When one thinks of an LGBTQ+ community, or perhaps the LGBTQ+ community, images are likely conjured of a close knit and purposeful group, discussing queer issues and supporting each other. While this “default” image is not reflective of all types of community that will be discussed here, nor all types of community that exist, it is a powerful tool, and thought of for a reason. For the purpose of this Interpretive Path, this form of community will be termed “Explicit Community.” Within the context of this path, Explicit Community will be defined as those forms of community that exist as organizations within their own right, have a semi-definite membership, and are relatively public. Common examples would be clubs or support groups which are publicly advertised, open to new members, and meet semi-regularly. Within the context of Lafayette College, the most ready example of this phenomenon would be LGBTQ+ centric student organizations. This page will explore the different, explicit queer organizations that have existed throughout Lafayette’s history, and how they were received by the college at large.
At the time that this path is being written, several different organizations on Lafayette’s campus could be considered examples of queer Explicit Communities. Most notably, QPOC (Queer People of Color), Quest, and the Lafayette Alumni Pride Network all fill that role. For the purpose of this path, we will focus mostly on Quest due to the large number of archival materials available surrounding that organization. Quest’s purpose is to serve as a space for queer activism and visibility on campus. To see the impact that can have for queer students, one need only look at the interview with Daniel Reynolds ‘08. He explains the role Quest had on him coming to Lafayette: “Yeah. Well, one of the reasons why I went to Lafayette was because I got a campus tour from Greg Blevins, who was a former president of Quest .... Which of course was the LGBT and ally student union on campus. I was really impressed with him and the work that he was doing. ...I really loved his spirit and the opportunity that I saw to bring that to a college campus.” Reynolds further explains how his leadership role in Quest shaped his experience at Lafayette:
So, they were missing leadership positions there that put its future in jeopardy. Because it was one of the few places where I could feel normal on campus, I stepped up and I was like, “Listen, I’ll do it. I’ll be the president of Quest.” ... I really value that experience because initially when I got to Lafayette, I felt really helpless about what I could do. I felt like I didn’t have any power and I was facing this system that was blocking me out; I wouldn’t be able to effectively change or make the situation better for me and for others. [07:00-09:00]
Here, the visibility of Quest was paramount to Reynolds’s choice of school, and because the community was a place he felt was open, he helped to perpetuate that community, making it more prominent and helping others to find it as he did. In this way, Quest embodies one of the key components of an Explicit Community: its visibility is a strength that helps to normalize and destigmatize queer identity.
Further, by examining QuEST’s (the original organization’s name was an acronym--Questioning Established Sexual Taboos--but this was changed later) LGBT Manifesto, we can see that most of its goals directly correspond with the larger purpose of increasing visibility and acceptance. For instance the line “GLBT curriculum / Queer Studies: New Queer Theory course in Fall 2008!” from the manifesto serves not only to educate others about queer identities, but works to lessen stigma by giving such identities academic credence and merit. This goal is an indirect way of validating the identities of queer students and is a prime example of how the goal of an Explicit Community is often focused on destigmatization.
Quest is a recent example of an Explicit Community, but it is not the first. One such earlier iteration of this type of community is FLAG (Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and its immediate successor PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). These communities, while not technically run by queer students in name (“Friends of” implies allyship rather than LGBTQ identity), served a similar purpose to their contemporary equivalents. By examining the article "Unsung Leopard Cindy Brolin '96" in The Lafayette, we can learn more about the perception of FLAG in its time. Its purpose is made clear by the statement “FLAG has had numerous speakers come to Lafayette in an attempt to educate students on the important issues involving the subject of homosexuality and bisexuality,” just as the group's necessity is made clear by the follow up, “but the student response has been disappointing thus far.” Cindy Brolin herself, subject of the article and one time president of FLAG, states, “At first, I was stunned by the students’ attitudes towards issues involving gays, lesbians, and bisexuals... Lafayette seems to be either apathetic towards these issues or simply latently prejudiced while trying to ignore that there is even a problem.” From these statements, it is clear that, like other instances of Explicit Communities that would follow, the mission of FLAG was to raise awareness and acceptance through visibility with the hope of changing an institutional climate that was apathetic at best and often hostile towards queer students and identities.
Explicit communities tend to follow a simple formula, and are easily recognizable because of their visible nature. While the focus on activism and visibility may make these types of communities a bit impersonal, they serve a vital purpose in making queer life visible to the institution at large, so that it cannot be ignored.