LGBTQ+ History at Cornell
Cornell’s Gay People’s Center Serves as Pilot Program, March 1972
The Cornell Gay People's Center at Sheldon Court on College Ave was opened in March 1972 in response to the needs of the growing gay community. Jointly financed by the University, GLF, and Graduate Coordinating Council, it was run as a five-year experiment. The new space gave the gay rights student group, Cornell’s Gay Liberation Front, more freedom to hold meetings and parties and served as a safer space than their former office in Willard Straight Hall where students feared being outed. However, the Gay People's Center was not immune to street vandalism and harassment as it received obscene phone calls and the bulletin board was once set on fire. In 1973, two Ithaca teenagers were arrested for breaking five windows over a two-week period, which only served to worsen relations between the Center and the manager of real estate for the University. Earlier that year, he ordered the Center to remove its banner from the front window because he said it was encouraging the vandals, "like waving a red flag in their faces."
University Vetoed Two Proposals by Students for a LGBT Living Center, 1992
Like many other minority program houses and community centers, the LGBT Resource Center was born out of controversy and protest. During the 1992-1993 academic year, LGBT students lobbied twice for a living and learning unit modeled after Ujamaa, Akwe:kon, and the Multicultural Living Center (McLLU)—the latter two of which were established within the preceding two years. Both proposals were endorsed by the Student Assembly, a public forum, a random survey of 300 students, and a referendum in which 786 students said they would live in such a house. "This unit would have been the third such living center in the nation" if then-President Frank H.T. Rhodes didn't veto the two proposals. Although President Rhodes claimed that "he would deny any additional program houses to any other 'racial, religious, ethnic, or special interest group'" because "any additional living centers would only further fragment the campus," the Latino Living Center was formed as a result of 1993's Day Hall Takeover in the fall. In the takeover's aftermath, President Rhodes "offered LGBT students a 'study group' to deal with homosexual issues but which had no time frame, no mission statement, no financial backing, no guarantee of any implementation of its findings, and no written report requirement."
LGBT Resource Office Established, 1994
Despite multiple refusals, LGBT students continued advocating for a living center—especially after the Latino Living Center was established later that year. As a consolation, then-President Frank H.T. Rhodes granted the students a "study group" that eventually led to the formation of the LGBT Resource Office (LGBTRO). The students then conceded their efforts to build a living center, on the condition that LGBTRO fall under the Office of the Vice President of Student Academic Services so LGBT people "would have a direct voice to administration." Most importantly, the LGBTRO began to serve the entire community of students, staff, faculty, and alumni. In May of 1998, its name changed to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center. Susie Lerner (1994-1995), Carlisle Douglas (1995-1998), Gwendolyn Dean (1998-2008), Matthew Carcella (2008-2013), and now Brian Patchcoski (2014-present) have led the center as coordinators or director. Since its founding and first home in Anabel Taylor Hall, the Resource Center has moved from White Hall to Caldwell Hall due to renovations in 2001 and now resides in the Intercultural Center (formerly the Alumni House) as of 2011.
A Timeline Highlighting the LGBT Movement at Cornell
November 1967: The Cornell Daily Sun runs an article by Daniel M. Taubman: “Homophile League Chapter May Form Here,” verifying that the Cornell administration wouldn’t object.
1968: The Student Homophile League is founded at Cornell, becoming only the second group of its kind among U.S. universities.
1979: Alumni, including Art Leonard ’74 and Mark Schwartz ’74, found Cornell University Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association (CUGALA), which now serves the entire LGBT community of alumni and is open to all. Today the group has over 3,100 members.
1980: The Human Rights Campaign, a leading national gay-rights organization, is founded.
1988: The Human Sexuality Collection is established in the Rare and Manuscript Collections of Cornell University Library, thanks in part to the vision of Bruce Voeller and David Goodstein ’54.
1994: The LGBT Resource Center is established.
1995: An undergraduate minor in a new Cornell program in LGBT Studies (then called LGB Studies) is first offered.
2004: The papers (e.g., history, correspondence, faxes, meeting minutes) of the Human Rights Campaign are donated to Cornell University Library.
2011: A rare group of 10,000 gay-themed photographs, dating to the 1860s, is donated to Cornell University Library by Harry Weintraub.
2014: Cornell hosted its first-ever LGBT Alumni, Families, and Allies Reunion as part of Reunion weekend.