Interesting Times

Lavender University

By Pat Gourley

Sage Story Telling
April, 2014
 

My involvement in the Gay Community Center began back in 1976. My first volunteer duties started very shortly after it opened at its first location in the 1400 block of Lafayette. This was an old brick two story duplex that I think was owned at the time by the Unitarian Church on the corner and the Center was renting the space from them. My main duties initially involved phone volunteering and coordinating other phone volunteers along with building our database of referrals, which we kept on a single Rolodex! A majority of our calls were for social referrals to local bars and bathes and the emerging number of local LGBT organizations, and also not a few requests for gay-sensitive therapists and health care providers. We referred men frequently to the Men’s Coming Out Group still in existence today, which met early on in the Unitarian Church itself, their library I think.

1976 was the year I started nursing school and eventually did my Community Health rotation at the Center. One of my nursing student activities was participating, as a tester, in a weekly STD clinic at the Center on Friday evenings. I am not sure why it wasn’t on a Monday rather than a Friday since the business would have probably been more brisk after a busy weekend in the late seventies, the age of thriving bathhouses. These clinics involved a fair amount of counseling on STD’s and how you got them and how to possibly avoid getting them. Unfortunately, though, we gay men rather cavalierly thought of STD’s as just the cost of doing business and not something to particularly strive to avoid. We drew blood for syphilis and did throat, penis and rectal cultures for gonorrhea. HIV was still several years away.

My Center volunteer activities drifted from phone work and coordination to milking penises and swabbing buttholes to the much more highbrow efforts involved with a program of the Center called Lavender University. Where or from whom the name came has been lost in the mist but it was a queer take off at the time on the very successful Denver Free University. I was a member of the Center’s University Staff from its inception until probably early 1984 when The Center kind of imploded around a variety of issues including extreme tension between some community-based organizations, the tumultuous resignation of Carol Lease and the demands and urgency of the emerging AIDS epidemic. I do believe much of this tumult was fueled in no small part at the time by often-blatant sexism and an at times over the top focus on the perceived supremacy of the penis within the gay male community but that is a topic for another time.

Our quasi mission statement read as follows: “Lavender University of the Rockies is a free school by and for the lesbian and gay communities of Colorado. It is dedicated to the free exchange of ideas, to the examination of diverse points of view and to free speech without censorship”. In addition to being on the University staff I was an occasional instructor offering often erudite classes including one called: Evolving Queer Spirituality or The Potential Significance of Paganism For Gay Men - further subtitled  “might Christianity just be paganism with the gayness taken out”. In only three of the course catalogs I managed to keep I also see I offered a class on the Tarot and one year a November 1st celebration of the Harvest Sabbat. Yeah, what can I say this was certainly my “witch-phase”?

The most fulfilling repeated offering I made though was one for gay men and involved a series of writings we would read and dissect by gay visionaries including Edward Carpenter, Gerald Heard, Harry Hay, Mitch Walker, and Don Kilhefner among others. These offerings were usually weekly and involved spirited group discussion around that weeks selected piece and food. Most of the sessions were held at the Center or my house up in Five Points. Many of the attendees were budding radical fairies and some friendships were made that last until this day.

These were probably the peak years of what I will rather presumptuously and ostentatiously call my Queer-Radical-Phase. These years of my life involved hours and hours of community work and play with many other often very receptive comrades in arms. It was a very exciting and challenging time for me personally and I think for the larger LGBT community, the world was truly becoming our oyster. It was constantly being reinforced for me on a daily basis that Harry Hay was right-on that we were a distinct people and a real cultural minority.

It is my belief that it was the slowing emerging AIDS nightmare that derailed this truly grassroots revolution and really forced a refocusing of our energies into survival. The tensions created by that little retrovirus locally nearly led to the end of The Gay and Lesbian Community Center and certainly to lots of soul searching and critique of the rich expressions of much of the gay male world we had come to know and love in the 1970’s.

I like to fantasize that if AIDS had not come along we would have seen a much more radical queer community and force for seminal social change than we are today. The community might have led a nationwide revolt that would have tossed Ronald Reagan out of office in 1984 and reversed the countries unfortunate slide into oligarchy. Perhaps igniting a re-election of Jimmy Carter and a return of the solar panels to the roof of the White House. We might well have been in the vanguard of the dissolution of traditional marriage, replacing it with a much more polymorphous and rich arrangement of human interaction and loving support.

A severe curtailing and redefinition of the American military into a force truly devoted to peace on earth would have been another goal. Instead of the race to the local recruiters office for those with no other economic choice everyone would do two years or more of service to the community that would have been of great benefit to the entire world and health of the planet. But perhaps I am putting way too much on our plate or …. hmm … maybe I did do too much LSD in the 70’s.

 

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