An Open Door for Coming Out

Macomb, IL – It's not uncommon today to find support groups on college campuses for gay and lesbian faculty and staff. But that was not always the case. An event at Western Illinois University this week will trace the origins of such groups on the Macomb campus.

The talk will be given by WIU Professor Emeritus Gil Belles. His presentation will focus on the group Opendoor, which was formed in 1976. But he says there were three earlier groups, starting in 1971.

Belles says the groups were needed because discrimination and homophobia were rather rampant in the early 1970s.

"One of the presidents of our university would shrivel and turn away whenever anyone came close to saying the word homosexual," says Belles. "He couldn't deal with that concept or terminology."

Belles says it became obvious the issue needed to be addressed.

Belles says WIU's attempt to have a recognized student support group for gays was the first on a college campus in Illinois. "We take a lot of pride in that historical fact," says Belles.

The talk about Opendoor is sponsored by the University Committee on Sexual Orientation. Bill Thompson of UCOSO says it's important to recognize the history of gays at WIU.

"If you don't have a past, it's as though the present moment is an exception," says Thompson. "When in fact gay people have always been here and have been active for a long time. So we want to make the past come out, if you will."

Belles considers WIU to be a safe campus for gays and believes there is administrative support for all minority groups.

The presentation by Belles will be given on Wednesday, October 14. It begins at 1:00pm in the board room of the new multi-cultural center.

Belles and Thompson stopped by the Tri States Public Radio studios to preview the presentation. You can listen to the entire discussion by clicking on the audio button.