Gay and lesbian students remembered the path-breaking Human Development Program, founded in 1970 by biology professor Maureen O’Hara, as empowering courses that helped them explore and start speaking openly about their same sex desires and gay and lesbian identities.
During these courses and seminars—radical departures from earlier sex education efforts on campus—participants watched explicit heterosexual and homosexual sex films, talked openly about masturbation and gay and lesbian sexuality, and even, on occasion, gave each other foot massages. “The first foot massage I’ve ever had in my life—that’s what we did in one of the classes,” said Misha Cohen (OC 73), who, along with an “out” gay male student, was one of the first to facilitate class discussions as a group leader in the spring of 1970. “Through that whole process for me was when I really became in touch with my own sexuality,” she recalled. “It was a real turning point for me…I really started confronting my own stuff internally.”
Stella Graham (OC 73), who became a group facilitator around 1972, recalled conferences held in Cleveland for ministers and counselors, meant to “help people start talking about sexuality.” “It really was a sexual revolution,” she said. “People going, ‘Oh, I’ve got a body. It’s fine, it’s sexual, it’s wonderful—I want to talk about it!’” For Graham, this was also personally liberating. “It was just hugely exciting for me to be able to be there saying, ‘Hey, I’m a lesbian and I love women, and I’m okay,’ she recalled. “It was very heady. I got a lot of strokes for being a lesbian and being out.”
Loey Powell (OC 73), raised in a liberal family with close ties to the United Church of Christ, began facilitating forums in 1972. While she did not identify as lesbian at the time, “I remember writing in a journal or a paper [for the class] that I don’t think I’m gay, but you know, I won’t close a door on that.” While she would “do anything” to spend time with one of her basketball teammates, “I never had words for it,” she recalled. Most of her teammates were dating men at the time, “but our primary emotional attractions were with each other, or other women.” Powell, and much of the basketball team, only came out as lesbian after graduating. “I remember going to my 15th college reunion, and there were five other women I played basketball with for three or four years. All of us were lesbian, and only one of us…self-identified as a lesbian during college,” Powell recalled.
Randy Weiss (OC 75), a College student raised in a Jewish, middle class family in Florida, was involved in the Human Development Program in 1973. During one class, “I decided I had to come out,” he recalled. “Suddenly, I was like the gay person in the class, and I thought, I can do this. I’m perfectly happy being a gay person and telling other people about my experiences.” A year later, Weiss became Oberlin’s Intern for Homosexual Concerns, a position funded by the college at President Fuller’s approval and spearheaded by Stella Graham. As the Intern, Weiss helped organize a campus conference on Homosexuality and Bisexuality, which grew out of the previous year’s conference he had helped organize on “male liberation” (a male counterpart to women’s liberation).
Dean of Students George Langeler proved to be an ally to Weiss, as he had been to Oberlin Gay Liberation. Langeler “could not only tell me things that he wouldn’t feel comfortable saying publicly,” Weiss recalled, “but he could also help me, let’s say strategize.”
He made me think of ways to make people more comfortable with homosexuality and the topics that we were discussing…I was a kid, I was nineteen at the time that I had this job…and he was a mentor in a way. I never thought of that really, ‘til just this moment, that he must have taught me a lot about how you talk to people, and how you talk to people in such a way that they’ll listen to you, that they’ll like you, so consequently they’ll want to help you.
There are “engineering geniuses [and] musical geniuses,” Weiss recalled, “and George Langeler was a social genius.”