Monday, June 1, 2015

"Gays Go Home" -- The Strong Hall Protest of 1979

The LGBTQ community of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro has contributed to the reputation for diversity and inclusivity earned by this university. Historically, this reputation was fought for and earned by very brave students, staff, and faculty.  

About a month after the first official meeting of the Gay Student Union (now the Queer Student Union), which occurred September 25, 1979, the first major anti-LGBTQ incident took place on the campus of UNCG. An educational seminar focusing on homosexuality was organized for the residents of Strong Dormitory. The organizer, graduate counselor Richard Stilley, was concerned about repeated reports of homophobic harassment in the dormitory, and he hoped that a guided conversation between students and faculty would defuse the tension in the halls. The speakers at the presentation, called “Homosexuality and Society,” were Rev. Joseph Flora (faculty advisor for the Gay Student Union and pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro) and Dr. Thomas K. Fitzgerald (professor of Anthropology at UNCG). The event was to be held at 10:00 pm on November 15, 1979. 
Moore-Strong Residence Hall, 1973
At the approximate time the seminar was scheduled to begin, a group of anti-LGBTQ protesters congregated on Gray Drive, recruiting additional students from nearby dormitories to join in the protest. Around a hundred student demonstrators gathered in the courtyard in front of Strong Dormitory in protest of the seminar, many wearing brown paper bags as masks and setting off fireworks. Waving their protest posters, they shouted slogans such as, “Queers, Fags Go Home,” “We Are Men, We Are Men, We Are Men,” and “Dames Not Flakes.” UNCG Campus Security, which had been notified of the potential for such an event that afternoon, arrived on the scene of the protest, ordering students to take off the masks and stop setting off fireworks, but permitting them the opportunity to congregate peacefully until 11:30 pm.

Upon hearing the sounds of the protest from within the residence hall, Rev. Flora left Dr. Fitzgerald to continue the seminar, while he went out to reason with the protesters. Rev. Flora and a student participant in the seminar tried to discuss the purpose of the workshop and invited them in to join the discussion, which only increased the chanting and verbal assault of the demonstrators. As campus security herded the crowd back from the windows, Rev. Flora attempted to pacify the dissenters. He succeeded in opening a halted dialogue with protesters, who asked him such questions as, “Isn’t gay immoral?” and “Why is everyone turning gay?.” Rev. Flora remained with the demonstrators discussing such topics until the protest was ended by Campus Security.

A dominant theme in the dialogue of the protesters before and after the event was that they felt that their dormitory was singled out for the seminar and that this designation would lead to Strong Dormitory being known as a gay residence hall. Rick Darnell, the first known "out" student on UNCG’s campus and resident in Strong dormitory, said that the protest did not make him feel afraid. He stated it did make him feel uncomfortable, and homophobic verbal harassment increased in the residence hall after the event.   

This post is in honor of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, 2015.

Also See:
Chronicling the Founding of the LGBT Student Organization (1971-1975)

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