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Oregon State University

Oregon State University gay students 1908-2010

Gay Oregon State University students existed long before they became open on campus. Research by community historian George Painter of the Gay and Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest (GLAPN) found George Hastings, an Oregon State University football player in the 1908 and 1910 seasons, was one of the men linked to gay men arrested in the moral panic of 1912 that was fanned by a Portland, Oregon newspaper. Tellingly, the description of George Hastings in the 1912 yearbook (p.164) uses a euphemism for gay by saying, "He is considerably lighter than any other halfback playing in the Conference." Hastings weighed only 135 lbs and was skilled at evading tacklers. As a result, he was nicknamed "The Artful Dodger."[10]

Another gay football player, Esera Tuaolo is probably the most famous openly gay graduate of Oregon State University. Unfortunately, he felt it was necessary to remain in the closet as a student athlete in the late 1980s and during his career as an NFL football player. Professional sports, especially football, remains today as one of the few places in American society where there are few openly gay people. Clippings about Tuaolo are available in the OSU Valley Library Oregon Multicultural Archives.[11][12][13]

Esera Tuaolo

Former Oregon State University and NFL football player Esera Tuaolo comes out as gay on the cover of The Advocate.[11]

Today, a few Oregon State University students are totally open about their sexuality and freely appear in the campus newspaper and electronic media without experiencing any overt homophobia. Unlike decades ago, nearly all OSU students today treat being gay as if it were no big deal politically. However, many gay OSU students today are still fearful and unsure about coming out too publicly on campus. Some worry about becoming victims of harassment or violence. Others worry about coming out causing a negative effect on their future professional careers. Career minded students are rightfully fearful because a few of the large corporate employers that recruit on campus have outright refused to adopt a non-discrimination policy for gay employees. Although OSU and the city of Corvallis are very gay-friendly, homophobic voters nationwide and anti-gay churches have sent out a clear message of hate by opposing same-sex marriages.

Gay Oregon Professor W. Dorr Legg 1935

Although queer students and staff at Oregon State University were not out of the closet until the 1970s, they for sure existed. For example, W. Dorr Legg (1904-1994) in 1935 was appointed to be an assistant professor of landscape architecture at a state university in Oregon. Dorr Legg was a founder of the "homophile" activism movement. He was also a founder of what was to become the present day gay Republican Log Cabin Club. (Note: various historical accounts disagree whether this was the University of Oregon in Eugene or Oregon State University in Corvallis. The confusion is likely because OSU has changed its name several times over the years and historians from out-of-state often confuse the two colleges.)[14][15]

 

Oregon State University gay research circa 2000

Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon has world-class facilities and faculty that have conducted research on animal's sexual orientation. Although the main goal of their research is to understand the fundamentals of biology and genetics, it hits directly at the "nature vs. nurture" question: "Is being gay a choice?" Ex-gay preachers and social constructionists believe that being gay is a choice or at a minimum it is defined by society or the individual. Biological essentialists believe that sexual orientation is hardwired in either at birth or very early in the development of an animal. Some people consider the answer to be important because many people believe discrimination against a "gay lifestyle choice" should be legal. Some believe that discrimination against gay people will be outlawed if it can be proved that sexual orientation is immutable as the color of your skin. However, others believe the "nature or nurture" question is irrelevant because even race is a social construction and they point out that religious discrimination is illegal despite the fact that you can choose your own religion.

Similar to all higher-level animal research, Oregon State University's research on gay sheep has drawn protests from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Also, some gay activists object to this research because they worry it will be misused to establish that homosexuality is a pathological disorder that can be treated or cured. After all, the ultimate experiment to understand the origins of same-sex behavior in animals is an experiment that can arbitrarily turn on or off homosexual behavior by modifying an animal's genetics or development process in a controlled manner.

An interesting finding from the gay sheep research is that a certain percentage of sheep are asexual in addition to the existence of gay and bisexual sheep in nature. Decades ago, Alfred Kinsey observed a similar percentage of asexual humans.[17][18] Commercial breeders have always considered homosexual and asexual sheep to be a waste of resources because they won't breed. Much of the early research has been aimed at finding ways to detect and eliminate such sheep early in their development to increase breeding efficiencies.[9][19]

Same-sex Drosophila (aka "gay fruit fly") sexual behavior has been a lab curiosity for decades. Common fruit flies are a favorite research animal because they are easy to breed in large numbers and their biological structures are orders of magnitude simpler than many other animals. Unlike most academic research topics, fruit fly research papers are difficult to understand even by scientists trained in a related field. However, it is clear to educated observers that fruit fly researchers, including those at Oregon State University, have made great progress toward being able to arbitrarily turn on or off certain characteristics in fruit flies, including their sexual orientation. How this knowledge will extrapolate to a better understanding of human biology is yet to be determined. The human question is not being ignored because both gay fruit fly research and gay sheep research is being conducted in collaboration with researchers at the Oregon Health Sciences University medical school and hospital for humans in Portland, Oregon approximately eighty miles north of Corvallis.[9][20]

Academic research on homosexuals occurred long before the 1969 Stonewall riot. For example, Oregon State University professor Lester A. Kirkendall was recognized worldwide as one of the early academic sex researchers who sought to bring rationality to sex research. During the anti-communist and anti-gay moral panic of the 1950s started by Sen. Joe McCarthy, Oregon leaders asked the learned and distinguished Dr. Kirkendall to write a small pamphlet for Oregon parents to read about the threat of homosexuality. Typical of the era, the first paragraph of Kirkendall's 1953 eight-page booklet more or less equated homosexuals with child molesters, but later in the booklet Kirkendall correctly says that "sexual deviates" are not all child molesters and that child molestation does not cause "sexual deviance" while repeating the dogma of his time:

"Those person, men and women who commit acts generally described as sexual molestation are technically called sex deviates because their sexual outlets deviate from what we call normal. Sexual deviation takes many different forms. The most common are exhibitionism (the desire to display the sexual organs to others, peeping, homosexuality (the desire for sexual relations with members of the same sex), and pedophilia (desire for sexual play or sexual relations with children.) Actual molestation may involve fondling of the sex organs, rape, or acts in which natural openings into the body other than the genitals are used for sexual purposes (sodomy).

"We used to call people who did these things perverts, implying that their form of sexual expression was deliberately chosen. We classed these people with the town drunk and believed that if they only had more "will power" they would stop their evil ways. Today we know the alcoholic and the sex deviate both are really sick people who cannot be cured by punishment, but who may be helped by scientific diagnosis and treatment."[21][22]