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Scrapbooks Chronicle LBGT History

Jen Hsu was packing books at Western Michigan University’s Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender Student Services office when she found a couple of paper pads. It turns out they served as part file, part scrapbook for the group’s predecessor. Together they cover more than 15 years of local and national LGBT history.

WMUK sat down with Hsu and several others to talk about what the books reveal.

“I feel like we’re about to open a really cool treasure box, you know?” says graduate student Codie Stone.

He’s sitting at a table in the Trimpe building, and he’s about to flip the cover on the first of the scrapbooks. He’s joined by LBGT Student Services Coordinator Hsu; counseling professor Jim Croteau; and journalism major Taja Jackson.

The eclectic first entries include a page from Blue Boy, a publication Croteau says was “mostly porn but had some news.” That’s followed by a story on films.

Taja Jackson read from it. “It says, ’15 actors who have portrayed homosexuals or bisexuals in movies,” she says. “It was interesting to see a familiar name in there – Marlon Brando.”

Hsu found the set of books a couple of years ago during LBGT Student Services’ move to Trimpe.

“I’ve been really just excited to share it with folks,” she says.

The first book runs from 1978 to 1985, the second into the mid-90s. Together the set covers national topics, notably the AIDS epidemic.

Hsu says they also include “really local pieces - what was happening here at the institution, the Western Student Association’s support for the creation of the Alliance for Lesbian-Gay Support.”

It’s clear from many of the articles that thought on sexual orientation has changed. Jackson, Stone and Croteau read from a 1981 Washington Post article reprinted in a Muskegon newspaper. The headline is “Homosexuality Caused by Biology.”

Jackson reads. “It says, ‘the study found that homosexuality is usually a deeply-rooted trait present from infancy and it may well be biological – the result perhaps of an imbalance in sex hormones.”

“Wow,” Codie says.

“So even in a study that presumably is trying to be positive they’re talking about it as an imbalance,” says Jim.

Many of the articles seem to have been included as a reference. Others chronicle the struggle for gay rights on campuses like Western’s.

Clips from the Western Herald reveal that in 1984, the Western Student Association hosted a “Gay Day” in support of gay and lesbian students, and a secretary of the organization quit in protest. Stone reads from her resignation letter.

“I’m very strongly opposed to any support whatsoever for this particular organization and I will not be a member of an executive board that does so.”

In that same year, a defunct local weekly debated whether homosexuality is okay. These articles induce a wince but little surprise. Articles from 1985 document Western’s decision to add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy.

In the later articles, the words “gay” and “lesbian” often replace “homosexual.”

But it’s also clear where progress is lacking. As Stone notes, there’s almost no mention in the books of transgender issues. Jackson says she saw maybe one article about people of color.

The four near the end of the collection.

“This flier – I definitely remember this flier,” Croteau says as they look through book two, which concludes with a small collection of meeting and rally notices.

Croteau says in his early days at Western, those fliers were often trashed – including those posted on his door.

“Finally I put Plexiglas up over my door. And at one point someone got a knife and cut through the Plexiglas, poured a Coke down it to ruin all the posters and stuck a Bible on my door. So that was probably 1991 or ‘92 that that happened,” he says.

Croteau isn’t surprised that members of the center took care to compile these articles. He says at a time when only a handful of information was available, you had to be your own aggregator. Croteau adds that he still has his own file somewhere.

“I feel old these days, and sometimes I want to pull something out from one of these folders and say, ‘do you have any idea what it was like, you know, in the late 70s and the early 80s,’ and that wasn’t that long ago.”

Croteau says it’s “wonderful” that since then, knowledge has snowballed – and it’s easier to find.

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