This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Out and Proud: Gay and Lesbian Organizing at Alabama Universities, 1983-1997




Zinner, Max

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis




This is an attempt to fill a void in the historical literature on gay rights, student activism, and the South by examining the recognition of and responses to gay and lesbian focused student organizations at Alabama state universities, specifically the University of Alabama and Auburn University. By examining contemporary sources, particularly student newspapers, gay and lesbian focused campus organizations are traced from their first formal appearance at the University of Alabama in 1983 to the recognition of their legal right to exist and receive equal treatment throughout the state by the eleventh circuit court of appeals in 1997. Despite the fact that gay and lesbian student organizations had been recognized on campuses in other states since the 1960s, such organizations were still quite controversial in Alabama throughout the 1980s and 1990s. This history places Alabama gay and lesbian focused student organizations into the broader history of queer student organizing and the struggles for gaining and maintaining university recognition of queer organizations with an emphasis on the role of outness and queer visibility. It also discusses why the Auburn Gay and Lesbian Association, despite being formed later than the University of Alabama Gay Student Union and at a less political campus, received so much attention and had a greater legal impact on the state as a whole. This story demonstrates the important distinction between legal rights and social realities as they relate to marginalized populations such as the queer community. Finally, by centering universities in the deep South as opposed to metropolitan centers, this complicates prevailing narratives about AIDS and the timeline of the gay movement.