Gay and lesbian students at Pima Community College have struggled for decades to raise awareness and promote understanding. A variety of viewpoints have been printed in the Aztec Press.
A 1991 editorial expressed contempt for a recommendation to the Tucson Police Department by the Citizens Police Advisory Committee to begin “actively recruiting” homosexual officers.
“If homosexuals are to be recognized as a group whose interests merit special attention, why not grant the same status to alcoholics or necrophiliacs?” the unsigned editorial asked.
The following edition printed three letters to the editor. Two said it was a crime to be gay and therefore homosexuals had no place in law enforcement.
Tim Wernette, a PCC human sexuality instructor, wrote that the editorial stance revealed homophobia.
“Comparing homosexuality to alcoholism or necrophilia perpetuates the fear, hatred, discrimination and violence against gays and lesbians that all of us who value justice and respect for individual liberties should abhor,” Wernette said.
The next edition explained that views expressed in unsigned editorials reflect the position of the Aztec Press editorial board, and the opinion about gay police officers was no exception.
Four months later, PCC student Randy Reeves began gathering signatures to support a gay, lesbian and bisexual organization for students and staff.
“I think there are a lot of gay people who have nowhere to go,” Reeves said. “Especially if you have no support in your home life.”
Student Robin Whitmore helped Reeves lay a foundation for the group, eventually called Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Dignity, or GLAD.
“I had an instructor last semester who used to slam gay people left and right, and nobody stood up to challenge this person,” Whitmore said.
“That’s when I first started looking around, thinking, ‘Where is the gay club?’ I need a little support here if I’m going to confront this person. I need to know there are at least two or three people standing behind me, and there weren’t.”
David Gallagher, then head of the psychology and sociology department, said homosexuality was considered a form of mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association until 1973 and is still considered taboo by many in American society.
“Approximately 7-12 percent of the world population is homosexual,” Gallagher said. “That’s a significant portion of our students.”
Aztec Press published another editorial months after the initial GLAD meetings.
“The real American way is liberty and tolerance for diversity,” it read. “We don’t have to like homosexuality or atheism (or socialism or feminism, etc.) but if we are to preserve the ideals of this country, we must respect the rights of others to engage in such practices.”
The controversial editorials continued for a few more semesters. Gradually, the tone shifted from contempt to tolerance to support.
In a 1993 letter to the editor, Heather McMichael of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance wrote about the harmful effects of homophobia.
“As with racism and sexism, intolerance of our differences has no place in this world, where our very survival depends on working together,” she said.
About the Author: