Monday, April 23, 2018

UNC Greensboro Coming Out: Queer Students in the 1990s


The 1990s saw considerable change for the campus climate for UNC Greensboro students.[1] For the first time in newspaper articles, LGBTQ+ students were identifying themselves by name. Literally a century after the doors of the school first opened (1892-1992), there is a published interview with a UNC Greensboro sophomore, Keith Hill, who identified himself as a black, gay male. Hill was a member of the Gay and Lesbian Student Association (GLSA), the current name of the UNC Greensboro LGBTQ+ student organization of the time. The interview was titled, “Dialogue with a Homosexual,” appearing in The Carolinian. Hill’s candid responses provide insight into the lives of LGBTQ+ students on campus, as well as the intersectionality of race and sexuality.


When asked about how other UNC Greensboro students reacted to him coming out, Hill responded,

“Surprisingly, my heterosexual male friends are very supportive… For me, the biggest problem I get is from black students here on-campus because I think blacks are less.. They have less doings with homosexuals than, say, Anglo-Saxon Americans simply because in the black community, it’s not something - since the black community is so steeped in religion and Christianity - and that tradition says homosexuality is wrong. So it’s not something they’re willing to try and accept or even come to terms with.”[2]

When asked about if he feared any discrimination for being openly gay at UNC Greensboro, he says “No, because the way I see it is that, while I’m in school, it is up to me to set the direction I take once I graduate. And if I live that direction openly… every advance that I make, I make it because who I am consists in me being gay.”[3] Additionally, Hill, who was single and twenty-three at the time of the interview, described the difficulties he experienced in trying to find steady relationships.

“I will soon be 24. Based on the average age, this is the time when you meet somebody and start settling down…  But (homosexuals) don’t have the same means for meeting someone that a heterosexual does. You don’t have the same comfortable environment for going out and finding meaningful relationships.”[4]

Not giving up hope, later in the interview, Hill continues to say he wants “to meet another man, fall in love. I want to adopt kids, to have a family… I want to have a big wedding one day!” Among the more thoughtful perspectives Hill offers in the interview is the plight of young gay men looking for role models.

“You have to understand also that in being gay, you don’t have any role models to identify with. The role models you see portrayed are very effeminate in nature or some creature - unnatural, lustful. And so you have to go against all of that programming and begin to identify with the things that give you a sense of well being, of who you are. And most of those things that give you a sense of well being are very atypical - the perfect bod, the perfect clothes.”[5]

Overall, Keith Hill’s interview was a landmark event in UNC Greensboro history, as it was the first time a named student spoke extensively about what it was like to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community on the record. Not only was 1992 the year of Hill’s article, but five months later, the city newspaper, the Greensboro News and Record, covered UNC Greensboro’s National Coming Out Day, interviewing sophomore, Robert Woodard. At UNC Greensboro, National Coming Out Day, observed October 11th, is celebrated with an information booth and ceremony in front of the campus dining hall. Pamphlets, magazines, and buttons relating to LGBTQ+ education are handed out to students, and there is a "coming out ceremony" in which students can publicly identify as LGBTQ+ to the campus. The writer of the article, Bill Morris, begins the piece stating, “He’s a courageous young man, this Robert Woodward.” While the piece was short and the interview only included very basic questions, the tone was very positive for the local media.[6]

About a week after the publishing of the article, Morris was compelled to write a second article describing reader responses to Woodward’s interview, starting with, “It never fails. Every time I put forth the unthinkable notion that homosexuals are human beings - as I did last week while praising students at UNCG for organizing “Coming Out Day” - the yahoos get riled up.”[7] One of the letters to Morris accused him of homosexuality for writing such a positive article, to which Morris replied, “You assume that anyone who supports the human dignity of homosexuals must be homosexual. Wrong. I support the human dignity of a number of groups to which I don’t belong…”[8] While more students were coming out, even though they were still facing attacks, allies to the LGBTQ+ community were doing so, as well.

Being attacked did not deter Morris’ coverage in the News and Record. A few months later in January of 1993, he reported on the creation of a hotline for gay teens.[9] The group that developed the hotline was Alternative Resources of the Triad (ART), founded in 1988. Brian Riggs, graduate student in the counseling program at UNC Greensboro, wrote the grant to fund the project with the support of Charlie Hawes, Episcopal priest of St. Mary’s House, adjacent to the campus of UNC Greensboro. The Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina awarded a small sum to Rigg’s proposal, allowing for the creation of the support resource that was the first of its kind in Greensboro area.[10] With more youth coming out, more support was needed. Although the grant was only for two hundred dollars, funding from a major organization, such as the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, was a major victory. Although personal acceptance of the LGBTQ + community was becoming common in the 1990s, institutional support, even ceremonial in nature, was lacking. UNC Greensboro would not confront this dilemma until forced to do so in 1996.   



[1] 1992 also was the year the World Health Organization declassified homosexuality as a mental illness.
[2] Anubha Anand, “Dialogue with a Homosexual,” The Carolinian, April 16, 1992, UA42.4.01, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.
[3] Ibid.
[4]Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Bill Morris, “Homosexuals Have Family Values, Too - UNCG Sophomore: No Rights in Closet,” Greensboro News and Record (Greensboro, NC), Oct. 13, 1992, p. B1.
[7] Bill Morris, “Defense of Gays Unpopular with Yahoos - ‘Coming Out Day’ Strikes a Nerve,” Greensboro News and Record (Greensboro, NC), Oct. 22, 1992.
[8] Ibid.
[9] The article begins with the sentence, “I hope all you Southern Baptists are paying attention.”
[10] Bill Morris, “Church Grant to Help Gay Teens Will Create Hot Line,” Greensboro News and Record (Greensboro, NC), Jan. 4, 1993, p. B1.

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