On June 28, 1969, New York City police conducted an early-morning raid on a popular gay bar at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Riots lasting three days erupted in protest of the police action, which has been credited with kindling what became known as the gay liberation movement.
Fifty years later, on Monday, April 8, an exhibit titled “Queering Clark” will open at Clark University in the Abrams Gallery on the first floor the Higgins University Center. The exhibit, which will be on view through Sept. 30, highlights Clark’s LGBTQ+ heritage from the 1970s to the present. “Queering Clark,” along with related exhibits at the College of the Holy Cross and WPI, is being held in conjunction with“LGBTQ+ Worcester — For the Record,” an exhibit that opens April 25 at the Worcester Historical Museum.
The Clark exhibit will highlight accomplished individuals with ties to Clark, including Donna Red Wing, M.A. ’86, who was named Woman of the Year by The Advocate for her gay and lesbian activism, and Angela Bowen, M.A. ’94, Ph.D. ’97, a well-known African-American lesbian, feminist, activist, and dancer, who earned the first doctorate in women’s studies at Clark.
“Queering Clark” opens with a symposium from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Lurie Conference Room, and a lecture at 8 p.m. in the Grace Conference Room.
The symposium will focus on three gay literary authors with Worcester-area connections. Speakers are:
The evening lecture, “The Revenant Returns: A Tale of Gay Liberation,” will be presented by William Koelsch, M.A. ’59, professor emeritus in the Graduate School of Geography. Koelsch witnessed changes in attitude toward Clark’s gay community while a master’s degree student in the 1950s, and later when he returned to teach full time from 1967 to 1998. Koelsch himself was an important figure in the gay community. During the 1970s and 80s — under the pseudonym “A. Nolder Gay” — he published a column, “View from the Closet,” that appeared in gay and lesbian newspapers in the Boston area and beyond. The gay liberation course he taught at Clark in 1975 was one of the first in the country.
“Queering Clark” was spearheaded by Robert Deam Tobin, Henry J. Leir Chair in Language, Literature, and Culture.
“In the 1970s, Clark was on the forefront of the gay liberation movement,” he says. “In addition to Koelsch’s class, we had an active student group as early as 1975, and hosted a major conference in gay studies in 1976. Since then, we’ve continued with the inclusion of ‘sexual orientation’ in our non-discrimination clause in 1987, the extension of benefits to domestic partners in 1993, as well as the introduction of an innovative policy on gender-blind housing in 2006.”
Students in several of Tobin’s comparative literature courses on gay and lesbian history and studies helped research and mount the exhibition as part of their class assignments. Arai Long ’21, a peer learning assistant in the course Sexuality and Human Rights, helped fellow students edit short research descriptions for the exhibition. The course, she notes, “focused on legal issues surrounding LGBTQ+ identity and provided a vital context for learning about discrimination, public perception, and media representation.”
Tobin, who also serves on the planning committee for “LGBTQ+ Worcester — For the Record,” expresses what he hopes Clarkies and other visitors would take away from “Queering Clark.”
“I’d like people to have pride in their urban experience here at Clark, to know that we were doing pretty radical stuff,” he says. “I’d also like Clark to pat itself on the back for how early we were involved in the gay liberation movement. And maybe that will inspire people to get back to work on these issues, and to let people know that you don’t have to be in a big city or big university to have an impact.”