In 1978, a small group of Austin Peay students had the idea to implement an organization that would give the LGBT community a safe space to meet. After following all procedures and getting a faculty member, Glenn Carter who was a sociology professor at APSU, to oversee the organization they received a 25-1 approval vote by the Student Government Association (SGA).
However, the Vice President of student affairs, Charles N. Boehms, declined the organization’s recognition. Later on, Richard Lewis, President of the coalition, appealed the decision to President Robert O. Riggs and was denied recognition again, thus bringing forth the Student Coalition for Gay Rights v. Austin Peay State University court case.
The long battle between APSU and its students came to an end, the court ruled it would be a breach of the students first amendment rights, therefore allowing the students to be officially recognized by the university starting in 1979.
The organization is now referred to as the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) and continues to be active in the community by carrying out their own campus-wide events.
The GSA held a forum on Feb 27. to celebrate the organizations 40-year anniversary of campus recognition in the Woodward Library. Those who spoke at the panel section of the forum include GSA historian and freshman Art Education major, Jerrianna Thompson and GSA vice president and sophomore Political Science major Jaden Donovan.
Gina Garber, GSA co-adviser, put together the event and decorated the library with a stunning LGBTQ+ exhibit. Garber said she was worried about the reaction the exhibit would receive as she expected students to report complaints.
“I did have a student come up to my office and complain,” Garber said. “They said, ‘ I don’t see my flag.’”
Garber immediately went online to purchase the flag and had it hung in the ensemble of representational flags.
Glenn Carter, the first adviser for the Student Coalition for Gay Rights, was one of the guest speakers. Carter’s speech was a mixture of humor and seriousness as he talked about the human sexuality course he incorporated into APSU as well as the Student Coalition for Gay Rights v. Austin Peay State University case. Carter expressed how proud he is of the current GSA as well as his hopes Austin Peay comes to a more inclusive space. Joining Carter at the mic was Susan Larson, creator of Susan’s Place Transgender Resources, whose speech was tear-jerking and inspirational as she went on to share her transitioning and life experiences. Larson prepared a slideshow of pictures of before, during and after her transition.
Larson shared her statement from the name change petition she filed with the courts: “I want to make it clear to everyone that I’m the same person today as I was yesterday before you were introduced to the real me. I am merely able to be more open and honest with you all.”
Larson spoke of her coming out post on Facebook and the positive responses she received throughout the process of becoming her true self.
Seeing Larson’s smile slowly become more genuine and happy throughout the slideshow was a heartwarming experience for the attendee.
GSA meetings are at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesdays in MUC 308. Visit Larson’s website to learn about her organization.