Thursday, April 25, 2013

A history of gay rights at PLU

By Reland Tuomi, News Writer
In the early 1990s, the CD-ROM drive became standard in most operating systems, the threat of Y2K was a blip on the horizon, "Forest Gump" won Best Picture and Loren Anderson became Pacific Lutheran University’s president.

Jump forward two decades. On Dec. 6, 2012, voters made same-sex marriage legal in Washington state, and just a few days after this historical event, more than 600 same-sex marriage licenses were issued.

But before this, the U.S. was struggling through a time of trial and acceptance about Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) rights, and PLU was going through it as well.

According to the book "Celebrating 20 Years Together," the campus pastor, Susan Briehl, started organizing a supportive group called Crossroads for gay and lesbian students in the early 1990s. These students could visit Briehl in private and discuss their sexuality through Crossroads.

This is detailed in history professor Beth Kraig’s contribution to the book, a chapter entitled, "Difficult but Necessary: Challenging Homophobia at PLU."

Kraig’s chapter goes on to discuss how both she and English Professor Thomas Campbell came out in 1993, and describes the process as "illuminating, uplifting, infuriating and amusing."

Kraig and Campbell received positive responses from their coworkers and students, especially those who were eager to make PLU an accepting and welcoming place for the LGBTQ community.

However, they were also met with negativity, Kraig said, ranging from "death threats that I received, to verbal abuse directed at openly queer students." One of the most unforgettable occurrences of homophobia was the phrase "God Hates F--gots" graffitied on the first floor windows of the Hauge Administration Building.

In late 1997, PLU formed the University Diversity Committee, and it decided to include LGBTQ people in PLU’s definition of diversity beginning in the fall of 2001. This open acceptance led PLU to join four percent of the nation’s colleges in creating policies that "treat unmarried partners of employees exactly as it treats legal spouses of employees," according to Kraig’s chapter.

"My partner and I have been together for over 30 years, and we will not get a [marriage] license," Kraig said. "But PLU would treat us as it treats a couple with a license, in terms of benefits."

More recently, Diane Harney, associate professor of communication, married her partner, Susan Dye, on Jan. 12.

"It always felt like marriage," Harney said, describing her 26-year relationship with Dye. "The fact that we could [get married] is the reason why we got married."

Harney went on to say she and Dye always saw marriage as a legal entity, but when they got married it felt different. "I can’t describe [the difference], but it felt good," Harney said.

When asked if she felt confident in telling her colleagues, she said everyone already knew, and there were no surprises about it.

"We didn’t need to make a big deal because they knew," Harney said. "Most of the communication department was at the wedding."

Harney said she does not feel she or Dye will be facing any more challenges than they did before they were married, because they had already completed all the legal documents they could without being married, including inheritance rights and power of attorney.

"We worked hard for equal rights, and we wanted to take advantage of it if it was made available," Harney said. "Marriage is a commitment based on love, and we’ve had that for 26 years."