In attendance: Douglas Braun ‘84 and partner Brian DeWitt, Andrew Cemelli ‘85, Andrew Deppe ‘85, Elizabeth DeSombre ‘88, Susan Hart (pseudonym) ‘88, Bill Fazekas ‘84, Deborah Grossman ‘87, Thierry Jacoby ‘91, Nori Mandell ‘85, Terry Maroney ‘89, Christopher Minarich ‘88, Wimol (Anne Beth) Mitrakul ‘85, Wendy Stander ‘84
Andrew Deppe: I got here in the fall of 1981, and my experience is very different because I was out at high school about being queer. Oberlin was attractive for me for a number of reasons that other places weren’t, and that’s why I came here. I ended up seeing, even in my freshman year in 1981, the Lesbian and Gay Union. I guess then the Gay Union had the best parties and the best dances and had lots of people involved. I was more interested in Central American solidarity stuff and nuclear freeze stuff. The freeze was a big thing at that point, so I ended up being more an out gay person in that context, in those other social-change things, rather than just going to parties.
Doug Braun: I transferred here in 1982, and, like Andrew, I was involved in a lot of other things, but I was not out at that time. I had heard about all the great parties that everybody went to, and I just never got around to it. It was a nice place to be, knowing that other people were different.
Andrew Deppe: […] After I had been in London, it was a lot easier for me to be out completely everywhere partly because I was in a relationship at that point and had that support. My lover Kevin and I would go to Bob’s Big Boy in Elyria and double date with friends and freak out the truck drivers. It was more empowering, more like Queer Nation, or uplifting being out and being kind of cool socially. The first couple of years it was just cool socially with your friends and all the cool arty people from New York, but generally Ohio still had that kind of Puritan attitude.
Andy Cemelli: […] I knew that old wild security guard who sat in the Con lounge. I saw this guy walk by and somebody said, “Oh, hi, Charlotte.” I just did a double take; I thought, “I don’t get it.” It took me the longest time to even have any idea what drag names were. I mean `camp’ was a totally foreign concept. When Chuck Hanson and Amy Steingart ‘86 and those other guys left, things seemed to die down quite a bit. I remember very few people as really being vocal and out as Chuck and Amy and that whole group. Then I left for San Francisco for a year, and when I came back things became much more active. By the time I left there were people being very out and open. There seemed to be a lull for a couple of years, when there were a lot of people being very politically active or whatever.
Andrew Deppe: And after that things got a little more repressed here, I think maybe as a result of the general political climate and probably a result of HIV, too. I remember when I was here, I first learned about HIV. All we did was see articles in the New York Times about GRID, Gay-Related Immune Deficiency, in New York City. They hadn’t identified an agent; they didn’t know anything about it. It affected a small number of people. This was in 1981 or 1982, and a lot of us were kind of freaked out about it. We talked about it in friend groups but didn’t feel at all connected or at risk, because we didn’t know anything. After that, there was more of a real fear especially before they identified HIV, but knew that it was sexually transmitted and passed by blood products or whatever. People didn’t even want to sleep with each other. There was a real backlash against liberation and our sexuality, because people just didn’t know any better. For a few years there was a window, from 1983 to 1985 or 1986, when we didn’t know anything; everyone was freaked. They thought having any kind of sex might cause this syndrome. We really didn’t know anything. I think that must have had a real dampening effect on lesbian and gay stuff on campus.
Nori Mandell: I remember there being this gay, very out group of women, “Hey, we’re separatists and radicals!” They hung out in packs, and I was fascinated by them and terrified of them, in awe of them. And to this day when I see one anywhere, since I live in a gay area, I remember them. I remember where they ate and who they were. They have no idea who I am, but there was this gap of me being this coming out struggling person and watching their every move, very hyper-conscious of them. And they had no idea who I was and what I was doing. I did not come out until I had left Oberlin, because I was intimidated here. I didn’t know how to come out here; I didn’t know how to make people believe me here. I came out on my London semester. I then came back to campus with the feeling that I had to sell people and convince people of this idea, that I was a lesbian. I felt that people didn’t believe me for a long time. I really thought that no one would believe me until I slept with someone here. (Laughter)
Beth DeSombre: Do you think that was more of a women’s issue?
Nori Mandell: I don’t know if it was my issue or a women’s issue or a more global issue. I know I came back feeling very insecure.
Beth DeSombre: I believe Nori because I got here and I was out to myself and some people in high school, but not doing a lot about it. I mean everybody in high school knew about it. I came here because I knew it was a safe place to be gay and there were a lot of big events happening on campus. There was a non-discrimination clause. I immediately took the EXCO class, `The Individual in Society; The Gay and Lesbian Experience’ that Nori was teaching with Andrew. It was just amazing. I thought Nori was the greatest person; she was my role model.
Nori Mandell: I was super-dyke by then, but a lot happened in between those two things.
Andy Cemelli: I was incredibly conscious of the non-discrimination clause. I was probably the only person who read through the entire course catalog. When I saw sexual orientation, I was like (in-drawn breath) oo, oo, oo! How many people were aware of gay issues when they came here? How many were really concerned about it? How important was it to you that Oberlin was a comfortable place for gay people to date? Oh, it was very important for me even though I was not planning on coming out probably ever.
Anne Beth Mitrakul: I read the non-discrimination clause before I visited here. The Viewbook listed the Lesbian Gay Union. I was reading in my room and thinking, “Wow, this place must be great.” You know just how comfortable I was when I was here. For me it was a large part of my choice.
Wendy Stander: I think on a subconscious level I noticed that and was aware of the non-discrimination clause, but I cannot say consciously I came here because of that. But I think that some part of me knew and reacted to that.