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Coming Out @ Williams – the context

Further my post of a few days ago, Coming Out @ Williams in 1972, here is more detail on Mr. Pinello, the author of the piece, and the background of the article and its aftermath. As you can read here, he spent the summer before the article in New York:

Walk by the door. Hesitate. Turn around and look as though by chance something on this desolate block has caught your eye, although there’s not a soul on the street to see you. Read the tiny sign pasted on the door, “Gay Activists’ Alliance, 99 Wooster Street,” act like the inquisitive tourist always willing to see a new show, boldly uncatch the lock, and walk in.

After that summer in New York, he became convinced of the need to focus some attention on homosexuality at Williams. He was also “tired of celibacy” and wanted “an identifiable gay community in which to socialize.” The pitch to the Advocate was controversial:

Then the fit hit the shan, as Charlie Rubin says. The evening had droned on, but ears pricked up at mention of a heretofore unmentionable subject at Williams. Immediately John Enteman vowed the advertisers would revolt: Cary Walsh would have nothing to do with queers or even the mention of them. Such an article would end the House of Walsh [a Spring Street clothing store] patronage for which, John claimed, he had worked so hard. Tempted to say to hell with Cary, I only replied that a paper’s first responsibility is to its readers and not to its advertisers. Well, John announced, don’t plan on any funds from advertising then.

However, the project was picked up. Even after that, it became difficult to get any good information – the senior staff at Williams was in some ways unaware and in other ways unwilling to be quoted on the subject.

When our interviews with Messrs. Booth, Crider, Frost, Gates, Hyde, Rudolph, Talbot, and Van Ouwerkerk proved almost bootless, I decided that an attempt to dredge up any campus gay history was futile and that I knew more about the homosexual’s plight at Williams than anyone else. Since I then knew who the expert was, I sat down one afternoon and interviewed him. And that, along with minor revisions and additions Mitch recommended, became the Advocate’s homosexual lead article.

As you may recall, Dan’s number was attached to the end of that article. He did receive calls, almost immediately. Some were pranks; others were supportive, but no one responded in the way Pinello has hoped for. A few weeks later, he put together a panel of gay activists from New York, with a large attendance of over a hundred. At the end of the panel, all interested in forming a group on the subject were invited to Griffin that night – twelve came. Pinello wrote about the experience in his senior honor thesis, which I will quote once more:

My personal liberation has been great. Just over a year ago, I had difficulty saying the word homosexual. That was something never mentioned in my experience: the word was almost foreign – too specific yet nearly meaningless. Hazy, nefarious connotations sprang up at its sound. My own prejudices thus were one of the biggest obstacles I had to overcome. GAA exposed me to the gay world’s diversity. My coming out at Williams forced me to defend my actions, to scrutinize all my past assumptions about human phenomena. When confronted, say, with Biblical quotations, I had to know the answers. When eyed in the Snack Bar or on the street, I had to evaluate my commitment. When heckled on the phone, I had to find the spunk to face the oppressor and fight back.

The group might not have had the success Dan hoped for, but it succeeded in gaining backing from College Council for adding “sexual orientation” to the college’s non-discrimination statement. That resolution was defeated by the faculty with resistance from senior staff as well, though another resolution pledging non-discrimination was adapted. The following day, a lecturer in Art came out to his students and wrote to the New York Times as a representative of the group, which had yet to meet openly. Nowadays, sexual orientation is discussed openly on campus, but it’s worth remembering how far this campus has come.

I wrote Dan, and he sent this in return:

Every decade or so, my coming out article is rediscovered at Williams. The Williams Record republished it sometime in the 1990s.

By the way, your readers may be interested to know that I’ll be in
Williamstown on the weekend of May 1, 2, and 3. The College’s LGBT alumni
group is planning a panel of speakers then about same-sex marriage, and I’ve
been invited to participate.

I hope to publish more from Perspectives in the future, but am trying to avoid the need to transcribe whole pages – watch Ephblog for updates to this series.


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