Remembering LGBTQ Life at Williams

Brush up on your LGBTQ Williams History:

Timeline of LGBT Life at Williams (by Gabriel Joffe ’11 and Professor Ed Eppings)

Queer Student Union Collection, 1971-2011 (Williams College Archives and Special Collections)

Dively Committee Poster Collection, 1992-2012


Harlan Messinger ’81 Remembers:

Freshmen Days, September 1977: At the freshman orientation evening in the Adams Memorial Theatre, along with my classmates I received a booklet presenting the student organizations available on campus. Nearly every page contained a brief description of the mission or activities of one of these organizations, along with contact information, including the number of a box in the Student Union.

One lone page was titled “Williams Gay Support Organization”. I don’t recall that there was much of a description, if any. The contact information was the address of a box at the Williamstown post office. Perhaps this was for the sake of privacy and security; perhaps it was because the college had declined to provide an S.U. box for this club. I don’t know which.

I had never been out to anybody or spoken with anyone else I knew to be gay. Nervous but intent on making a connection with others like me, I wrote a short note, walked to the post office, and sent it from there.

Not long afterwards I received a phone call from a junior who said he belonged to WGSO. They were arranging their introductory meeting for the year. If I wanted to attend, here’s what was going to happen: The person who called me was going to come to my room in Fayerweather to meet me. After having assured himself that my interest was genuine, that I wasn’t out to create a problem, he would accompany me to the meeting at an undisclosed location. I said OK, filled at this point with trepidation.

The appointed evening came, and this fellow appeared at my door. After a brief chat we left the dorm and traveled north, passing Mission Park, and ending up in the apartment of a faculty member. When I arrived I found two of my classmates, whom I knew, along with upperclassmen I didn’t know. The thrill and the dread I felt were overwhelming.

I cannot tell you what was discussed at the meeting; I only remember the feelings. What I can tell you is that for the rest of the year periodic meetings were held at a still-undisclosed location (which was a room upstairs at the Weston Language Center). There was also, once, a meeting that was open to the school at large, giving interested students the opportunity to ask questions and learn about us. At our meetings I got to know some seniors who were friendly and reassuring and, whether they know it or not, instilled a lot of confidence in me, inspiring me to begin coming out to individual friends on campus that very fall and to my parents the following year. They don’t know this, but I remain grateful to them for the courage and sense of integrity that they nurtured in me.

[Additional background notes: I don’t recall details about the club in the following years; I think it devolved into a more social and less well attended group in 1978-79; then it fell off the map; and I had thought, despite what it says on the History page, that it didn’t rebound, as WGPU, until my senior year. I do remember Blue Jeans Day, but I thought that didn’t happen until 1979, because it led to an episode with someone whom I think I didn’t meet till he was in a statistics TA session I led that year. A couple of days in advance of the event, we were chatting in the Bronfman computer lab, and he chided me, “You know not to wear jeans that day, right?” I asked why not. He told me why not. And I told him, out loud, in front of the rest of the people in the room, to go fuck himself. That was my first moment of unmitigated, direct activism. I’ve always been proud of that. Today that may seem like nothing special–hell, I’ve had friends with teenage kids who were activists in high school or even junior high, and I have a friend, raised in South Dakota, who, at the age of 23 when I met him two years ago, was already executive director of National Stonewall Democrats. But 30 years ago, for this boy from a conventional upbringing in a household without political inclinations in Greenwich, Connecticut, this was a big deal. How far we’ve come!]

–Harlan Messinger, Williams 1981

Do you have a story about LGBTQ Life at Williams that you’d like to share? Email Lisa Sloan ’09.


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