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Swarthmore Gay Liberation

It thrilled me to read John Whyte ’74 describe the lastingly transformative effect of a 1973 student-run course on homosexuality and affirming presence of a gay movement on campus in the early ’70s (“Heartfelt, Hopeful, Happy,” spring 2017). We are all indebted to Jesse Ford ’73, whose stubborn vision created Swarthmore Gay Liberation. 

Returning to Swarthmore after working for gay liberation in New York City—Stonewall had happened only three years earlier—she put up signs in Parrish, got a coffee pot, and went to see who would show up. In October we did our first political “zap,” handing out Halloween candy as “gay ghosts” under purple-dyed sheets with eyeholes cut out. 

One of the first events we organized was a talk by Barbara Gittings, who spoke about her activism on behalf of homosexuals that stretched back to the 1950s. For the course John cites, we owe lasting thanks to Jeanne Marecek, then an untenured assistant professor, who courageously agreed to sponsor it. We drew up a syllabus, surveyed the library’s offerings, and presented them with a list of books we demanded they purchase. You can still find them, I hope, on the shelf—along with what was then the library’s only gay-friendly book, Towards a Quaker View of Sex: An Essay by a Group of Friends (1963). I remain proud and happy that my Swarthmore transcript shows a course credit for “Homosexuality.”

I still have a mimeographed copy of the research paper I did on the Stonewall Rebellion for my senior-year class on folk history—gay people were my “folk.” I quoted from that paper last fall when I delivered Dartmouth’s 16th annual Stonewall Lecture. I owe my fluency to the work we did in Swarthmore Gay Liberation, an organization that I hope now may be more fully recalled in the history of LGBTQ life at Swarthmore.

—CHRISTINA CROSBY ’74, Middletown, Conn.