Gay and lesbian alums tell of frightening experiences in disturbingly recent College history

Fear and isolation factored prominently in descriptions of Dartmouth experiences this weekend at the Dartmouth Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Alumni Association reunion events. Alumni returned to reconnect with the Dartmouth of today and to share their versions of the College’s history.

In October 1980, Kappa Kappa Kappa fraternity forbade “overt homosexual activities” in its constitution, and in 1984, the fraternity kicked out its social chair, Joel Thayer ’85, for giving the fraternity the reputation of a “gay house.” After two nights of secret meetings, secret votes and false accusations, Thayer conceded and moved out overnight. He felt “stabbed in the back” by his fraternity, he said.

After Newsweek printed his story in the spring of 1984, students defecated and urinated on his door, a fraternity member ran him into a snowbank and Thayer’s father cut his financial support.

Upon his return to Dartmouth for this reunion weekend, Thayer said that in reaction to the events, students “did something — we were forced to.”

Five Tri-Kap brothers left the house with Thayer. The incident incited the Gay Students Association to action and made being gay at Dartmouth “less totally weird,” said Thayer.

For Robert Conn ’61, diversity at Dartmouth was nonexistent. Being “out” at Dartmouth was unsafe. He reflected that in the United States “the terror [of Sept. 11] this past year was unfamiliar to white males except those who were gay and accustomed to terror.”

Conn served as a news editor for The Dartmouth from 1960 to 1961 and competed on the swim team, but in terms of his sexuality, he felt “totally invisible.” Conn noticed that for many alums, The D-GALA reunion events were “a step towards dealing with alumni disenfranchisement.”

This was the first all-class D-GALA reunion supported by the College. Forty-five alumni and their guests registered for the weekend; Saturday’s GALA dinner attendees filled 92 seats.

James Guth ’77, who entered Dartmouth in its second year of coeducation, said the college “talked about diversity,” but little was done. In the 1970’s, Students for Social Alternatives was the first group to provide an outlet for gay students although they would not declare it.

One had to have “more than guts” to attend meetings: “you could not be gay and accepted by your peers,” Guth said. He spent his time “trying to be straight, going on dates, playing a game” because he “couldn’t explore, especially not in the closed environment of Hanover.”

The Gay Students Support Group formed in 1977, became the Gay Students Association, and in 1986 changed its name to the Dartmouth Gay and Lesbian Organization.

In 1978 Stuart Lewan ’79 was physically thrown out of Bones Gate fraternity because he was openly gay.

Linda E. Markin ’77 was a gay woman on a campus with a male-to-female ratio of eight-to-one; she dealt with two fronts of oppression.

“The College made no special efforts to welcome anyone,” Markin said.

Markin didn’t interact with people beyond her few close friends because “Dartmouth felt like a dangerous place to be, and just being a woman was hard enough.” She witnessed and heard about many assaults and “degrading incidents.”

The change that has taken place at Dartmouth in the past 25 years, Markin said, is amazing.

David Eichman ’82, D-GALA President and Reunion Co-Chair, reaffirmed how “Dartmouth today is just so different than Dartmouth of 20 years ago” and how important it was for alumni to see the gay flag hanging at the Blunt Alumni Center and Rauner Library, to see the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, to meet Pam Misener and learn about her position as adviser to GLBT students and Assistant Dean of Student Life, and to be welcomed by Dean of the College James Larimore.

Eichman’s experience was very different when he was a student.

Eichman revealed that when Eric Stults ’80 was found locked in a closet, naked, beaten and covered with human feces, no one reported the incident or recognized its anti-gay motive. The College covered it up. The Hanover Police asked Stults if he dressed up in women’s clothing and dismissed the case.

The Dartmouth Review was founded in 1982, and that year the paper published a list of Gay Student Association members. A student’s grandparents read his name on the list, stopped financial support, and the student was forced to withdraw from Dartmouth.

Eichman was “terrified” to be seen with openly gay students because “it wasn’t safe” and “it wasn’t an environment that supported any kind of diversity.”

In the mid-1980s, a Dartmouth Review reporter, posing as a troubled lesbian, attended and covertly recorded a meeting of the GSA. The dialogue — which Eichman characterized as “somewhat slanted” — appeared in the next issue of the Review with all the names of the meeting’s attendants.

In the early 1980s, Dartmouth gave “lip-service” to diversity, Thayer said.

“If that,” added Carol Cosenza ’86.

Alumni often attributed Dartmouth’s slow progress of acceptance to its isolation and homogeneity.

Reports of derogatory actions continued through the 1990s.Although Dartmouth still has much to achieve, D-GALA Vice-President and Reunion Co-Chair Nancy Vogele ’85 and other alumni have declared their pride to see that Dartmouth has taken a stand in supporting GLBT life on campus.

In a panel discussion on Saturday, student Kristen Foery ’04 shared the positive experiences she has had as a queer student at Dartmouth and the acceptance that she found in her first weeks here.

Students “need to know the history here just as much as [alumni] need to know what’s going on now,” Foery said.

One alumnus at the panel was enraged to hear from trustee Nancy Kepes Jeton ’76 that the words “sexual orientation” were not included in the new SLI mission statement. “There is a need to be named in the policies of the college,” said Misener.

Jon Hollander ’03 reminded the audience at the panel that “struggles and fights we felt we had won in the past we have to face again.”

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