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Gay and Lesbian Leaders in the ASUC


 

The ‘60s and ‘70s were an era when students in several previously disenfranchised groups — ethnic minority, women, physically disabled, and what were then termed “sexual minorities” — were all going through similar processes of organizing themselves, creating a community identity and, ultimately, seeking political power in organizations like the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC). Holding office in the ASUC was important because it was the officially recognized student government and thus the ASUC’s elected leaders had access to University officials to bring issues to the table and advance their causes.

Once gay and lesbian students began to come out at Cal and form organizations such as the Gay Student Union (GSU), it was only a matter of time before they began to seek direct political power in other forums.

One of the first — perhaps the first — openly gay individual to be elected to a position in the ASUC was Steve Wilford, a graduate student who won a seat in the ASUC Senate in Fall, 1970. Two articles from the Daily Californian (below) profile him before and after the election.

As the articles show, the issues of gay and lesbian students at the time were direct and basic: obtaining workspace for their organizations in Eshleman Hall (the ASUC’s office building); dealing with the student health service (Cowell Hospital), where counselors and psychiatrists still tended to treat homosexuality as a mental illness; addressing occasional police harassment of gay students; and getting the campus career center to adopt an anti-discrimination policy.

Wilford was followed in the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s by a number of other successful gay and lesbian ASUC candidates who often showed considerable strength at the polls. Student political parties learned to respect the clout that gay and lesbian student voters — whether “out” or closeted — could and did wield in the privacy of the voting booth.

   

Gay Runs for Senate

A gay student leader is running for ASUC Senate on the Coalition for Student Action ticket.

According to Steve Wilford, a leader of the Gay Student Union, many political parties asked him to run on their ticket, but Wilford refused saying, “These parties might like our voice, but they are not interested in giving us a fair shake.” The CSA, Wilford said, “will include our interests.” Commenting on his candidacy, the homosexual said, “Gay students have certain specific problems and needs that must be addressed… I am running as a representative of gay students and gays in general.”

Present gay needs, he said, consist of an office in Eshleman Hall, and a gay student center near campus. Wilford and other members of the Gay Student Union feel getting into student government can help them achieve their goals. If Wilford is not elected, the gays will continue to lobby for their goals, Wilford said, “Eventually, we’ll have to come out on our own.”

The Senate candidate said the gay population of Berkeley is “very large and hard to determine,” because many of the homosexuals remain unknown.

On the plan for homosexuals to move into Alpine County with the intention of taking political control, Wilford commented, “The GSU (Gay Student Union) is not considering it, it’s an individual thing.”

Wilford concluded, “I am tired of people saying my way of life is wrong; this has simply got to stop.”

From the Daily Californian, December 2, 1970

   

Senator Discusses Gay Lib

Gays Face Problem of Oppression

By Laura Wallace
Staff Writer

Steve Wilford, a gay ASUC Senator, claims, “The problems of gay people are the problems of people relating to a society that has been quite vicious in oppressing them, in denying them their humanity, their right to exist as who they are, their sanity, and their rights.”

In an interview with the Daily Californian, the attractive, rugged-looking, bearded student spoke in a self-assured manner as he delineated his views on the problems facing the gay community, his work as an ASUC Senator, women’s liberation, and his personal life.

Attempting to live the gay liberation line he preaches, he openly lives with a fellow gay to whom he is strongly emotionally attached, and with whom there is not the stereotypic role playing. They live with other gay males, but their apartment guests and friends also include male and female straights. Wilford plays the guitar, sings, writes songs and poetry, enjoys baking and backpacking in the mountains, and until recently, practiced yoga.

On a quarter leave of absence as a Chinese history graduate student, he is an ASUC representative on the Student Health Services Advisory Committee. Wilford has kept his gay liberation activities “completely tangential to the Cowell hospital affair,” referring to the recent controversy at Cowell’s Psychiatric Clinic. According to Wilford, the Gay Student Union (GSU) plans to start preliminary talks with the clinic in a few weeks. “The counselors who deal with gays should have an understanding of where gays heads are at, and not go off on weird trips on prevention, cure, and illnesses,” he said, scorning their guilty until proven innocent approach. “Mental health professionals are expected to be able to counsel people on all problems of sexuality, but from my experience, they’re not competent to do so by virtue of this training alone,” he continued. “They haven’t come to grips with their own sexuality — most of America hasn’t — they’ve kept the American woman bound up for years in the chains of the vaginal orgasm,” he added.

Munching on a soy and wheat flour pancake, Wilford reflected that being a gay senator has helped when the GSU talked with certain administrators on specific issues. It helped when they spoke to Campus Police Chief William Beall because “the GSU had an in with ASUC as opposed to an everyday run-of-the-mill faggot,” he explained.

Even though no arrests have been made on campus for public homosexual acts, there have been three incidents of hasseling [sic] since last fall by the police according to Wilford. Knitting his brows, he said he is not interested in justifying or defending public sex, but the fact that the police would spend time bothering with people’s morals, and the manner in which they do it, is part of what he calls a “priggish and piggish attitude.” He accused them of attempting to intimidate, humiliate and frighten people they catch because “they have no basic understanding of where they (the gays) are at, and they are not concerned about relating to them as human beings.”

Explaining why he works predominately as a gay person rather than as an ASUC Senator, Wilford said that ASUC cannot do much for the gay people on this campus. The GSU has many internal problems now, but he said he sees “A willingness on the part of some to begin learning about themselves and the world, to deal with their oppression,” as a hopeful sign. He explained that they began a study group “to help us all build the self confidence necessary to face the world, and for intellectual gains with which to take the fight to the other side.”

Wilford said the two main problems facing the gay community are the straight community’s attitudes, discrimination, oppression and power, and the problems within the gays themselves. “If you’re told you’re sick and perverted for your whole life, you’re going to believe it,” he explained. Like women’s liberation, he said, they have to fight on both fronts, because they have “subconsciously internalized” the values of society. “I’m constantly fighting it myself,” he emphasized. “We have to deal with people who don’t like themselves, or are not happy with what’s going on, or suffer the bad effects of having to lead double lives,” he continued.

“We’re into a true social and emotional revolution,” he said, adding that certain political groups view them and women’s liberation in terms of a “class trying to free itself from its oppression without looking at what the movements are really saying — what sexism is for everybody.”

"We’re redefining the roles of masculinity and femininity, rejecting the macho image on one hand, and the dumb blond image on the other, the objectification of people as a means of relating in a sexual way — it’s a new definition of humanity,” he said, thoughtfully stroking his beard.

Wilford and other gay friends have been speaking to high school, college, and graduate students, and youth groups for several months. He is involved with negotiations with the Berkeley Herrick Community Health Program, and the Oakland Census Bureau, and coordinates the speakers bureau for the Homosexual Action Bureau which he will temporarily head this summer. He is also on a San Francisco Mental Health Association task force that wrote a policy statement and background report. The coordinating and review committee rejected it which, Wilford said, “astounded just about everybody.”

He said the GSU is trying to get the placement center here to adopt a basic policy statement that forbids hiring discrimination on the basis of “sexual preference,” and they now provide informal draft resistance counseling. Wilford said that many radical gays have rejected capitalism and embraced Marxist-Leninist lines because “capitalism feeds on competition and hierarchies which results in putting down others.”

From the Daily Californian, April 4, 1971

 
 

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Copyright 2002 Regents of the University of California. Email: benemann@law.berkeley.edu.