Friday, March 23, 2012

When We Were Hidden: Ten Years of the Gay/Lesbian Support Group at Rice University

In January of 1979 the "Gay/Lesbian Support Group" formed at Rice University in Houston. The organization was the prestigious school's first officially recognized LGBT student group. The group, with the Latin motto Noctuae Excubiculum Una (roughly: one owl out of the closet (the Rice mascot is the owl), did not appear in the University's yearbook, the Campanile until 1983.

That year the twenty member group appeared photographed in front of a statue of the University's founder,William Marsh Rice. All but two of the group hid their faces beneath paper bags to insure that their identity would remain secret.

For the next ten years LGBT students at Rice would continue to hide their identities in the Campanile.

1983 was the first year what was then known as the Rice Gay/Lesbian Support Group appeared in the yearbook. Members were identified as Harvey J. Spooner, J.Q. Public, Rin Tin Tin, Wilhelmina Marsha Rice (a feminization of Rice University founder William Marsh Rice's name), Wonder Woman, Vallery girl with bagged face, Brainiac V, Anacin II (Anacin was a popular pain reliever at the time), "Eggs" Ackley, Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Lamont Cranston, The Shadow, Typical Rice Guy, Typical Rice Girl, Clark Kent, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Sapho, Plato, Damon, Pythias, L. Davinci and Alexander the Great. Also listed in the pictures caption: "not pictured: approximately 10% of Rice students, faculty and staff."
For the 1984 yearbook the group replaced the paper bags with paper plates. No names were listed in the caption.
The 1985 yearbook again contained no caption for the Gay/Lesbian support group, but did include a description ending with "As of January, 1985, RG/LSG is proud of a half-decade of service and activity as an official student organization. We look forward to many more years of pride in who we are, not labels such as "Rice people" or "gay people," but people just proud to be ourselves.
For the 1986 picture the Gay/Lesbian Support group got a little more political, using pink triangles (symbols used in Nazi concentration camps to signify gay and trans inmates) to block their faces. The caption is more political too, listing famous historical figures known or rumored to be LGBT: "(standing) Tennessee Williams, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, King James I, Richard the Lion-Hearted, Alexander the Great, Emperor Hadrian, Frederick the Great, Sophoclies, Socrates, Aristotle, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci. (kneeling) Hans Christian Anderson, Alan Turing, and Peter Tchaikovsky. (not pictured) Christopher Marlowe, Walt Whitman, Willa Cather, John Milton, Emily Dickinson, King David and Jonathan, John Maynard Keynes, T.E. Lawrence, Lord Byron and approximately 10% of the other people throughout history."

In 1987 the organization got a new name "Gays and Lesbians at Rice" and faces (but not names) started to show up in the year book. Caption: "This picture was taken at GALOR's end-of-the year pool party. Included are members of GALOR along with our guests, gay students from the University of Houston. And those record albums? Just what are we up to this time? Well, maybe it's a message about the value of diversity ("marching to the sound of a different drummer," that sort of thing), or perhaps it says something about the need for harmony among people, or maybe it's just one of our bizarre satanic rituals involving cardboard and virgin vinyl. Stay tuned to Jerry Falwell for the incorrect answer!

1988 was the first year the group published both faces and names of members in the yearbook. Still, some club members choose to hide behind the previous year's Campanile and the historical pseudonyms "Alexander the Great" and "Sappho." Listed under their own names are Dan Whittaker, Morgan Slusher, Don Baker, Doug Moore, David Schnure and Gary Hislher.

The 1989 yearbook did not feature a group photo of GALAR and the 1990 edition did not include the group at all. By 1991 only one member of the group felt the need to hide their identity, listed in the caption as "one foot out of the closet." Several members of GALAR are holding signs protesting Texas' law against "Homosexual Conduct" - Penal Code 21.06. (Although declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 the law remains on the books in Texas.) Also pictured: Stephen Sachitano, Vanessa Baker, Adam Thornton, Don Baker, Brady Lanier and Cory West.

GALOR did not appear in the 1992 Campanile. Finally, in 1993, 10 years after the Rice Gay/Lesbian support group began appearing in the yearbook and 14 years after its founding the group, now renamed "Gays and Lesbians at Rice and Friends" appears with all faces showing and with real names listed in the caption "Front row: Erica Ollman, Greg Rice, Shawn Brooks, Barbara Solon, Kathy Oaks, Beckra Yorke, Brad Monton, Jon Adler, Niescja Turner, Tandy Pittayathikun, Asad Jafari, Row 2: Robert Cervantes, Dr. Michael Winters, Rayan Wyatt, Keith Rozendahl, Chepe Lockett, Amy Nelson, Ray Brizendine, Kim Peyson, Eric olson, Jenny Maxwell, Daviv Richter, Dave Ross, Colleen Walsh, Wiel Robinson, Dr. Lindley Doran, Jeff Kuhr, Shaila Dewan, JJ Heldman, Dr. Deborah Nelson, Dave Brown, Jill Carroll, George Papastanpalopoulus, Stephen Kahan. Row 3: Brad Smith, Dr. Chandler Davidson, J.J. McCoy, Don Baker, Tex Duncan, John Doherty, Booth Babcock, Jim Paluszak, Kyle Gpton, Jenn Lee, Nancy Chaber."
It took fourteen years for members of Rice's student LGBT organization to feel comfortable having their pictures and names in the yearbook. 1993 was not that long ago, just under twenty years.

I look at that picture from 1983 and I am haunted by a past where such anonymity was necessary, but I also fear a future where it might again be needed.

Last year Rep. Wayne Christian twice attempted to remove resources for queer students from state universities. (Rice, being a private school, would not have been affected.) Although his efforts were defeated the threat remains. Paper bags are for groceries, not for faces. People like Wayne Christian who want to return to the days where students were afraid to be outed in the yearbook - people who want the lives and contributions and families of LGBT people to be hidden under a sack - must be stopped.

The only way to stop them is to be public, to put aside the paper bags and paper plates and to call the people who get to make decisions about things like campus LGBT resource centers: the members of the state legislature. Christian has an opponent in his Republican primary, but if he's re-elected there's a pretty good chance he will try again. Now is the time to tell your representative to support campus LGBT resource centers at Texas schools.

If you don't know who represents you visit this site to find out.

LQ would love to hear from any of the anonymous students in the photos! Please leave your comments below or e-mail


  1. Loved this! Shared it through my blog and on my facebook page!

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