The history of LGBTQ support and action at Kent State University dates back well before the LGBTQ Student Center was created, please read through about some of the events that have helped shape the Center. Some of the history of LGBTQ actions at Kent State can be found here on our history page. See where this Center has come from through the hard work and dedication that has been invested to create the LGBTQ Student Center we have today.
Grand opening of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Queer and Questioning Student Center
Thursday, March 11, 2010.
The Beginning Conversations
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Queer and Questioning Student Center office grew out of a conversation during the search process for the vice president for the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Committee members Greg Jarvie, interim vice president for enrollment management and student affairs, and Molly Merryman, associate professor of justice studies, were discussing the need for Kent State to have a LGBTQ Student Center, particularly given the legacy Kent State has both in the nearly 40-year existence of Pride! Kent and the first Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies program in Ohio (founded in 2001). Jarvie proposed having his division provide office space in the Kent Student Center, while working with the College of Arts and Science and the new Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Merryman offered to work with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies faculty to get volunteers to staff the center.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Queer and Questioning Center office represented a unique collaboration between the College of Arts and Science, the Divisions of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Enrollment Management and Student Affairs. The Center staff would serve as a liaison between LGBTQ students and the administration and faculty. Center staff will develop programs and maintain a calendar of activities and events related to the LGBTQ community. Following its opening, the LGBTQ Student Center would work with a wide representation of students to determine needs, programs and services.
It would be staffed by volunteers from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies faculty and coordinated by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies Co-Coordinators Molly Merryman, Ph.D., Department of Justice Studies and Daniel Nadon, Ph.D., School of Theatre and Dance.
The First Phase: 1971-1986
In the late fall of 2011, Pride! Kent marked its 40th year of continuous existence (under a variety of names) at Kent State University, one of the oldest gay rights student organizations on the country.
In the fall of 1971, three separate efforts came together to create what was then called the Kent Gay Liberation Front. Bill Hoover, an openly gay graduate student in the Department of Sociology, began giving talks on gayness. He also taught a course at this time or shortly thereafter on the Sociology of Deviance.
That same fall, Dr. Dolores Noll, a then-assistant professor of English, signed up to speak on the gay liberation in the Experimental College, an addition to the Honors College formed as one response to the events surrounding May 4, 1970. Noll had come out as a lesbian in the gay community of Washington D.C., in the summer of 1971 and while there became acquainted with the gay rights movement. After acknowledging her lesbianism in the first Experimental College class that she spoke in, she talked with both the University Faculty Ombudsman and with the Department of English chair about what she had done. Both expressed support for her.
Some gay students met with Noll at her home. This small group then joined with Hoover and his friends with the intention of forming an organization, perhaps off campus at first. They were then presently surprised to see fliers announcing a meeting of a “Gay Lib” group at a given date and place. This was a group organized by a student, Gail Pertz, who with one other student had already gained recognition for their group. The Hoover-Noll group then joined with the Pertz group to sponsor the first meeting.
Seventy people attended the meeting! Pertz and Hoover were elected co-chairs of the Kent Gay Liberation Front, Noll was chosen as faculty advisor. This occurred during finals week of the fall quarter of 1971. AT the beginning of the winter quarter, there was some question as to whether or not the Board of Trustees would give formal approval to the Kent Gay Liberation Front, but the Trustees acceded when the Kent Gay Liberation Front threatened to hold a protest demonstration.
Most of the major activities and organizational structures of the Kent Gay Liberation Front were put into place in 1972. The first social activity was a series of dances held in a downtown bar on Monday nights. Participants came from Kent and surrounding areas. The focus moved soon to the campus. The group was assigned an office in the Student Activities Center and, a year later, in the present Kent Student Center, after it was constructed. The Kent Gay Liberation Front (and its descendants) has always had an office in the years up to the present. At one time the largest available office was assigned to the group, but persons threw rocks and broke the window on two occasions. In the early years, the office was a lively place most school days and evenings, with a student office manager present much of the time.
A constitution established the organization’s structure. There were two equal co-chairs, one female and the other male. There were required to make their full manes known whenever dealing with the university, the press and public. The same was true for the advisor. Others were not under this requirement, but the basic tenet of the group was to encourage members to come out as much as possible, particularly to their parents—often an especially difficult task. The third major student office was the Steering Committee coordinator, the governing/business part of the organization. Any Student could be a member of the Steering Committee by simply attending three consecutive meetings and continuing to attend regularly. The treasurer also was an important position, necessitating working with the appropriate university official and the Student Government. Obviously the Steering Committee coordinator and the treasurer needed to use their full names, at least when working with the university.
Three weekly meetings were held during the school year. On Tuesday nights, there was a general meeting, open to the public. In the first few years, this meeting was held in a large lounge on the second floor, where the Enrollment Management and Student Affairs office is today. Many people attended, from surrounding communities, as well as the Kent State student body. Sometimes there were speakers; sometimes documentaries were shown; at other times there was simply discussion. On Friday nights a Women’s Rap and a Men’s Rap, led usually by the co-chairs, were held in the smaller meeting rooms of the third floor. Attendance at these meetings was restricted to the appropriate sex. (At one time, a group of counseling graduate students who wanted the observe were told that the men would have to leave; the women could stay but only as participants, not as observers.)
Another major activity was the Speakers Bureau. In the fall of 1972 Cannel 3 in Cleveland sent a producer and cameras down for a story it was doing on the “Lavender Scene” (or some such name). (The Kent Gay Liberation Front later awarded the producer a certificate of “Honorary Lesbian,” for her work!). Other invitations poured in from radio and TV stations; classes at Kent State and other colleges in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana (and a few high schools, though these were invariably one-time invitations); civic groups; counseling organizations; and GLBT conferences at other colleges and universities. At first any Kent Gay Liberation Front member who wanted to speak could do so, but soon it seemed desirable for speakers to be trained. Experienced speakers became the primary speakers, preferably a woman and a man; secondary speakers were generally the newer, younger students, who were encouraged to tell their personal stories – often the more appealing part of the presentation. Probably several hundred talks were presented in the first 10 years.
Two other major activities were the Halloween Ball and, in the spring, the Annual Conference. For at least 10 years the ball was held in the Kent Student Center ballroom, often with a band. It was an event popular with more than the Kent State lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The physically challenged students particularly enjoyed attending; one student from that community volunteered that “KGLF really throws a good party!” In 1980 or ’81 the ball was tear-gassed. Thanks to the quick thinking of the female co-chair, Wendy Gaylord, who had worked at the Kent Student Center and remembered that all the doors along one side opened to the outside, most of the dancer escaped unscathed. However, some were severely affected: there were several lying on the floor in the hall, being worked on by EMT personnel, who were transported by ambulance to hospitals; at least one had gone into cardiac arrest. Fortunately, all survived. As a result of the university investigation, several of the culprits who had thrown the tear gas were found to be Marine reservists who consequently were discharged from the Marines. Others were university students who were disciplined, though perhaps not as stringently as they should have been.
In the spring of 1972 gay rights pioneer Frank Kennedy appeared unexpectedly on the campus and spent several days with the group. There was not time then to organize a speaking engagement for Dr. Kameny, but in the following years the Kent Gay Liberation Front sponsored a conference every spring. The group applied for and received monies from the Student Government for these events. Speakers including many persons active in the national gay rights movement. Some of these were Barbara Gittings, Karla Jay, Bill Johnson, Rita Mae Brown, Jean O’Leary and Howard Brown.
Dr. Brown’s visit was especially meaningful. He had grown up in Ravenna, Ohio and had gone to medical school in Cleveland. At the time he spoke, he was the chief medical officer of New York City. When he came out as a gay man, the news made the front page of the New York Times. At Kent State he said that he never had dreamed that he would talk in Portage County about being gay! He also stated that while a medical student, he had gone through four years of standard psychoanalytic analysis and had come out of it with a greater problem than he had come in with. He said that if a drug had such poor results, it would be banned. Dr. Brown met with the Kent State counseling services and was very helpful in explaining and supporting the psychological benefits of the gay rights approach. Later in his book, Public Faces, Private Places, he spoke of his visit to Kent State.
Print coverage of the Kent Gay Liberation Front was plentiful. In addition to letters and items in the Daily Kent Stater and the Akron Beacon Journal over the years, the Stater published a major story in 1974, and in the same year (Sept.15) the Akron Beacon Journal Sunday magazine did the same, covering both the Kent Gay Liberation Front and Akron groups. In 1973 at the Modern Language Association conference, Women’s Caucus, Noll presented a paper titled “A gay Feminist in Academia,” describing her experiences as faculty advisor of the gay organization at Kent State (published in1974 in College English). As a result, she joined with others present at the conference to organize the Gay Caucus for the Modern Languages. In 1980 she and a colleague, Louis Crompton of the University of Nebraska, were honored by the Gay Caucus with the establishment of an annual award, the Crompton-Noll Award, for the best article or book on gays/lesbians in literature.
In 1972 the Honors and Experimental College accepted a proposal by Noll that she teach an Experimental course called Gay Womanhood. Ten people signed up for this class, and another 18 sat in. Two years later she taught another course, the Politics of Gay Liberation. After teaching this course twice, she offered an Experimental course called Sexual Minorities. She continued teaching this class yearly (eventually as part of her regular teaching load) until 1981. At this time she turned the course over to Art Kaltenborn, Professor Emeritus of Speech Pathology, who had joined her as co-advisor of the Kent Gay Liberation Front for about three years. Kaltenborn continued teaching the course, including at the Medical School, for several years until the dean of the Honors and Experimental College deemed it no longer necessary.
Noll, having retired, ended her tenure as faculty advisor around 1986. She did return briefly in 2003-4 in an internship as part of the requirement for a Master of Divinity degree, involving serving as a minister to the LGBTQ students at Kent State.
In general, the Kent State Administration, including in the early years President Olds and Vice-president Faye Biles, were quietly supportive of the Kent Gay Liberation Front and its faculty advisor. They are to be commended for that. Dr. John Binder, associate dean of students, was always present and generous with help and advice whenever problems arose. Carolyn Arnold and Molly DeLong were members of the community who could always be counted on for support.
Noll’s work with LGBTQ students of Kent State University has been the most fulfilling experience of her life. The success of the Kent gay Liberation Front KGLF (and its succeeding manifestations) resulted from the courage, initiative, enthusiasm and dedication. Some have become lifelong friends. Her debt to all is immeasurable.
Later LGBTQ Milestones
Kent State University begins regularly offering the course The Sociology of gays and Lesbians, a course which is now part of the Lesbian, gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies minor. During this time the course is taught be Dr. Robert Johnson of the Department of Sociology. The Kent State University College Republicans campaign within the university and statewide to have the course banned. The situation attracts national attention and is cited in many books and articles about the 1990s university-based culture wars. The university is recognized for maintaining academic freedom in the face of internal and external pressures.
The Kent State Division of Human Resources establishes a committee to explore the costs and ramifications of extending domestic partnership benefits to university employees.
Dr. Robert Johnson and Dr. Molly Merryman from the first of several ad hoc committees of faculty and staff committed to the effort of having Kent State extend domestic partner benefits to faculty and staff.
The informal domestic partnership committees become a formal initiative of Kent State’s branch of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Domestic partner benefits become a bargaining request during every contract negotiation. Dr. Molly Merryman leads the initiative and becomes the first leader of AAUP's LGBT Faculty Concerns Committee.
In the spring of 2001, Kent State University becomes the first university in Ohio and one of a dozen LGBT Studies programs in the country. The program formally begins in the fall 2001. Professors Robert Johnson, Molly Merryman and Gertrude Steuernagel develop the initiative. Dr. Johnson coordinates the program from 2001-2004; professors Richard Berrong and Daniel Nardon co-coordinate from 2004-2009; and professors Molly Merryman and Daniel Nardon co-coordinate from 2009-present.
Fusion Magazine (thatgaymagazine.com), which addresses issues of sexual minorities, begins in 2003. The magazine (in both print and electronic versions) has won several national awards for student journalism.
In 2003 the Curry and Myers Scholarship for LGBT Studies minors is established. Then in 2008 Akron businessman Harry Jackson pledges a $2 million gift for LGBTQ+ students.
In 2006, incoming Kent State University President Lester A. Lefton promises the AAUP LGBT Faculty Concerns committee chair he will work to extend domestic partner benefits to Kent State faculty and staff and address the concerns of sexual minorities at the university. In 2008 both chapters of AAUP and university administration agree on contracts that extend benefits. Domestic partner benefits (for same-sex and opposite-sex partners) begin to be offered in 2009. In 2008, he appoints Dr. Merryman on the Commission of Inclusion, and in 2009, he appoints her on the search committee for the vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
In 2010 the LGBTQ Student Center opens with volunteer coordination from the LBGT Studies program. That same year Dr. Dolores Noll received the first-ever Diversity Trailblazer Award at Kent State University.
Following that in 2011 the introduction to LGBT Studies is offered online. Also within the year Akron P-FLAG Scholarship for LGBTQ Students minoring in LGB T Studies is established. The LGBTQ Student Emergency Fund is also established in 2011 to assist LGBTQ students who have been cut off from familial support.
In 2012, three LGBT Studies affiliates (Drs. Molly Merryman and David Purcell of Sociology and Cara Gilenbach, head of Special Collections) received a $24,000 Collaborative Research Incentive Award for their project “Examining LGBTQ Neighborhoods.” As a result of the grant, the program has its first graduate research assistant for one year.
The LGBTQ Student Center established a full-time coordinator’s position in 2012 which is held by Roxie Patton as the first ever coordinator of the Center until 2014. 2012 saw the first even Kent State University Lavender Graduation Ceremony take place.
In the summer of 2014 the International Gay Games is hosted in Cleveland for the 9th annual games. Highland Lives, the documentary developed from Akron pilot study of the Ohio LGBTQ Neighborhoods project is displayed at two events at the International Gay Games.
Then in 2014 the LGBTQ+ Student Center establishes a full-time director’s position and selects Ken Ditlevson as the first director if the center.