I began working at Bucknell in fall 1983, having landed my first job out of college, as assistant director for annual giving. Being a part of a talented development team offered a great learning ground. I wrote award-winning brochures, produced parent and alumni phonathons up and down the East Coast and oversaw nightly student phonathons on campus.
There was only one, tough hitch: I was a lesbian. Support for the LGBTQ community on campus was much different then. There were no departments on campus equivalent to today’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans* & Queer Resources or affinity groups such as the current LGBTQA Alumni Group. In fact, despite knowing many faculty and staff who identified as part of the LGBTQ community, I can’t recall another individual at Bucknell who was out in 1983. That lack of support was challenging to say the least.
Like many of the queer women of my generation, I made lemonade. I built a women’s studies master’s course inside Bucknell’s interdisciplinary master’s program (thank you, Marilyn Mumford and Mary Hill!) and opened the Women’s Center on a fellowship as its first co-director (thanks, Karen Dugger and Maureen Murphy!). That year we brought to campus leading feminists of color, including black activist and publisher Barbara Smith, Latina firebrand and playwright Cherríe Moraga and Native American activist and writer Paula Gunn Allen. They shook up our world. We held crazy debates and quiet support groups and established the first group for LGBTQ students, which we located off campus because students were so afraid to be outed, their lives on campus and beyond shattered.
After my master’s I went on to run domestic violence and rape crisis centers in Lewisburg (thanks, Janice Butler!) and would often find young women or men sitting on my doorstep when I came home after 15-hour, trauma-inducing shifts. They’d look up at me and say, ‘Are you the lesbian?’ I’d say, ‘Yes.’ And they’d say, ‘I want to kill myself.’ And we’d go inside for some tea.
BUCKNELL PAVES THE WAY
My time in Lewisburg and at Bucknell paved the way for every brave thing I’ve ever done after. Meeting Barbara Smith, now a lifelong friend and grandmother to my two children, put me in the path of all the leading black feminist thinkers and activists of my generation and the generations to follow. Seeing the desperation of LGBTQ people who have no community, no support to be themselves and few ideas about what to do next set me on a path toward justice. Designing my own master’s led me to design my own Ph.D. and then to design the first national study on discrimination against transgender people. The book about its findings, Injustice at Every Turn, created a sea change in the legislative and activist landscape for trans people in the U.S. and beyond.
Today, as the executive director of PFLAG National, I am honored to guide and support the passionate work of more than 250,000 members, supporters and advocates working in communities all over this country. Our common goal is to create the conditions wherein all LGBTQ people can exercise self-determination over their bodies and their lives without the loss of family, livelihood or life — to create a world where all of us can thrive, with dignity, exactly as we are. I could not be more grateful for my path and for all of the people I struggled with and loved deeply during my six and a half years in the ’burg. You all know who you are! I miss you, and I feel lucky to have been formed in the crucible of struggle there, in that most beautiful of valleys.