Gay and Lesbian Alliance
It was the hottest topic on the local UW campus in the fall of 1980, spurring a flood of letters to the campus newspaper, hot debate in the Student Senate, area TV and newspaper coverage, and unprecedented interest in campus activities by conservative city residents.
A new student group, Gays and Lesbians of Platteville (GLOP, later changed to GALA, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance) came to public attention three years ago with a notice in the student center’s daily bulletin. The group’s basic purpose was to “provide a support group for gays and lesbians in a community that offers very little,” according to the student paper, The Exponent.
GLOP was started by Mark Prestegard, who had been attacked after leaving a bar in Madison and didn’t know where to turn after returning to school. He knew that he was not the only gay person on a campus of 5,000 students, and he knew that others could use the support the group would offer.
Platteville is a quiet city of 10,000 residents, nestled in the hills of rural southwestern Wisconsin. It is heavily Republican and heavily conservative.
Immediate reactions to the group ranged from sneers and laughter to puritan outrage at “this sin and abomination of God.” One faculty member was quoted in The Exponent as saying, “I’m glad that I don’t have any kids in school, because I wouldn’t want my kids brought up around queers.”
The first hurdle to overcome was acceptance of the constitution by the Campus Organizations Committee of the Student Senate. A meeting of the committee drew upwards of 250 people, an almost unheard of turnout.
Presented at the meeting was a petition circulated by Pastor Patrick Watson of the Calvary Baptist Church, opposing the group because it was “contrary to the natural use of men and women according to the Scriptures.” The petition contained 1,130 signatures. But the committee resisted the pressure and accepted the constitution by a vote of 7-2, passing the issue onto the full Student Senate for final confirmation.
Perhaps the7-2 vote in committee seemed too strong a margin for opponents to overcome, as only about 50 people showed up at the Senate meeting.
After extended discussion, the 21-member Senate voted on the gay bid for recognition. There was a 10-10 tie, with one abstention, and the student group appeared defeated. But at the last minute Student Senate Secretary Lori Sass changed her abstention to a vote in favor of the group.
Pastor Watson, who had been the most vocal opponent of GLOP, played down his disappointment after the meeting, saying, “It didn’t change a thing. The only thing that it [GLOP] now has that it didn’t have before is a mailbox and an opportunity to get funds.”
But besides those two things the group also had access to a student center meeting room (and later utilized it, despite the fears of some members). And it had a sense of legitimacy and the freedom to pursue its basic goals.
After the long, difficult fall semester of 1980, the group remained small but vibrant. Meetings ere held weekly; discussion ranged from coming out to queer bashings, from gay relationships to straight attitudes. Potlucks were held on occasion. Members attended classes in psychology, education and sociology to speak and answer questions.
A hotline was set up with the assistance of the campus ecumenical center. Group outings were made to the nearest gay bar, The Bistro, in Dubuque, Iowa. Most importantly, a sense of community and support was found in a hostile environment. That, after all, was the original reason behind the semester-long battle for recognition.
Epilogue: At one point last year Platteville’s Gay and Lesbian Alliance had dwindled to two or three active members, from a high of 12-15 the year before. At press time Out! could not confirm if the group was still active. If not, the constitution is on file at the Student Senate, and the group could be reactivated at any time.