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Early Gay Liberation Movement at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, 1971-1978
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When Stars Came to Visit

The Lecture Circuit: When Famous Gay, Lesbian, and Transsexual People Made the Rounds at ISU

In previous articles in this history, I mentioned that Frank Kameny came to Iowa State University in spring of 1971 to speak regarding discrimination against gays in the government; there is also a posted ISU Daily article about Phyllis Lyon, one of the co-founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, who came to campus in February, 1973.

During the course of the next five years, four other "celebrities" with special interest for the lesbian/gay community came to campus as well. These were:

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Troy Perry and Freda Smith at ISU

Troy Perry and Freda Smith on the Stage at ISU

Troy Perry and Freda Smith

Troy Perry founded the Metropolitan Community Church in 1968. It is still, to the best of my knowledge, the largest growing denomination within the Christian community of churches. It catered specifically, though not exclusively, to disenfranchised gay men and lesbians at the time when most other churches were hostile toward us. (Many churches still are hostile, of course. Others are lukewarm or tepid. Some still espouse boiling oil.)

Freda Smith, who spoke along with Troy in Ames, was, I had thought, a minister in the church at the time; I looked it up online and the MCC of Sacramento, California, lists her as an "elder," so I guess that's what she must be presently. Unfortunately we are all more elders than we were in 1975.

Troy and Freda's speech was given one evening in the Union; the afternoon before the speech Troy held a press conference with interested Iowa State University media, and any or all others.

I had to go. I was one of the any or all others.

I looked forward to talking to Troy. I had read his book, The Lord is My Shepherd and He Knows I'm Gay, and I had a question that I felt someone needed to ask him about a certain passage near the beginning of the book.

The day of his inquisition with the media, I donned by best pair of blue jeans, plastered some white and black grease paint in a geometric design on the right side of my face (it was my grease paint phase, a period that lasted two or three weeks until too much of it got in my eyes and burned all the time), and I went off to the press conference.

I admit my memories are very selective about Troy Perry's press conference and the lecture he and Freda gave that evening. I don't remember anything at all specific about these events except for my own question and his answer during that press conference, so I might be accused of being self-centered about this. Most of what he was talking about during the speech was religion or related to religion, of course, and the topic is not my favorite subject nor a subject I find enthralling. It would be hard to retrieve it from my grey matter since I think my brain filed it in a private, circular place.

The press conference was configured so we media and interested other folk were sitting in a circle or perhaps semi-circle around Mr. Perry, everyone was highly polite and proper, and I waited a bit until finally my turn arose to ask him a question, whereupon I politely queried, "In your book, The Lord is My Shepherd and He Knows I'm Gay, you stated in the beginning chapter that the earliest life memories you have are of the time when you were a sperm and an egg before conception. " (Dueling memories, perhaps." Could you explain this a little bit more for me? Like, is this really true?"

Troy turned real red real fast.

Troy Perry tells all

Excerpt from The Lord Is My Shepherd….

While blushing (OK, I admit it; he looked so cute and vulnerable when he was uncomfortable), Troy, who evidently didn't expect a gay man in face paint drag to ask this, said, "The only other person who ever asked me this was a straight reporter who was being really hostile to me and gay people in general."

I wasn't hostile; I just found it hard to believe and felt the assertion needed further clarification.

Troy went on to explain that indeed he had some sense or primal memories of being both a sperm and an egg, and I guess he couldn't remember specifics, and as quickly as possible the press conference went on to the next question. Me, well, this inspired an article I wrote later on in one of our gay newsletters in which I, as the winning sperm, wore the best sweater to gain the attention of the I, the picky egg. Thanks and a tip of the hat to Troy!

I confess his explanation left me feeling still a bit dubious as to how one (or he) could remember this very, very early stuff. I remember my third birthday party and always thought I was doing a good job getting back that far. I had to conclude that everyone's different.

The Troy/Freda lecture, in which I believe they even publicly prayed while I stared, was on a Thursday or Friday, and Troy was at the M2 (gay) bar in Des Moines that weekend. He asked me to dance and talked to me some more, for I guess my face paint phase was once again making me stick out or something. Regardless, it was nice of him to remember me clearly from the day before and he seemed to be a very nice guy when we talked. He confided that his ex-wife, a loyal fundamentalist Baptist or something, who had taken the kids upon their divorce and vowed never to let Troy see them again, lived in Central Iowa at an undisclosed location at that time.

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Dave Kopay

David Kopay

David Kopay

In 1975 David Kopay became the first professional athlete (ex-professional athlete, as he was retired, which made it much easier) to come out of the closet as gay. He published a book about the experience and began a public speaking tour.

Kopay was the captain of a University of Washington football team that won a Rose Bowl in the 1960s and then he was a running back for the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, and other teams during nine years in the N.F.L. The speech he was to give in Ames was at the Little Theater, a building which had recently opened, a bit of an aesthetic disaster in one sense, as it blocked the very nice view of C.Y. Stephens Auditorium while walking or driving on Lincoln Way we'd always had previous to this architectural infringement.

Kopay came to town in about 1977. David Halterman and I went to hear the speech; David confided to me he thought this ex jock was good looking and I do believe he had a crush from afar on the guy. I don't think I'd heard of Kopay before his speech in Ames, but was game for something to do. There weren't always things that interesting to do, you know. It often felt like fourth down and long yardage to get to something interesting.

The Little Theater was full of ogling people, much of the audience being gay, which wasn't too much of a surprise. Near as I could tell none of the Iowa State football team made it that night. The lecture was peppered with a lot of facts about football mixed with the trials of being isolated in the closet in a professional sports setting and how professional athletics was (then - and of course still today) discriminating against Kopay ever since it became known he was gay. As I remember, it was mostly not that inspiring (sorry David), mostly cut and dried speaking about how things were so bad in athletics, with not much of an idea as to what really needed to change to make things better. I was amazed that so many gay men whom I always thought really detested professional sports (and especially football) were sitting at total attention through this rather jock-talk lecture. Yes, yes, they seemed to be so very much wrapped up in Mr. Kopay's words! I do believe they came away from the evening having learned more about gridiron formations and athletic configurations than they ever expected they might. I can only conclude they underwent a strange and mysterious conversion that night.

Me, I didn't have the non-athletic background so many gay men I knew did; I played basketball in high school and thought football was fun to watch, but hell, you could get hurt doing that. Our high school coach used to inform the whole school, regularly, that there were three kinds of people in the world: football players, football managers (trainers), and girls.

I managed the team two years out of four. That's not real bad, is it?

The Grubstake, Lincoln Way, Ames

The Grubstake Restaurant, Lincoln Way, Ames

At the end of Kopay's speech, there was a little reception for him at the Grubstake on Lincoln Way, a restaurant run by Luis, a man originally from Colombia.

David (Halterman) and I decided to go. Now David had played junior high football, so he knew about tackling hard subjects like wide receivers and running backs and fifteen yard penalties, and that was good. He hoped he might get to discuss football at further length with Kopay, who apparently didn't know much else.

Arriving at the restaurant, once again there were many of the folks from the lecture at this reception; it was downright eerie how interested they'd all suddenly become in this football stuff. David and I managed, somehow, probably by (un)luck or karma, to be sitting at the table where David Kopay and his host party sat down.

That was their first mistake.

After the discussion and general social frivolity went on a while, David [Halterman] got up his nerve and turned to Kopay and said, "So when do you think Joe Namath is going to come out?" (Joe Namath was a famous quarterback of the day.? Kopay looked at David and said in that deep, rustic macho voice only a football player or professional wrestler seems able to muster, "That's silliness! I don't like silliness!"

I could tell David [Halterman] was hurt and feeling really uncomfortable by this unnecessary roughness on Kopay's part, so I thought I'd just break the harsh silence that followed. What we needed right then was an onside kick to re-start the talking game, so I said to both the Davids, "Well, I figure anybody who's making panty hose commercials already [as Joe Namath was on TeeVee] has come out as much as they need to or ever will."

Kopay glared at me, and stood up so very quickly, you could tell he was from an athletic background by how fast he could move when he had to? "That's it!" he screamed. I've had enough!" He proceeded to stomp out of the restaurant, followed by distraught hosts who looked terribly confused by what had just happened.

It was simple. He didn't like silliness.

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Christine Jorgenson

Christine Jorgenson

Christine Jorgenson

David Kopay wasn't the first time a little stir happened when David Halterman and I went out on the town in Ames to see a star; a little stir happened when Christine Jorgenson came to town, too.

On December 15, 1952, George Jorgenson underwent a sex change operation in Denmark. The world was astounded. In 1976 (or so), Christine Jorgenson came to Ames to be the guest speaker during Greek Week. I was astounded. ("For Greek Week!!?" the fraternities' and sororities' yearly festival???!)

This was, I believe, a lecture in C.Y. Stephens (too many Greeks to fit in the Little Theater, or perhaps it wasn't finished yet) and we got front or second row seats!

Christine came out on stage in this leather jacket with "hippie fringe" hanging from it, all over it, very 1968. I think she didn't realize that college kids weren't wearing that right then, but it was nice she wanted to be cool even if it was cool 10 years earlier. Besides, it could have just been that she wore the scraggly thing because she liked it.

She made quite a stir, had a real presence on stage, and gave a pretty good speech, full of facts and observations with her own particular skew that made both David and I giggle. I think she[correctly] spoke assuming people in the audience knew nothing whatsoever of transsexualism (and she delved into lesbian and gay issues at times as well), I remember we giggled several times when we thought she thought we were all so terribly naïve. Probably this irritated her a little bit. At one point David touched my shoulder when something she said tickled his funny bone, and, well, I guess she was noticing how we were giggling and she decided to shame us into inaction.

It's the sign of a good speaker to be in contact with her audience.

Still smiling as she tried to dissuade us from further froth, she said, with what sounded mostly to be mock tone of disapproval, "Now, now, touching is not what two men are allowed to do in our society, …." whereupon I didn't hear the rest because David took me and kissed me and Christine made a little gasp and I think she squealed, "Oh, they're gay!" I probably instantly turned as red as Troy Perry during a sperm question, and apparently seventeen fraternity brothers in back rows of the auditorium, already uncomfortable at this Greek Week lecture, had to be airlifted to hospital out of C.Y. Stephens Auditorium after passing out. OK, I exaggerated a bit about the fraternity brothers, but I did hear it created a reaction throughout some of the more conservative parts of the audience, and it was something more disapproving than a "tsk tsk."

Greek Week changed focus the next year and went back to some more mainstream speaker, I believe.

David and I went to Christine's reception in the Union after the lecture (what kind of event would it be without a reception, anyway?) and she told us, quite seriously, that lots of gay men and women were organizing into political groups on various campuses across the country. I smiled gently and said something like, "Is that so? Probably like what we've done here."

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