Monday, April 22, 2019

Bring Back the Double Beds! Alumni Response to the Formation of the Gay Student Union

The initial meeting of UNC Greensboro’s first LGBTQ+ student group, the Gay Student Union, occurred in September 25, 1979, but the first meeting as a university-recognized organization occurred one month later, on October 25th.(2) Immediately after the front page announcement for the Gay Student Union in The Carolinian was published, letters began coming into university administration from disgruntled alumni. The tone of all letters preserved in university records is negative, perceiving campus administration as encouraging the practice of homosexuality by allowing a student group:

I write in protest the use of facilities of a tax-supported university by such an organization as that reported in The Carolinian excerpt. I also protest the official status given the organization by the administration, the participation by a faculty member as “faculty adviser,” and any other activity by which the administration or faculty may be encouraging homosexual activity among university students or others at the university.”(3)

Various arguments were written against the permitting of the formation of the Gay Student Union, some more coherent than others. There were two prominent themes among the letters. The first is that homosexuality is a perversion leading to the collapse of civilization:

Oh, yes, homosexuality is chic now in many parts of our land. It has always become fashionable in every nation turned decadent -- thus preferring ‘gay’ irresponsible sterility to the sober source of its strength -- the family and the home.”(4)

The second argument is that by joining the Gay Student Union, young people would be stunting their maturity(5), and if the students isolated themselves, they would never be able to adapt to living in heterosexual society:

The point that I am making, and I think it is incontrovertable [writer’s spelling] is that, if they separate themselves from the rest of the college community into a ‘gay’ organization they will have tremendously difficult time changing to the ‘straight’ community if they should wish to do so later. The idea is that a college should open doors, not close them. I know that when I went to N.C.C.W. then a woman’s college, many girl’s had crushes. They ran their course and were usually over before the senior year. Many, many young people do have a terrific orientation of affection to someone of the same sex during these years. I think that a great many of the girls who had ‘crushes’ then would have joined such an organization if it had existed at the time [space added] Later, with his or her picture appearing as ‘Treasurer of the ‘Gay’ organization or becoming known as a faithful attendant of its meetings and social events, the person would be pigeonholed and freedom of choice la ter [space original to letter] on made extremely difficult.”(6)

Although the letters were addressed to different individual(7), James H. Allen (Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs) was the person who responded to the letters. The same reply was used for all of the letters, emphasizing that UNC Greensboro as an institution,

“... has always sought to maintain an open atmosphere in which various ideas and movements which are influencing our society may be carefully studied and discussed in the belief that knowledge and understanding provide the surest foundation upon which we may build a stable society.”(8)

Allen continued to write that the Gay Student Union met the same requirements of any official student organization, and that aside from the university recognizing the organization, the only resources allocated to the Gay Student Union by the school was a place to meet and that their activities could be listed on the university’s calendar. The letters end by citing several federal court cases in which LGBTQ student organizations won suits against universities for withholding official group status.

It should be noted that most of the people writing in complaint were alumna from the 1920s. Through most of their lives, homosexuality was a mental disorder. Theirs is not a surprising response to the formation of a LGBTQ student organization, nor would their written protest be the worse dissent with which the LGBTQ students of UNCG would contend.


1. "Bring Back the Double Beds" the phrase refers to how students would sleep two to a bed when the campus first opened in 1892. Students could pay $4 extra to have their own bed. After the campus Typhoid Epidemic in 1899, students were assigned their own single beds due to health regulation.
2. "Corrections," The Carolinian, Nov. 6, 1979, UA42.4.01, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.
3. Mattie Erma Parker, Letter to Dr. William C. Friday, Nov. 12, 1979, MS. PRIDE!, Student Organizations, UA 51.27, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives and Manuscripts, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.
4. Katherine G. Rogers, Letter to Trudy Walton Atkins, Feb. 1, 1980, MS. PRIDE!, Student Organizations, UA 51.27, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives and Manuscripts, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.
6. Julia Blauvelt Crum, Letter to Dr. James H. Allen, Jan. 20, 1980, MS. PRIDE!, Student Organizations, UA 51.27, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives and Manuscripts, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.
7. Letters were sent to James H. Allen, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs at UNCG, William Friday, President of the UNC System, as well as editors of the UNCG Alumni News and the Greensboro News and Record.
8. James H. Allen, Letter to Julia Blauvelt Crum, Feb. 13, 1980, MS. PRIDE!, Student Organizations, UA 51.27, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives and Manuscripts, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.

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