually by the students in the Union.

...Early in the dance a group of 12-15 students forced their way into the Ballroom without paying. After standing in the back of the room for about four or five minutes, they turned around and left.
...Jeering spectators lined the balcony of the Ballroom in an attempt to intimidate the gay students who were at the dance.
...Early in the evening a student grabbed a dollar from the cashbox and ran.
...Finally a group of four or five students grabbed the cashbox containing approximately $75 and beat up the gay student who tried to stop them.

Anyone who thinks that what happened last night was merely the result of institutional mis-scheduling is either naïve or manifesting a not-to0-subtle kind of sexism. We should be able to meet in the Union at any time regardless of what other groups are present in the building.

We feel that non-recognition is the biggest cause of this. We are hard workers-we want to educate the students of this university to the minimum level of humanity that it takes to come to a Gay Liberation Dance without harassing, pushing around, and robbing gay people.

But why should we alone have to push the case for gay students? Why have you (the administration) never said anything to us? No other minority groups get official silence form your office. When you speak of minority groups why is it that the second-largest minority in America-the minority of gay people-is never mentioned?

What's this word "queer," anyway?- from Vanguard, September 1997

By Chris Hampton
From Vanguard, September 1997

Our organization has been through several names: it started out as the Lawrence Gay Liberation Front (oooh la la, très sixties campus radical!), then Gay Services of Kansas, then Gay and Lesbian Services of Kansas, then Lesbian, Bisexual, and Gay Services of Kansas [LesBiGaySOK]. The full name now is KU Queers & Allies: LesBiGayTrans Services of Kansas, or just Q&A for short.

As you can see, aside from the first change, the alterations have all been made simply to indicate inclusion of various groups among the queer community. As a bisexual woman myself, I can attest to the validity of making an organization’s name more inclusive. I was interested in joining the group for quite some time, but I was afraid I wouldn’t be welcome. Then the name changed to include bi people, and I thought, “They MUST be welcoming of bisexuals, or else they wouldn’t have taken the step,” and then I got involved. And I’m very glad I did. The same logic went into our decision to become more inclusive of transgender and transsexual persons.

So why the word queer? Because “lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and gay” is a big mouthful and “queer” is one all-inclusive syllable. Because it is a little edgy, and it does push the envelope a little. Because “queer” is a word gaining wider and wider acceptance in political and academic circles, and we consider ourselves to be part of the forefront of this movement.

Believe me, we do realize there are negative connotations to the word. We took that into consideration when choosing the name. There is a certain amount of power in reclaiming words that have traditionally been used to hurt us. When we call ourselves queer, it takes a lot of wallop out of the word when others use it to refer to us.

While we understand that not everybody may feel comfortable with using this word, all we ask is that you realize that we thought long and hard about the use of this word in our title and we hope you can respect our decision

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