Dermody and five other students, including Kripke, co-founded the political student group Defeat Homophobia to fill this gap.
Defeat Homophobia presented the administration with a list of demands. These ranged from the creation of courses on queer history and issues, to publicly identified, gay-friendly resources on campus, to University employee benefit plans that were inclusive of same-sex couples. The group also ran an awareness campaign about homophobia on campus and sought support from the Undergraduate Council for its goals.
The University would eventually adopt many of Defeat Homophobia’s suggestions later that year.
“I’m impressed with what we came up with,” Kripke said. “The agenda that we set out was a forward-thinking one—one that I think we largely accomplished.”
According to Kripke, the activities of Defeat Homophobia brought queer issues to the forefront of campus debates and discussions. Kripke noted that it became “the issue” on campus, a constant source of conversation.
A YEAR OF CHANGE
The spring semester brought a host of opportunities for Defeat Homophobia to continue its activism.
During a dance in Mather House in February of 1989, a gay student approached a high school visitor to the College. From there, the story blurs. Some claimed that the gay student was harassing the high schooler, while others alleged that the gay student had done nothing but talk to the visitor.
The gay student subsequently alleged that he had been assaulted by friends of the visitor.
Accounts of the incident are blurred and often contradictory, but the debate sparked by the event was clear.
Defeat Homophobia took the opportunity to spread its message, and staged a kiss-in where group members occupied Mather dining hall, kissing each other during Sunday brunch.
The protest also ignited intense debate throughout the House community and in Crimson editorials.
A few months after the incident at the Mather dance, the UC shocked the Harvard community by voting to ask the administration to reinstate the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps on Harvard’s campus. The University had kicked ROTC off campus in 1969 as a result of student protests related to the Vietnam War.
Kenneth E. Lee ’89, the UC Chair at the time, recalls that the initial debate largely revolved around the inconvenience faced by the approximately 90 Harvard students with ROTC scholarships at the time. Because of Harvard’s restrictions on the ROTC, they were forced to commute to MIT to fulfill their scholarship requirements.
Student activists, however, were outraged, rallying in support of the ban on ROTC because the military forbade gay and lesbian people from enlisting.