Welcome to our history page! We at the Pride Center are deeply grateful to the students, staff, faculty, administrators, and community members who have worked throughout the years towards queer justice here at Lehigh and beyond. We would not exist today if it were not for the labor, struggle, and achievements of those who came before us, and we have created this page in honor of them.
We hope this is a helpful resource for all who want to learn more about the evolution of LGBTQIA+ life at Lehigh. Below you'll find a narrative retelling of this history along with a decade-by-decade timeline of the major events in our history. We have hyperlinked major events in both resources to articles from Lehigh University's newspaper, The Brown and White in an attempt to more authentically represent the changing tides of history for queer people at Lehigh.
Lastly, we recognize that this page is a living, breathing resource full of limits and gaps. Articles and historical documents can only do so much to tell stories, which is why we are always thrilled to hear from the people who lived through these moments. If we are missing any important pieces of these stories, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with suggestions so we can more fully represent this history!
LGBTQIA+ life at Lehigh has a long and complex history, and the work of social justice within queer communities has consistently been led by passionate and resilient student leaders on Lehigh’s campus. The first known organized group came together at Lehigh in early 1972; the “Homophile Society” (LE-HI-HO) was founded by a group of students and University Chaplain Hubert L. Flesher as a space for gay and lesbian students to come together to be in community with one another. In a decade where a campus fraternity actively ousted openly gay members of their community while administrators refused to acknowledge “homosexual” students, LE-HI-HO was an early iteration of a group dedicated to campus education, advocacy, and safety. LE-HI-HO, however, was not an officially recognized organization on campus, and demand continued to increase for officially-recognized LGB groups in the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges (LVAIC) community.
In 1984, two Lehigh students founded an organization that would provide gay and bisexual men and women with a safe, affirming, alcohol-free space to come together and socialize. Re-established as the “Human Diversity League” in 1989 and the “LesBiGay Alliance” in 1992, this group continued to navigate the growing but tenuous acceptance of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. In 1993, members chalked campus to encourage students to come out and share their identities with campus, only to have administration have the messages washed away and anti-LGB students to graffiti hate speech in response. This moment reminded students of the ever-present need for representation and education on Lehigh’s campus, and the First National Coming Out Day was celebrated in 1995. As recognition continued to build for LGB students on campus, the Safe Space Ally Program (now known as LUally) was founded in 1997 for allies to Lehigh’s LGB community to discuss sexuality in Lehigh’s culture.
By the 2000s, LGBTQ life on campus gained momentum with the founding of Spectrum, Lehigh University's longest-standing undergraduate LGBTQ+ organization, in 2003. Spectrum has initiated some of the most long-lasting changes for LGBTQ+ life at Lehigh. 2005 was a particularly fruitful year for Spectrum, as Lehigh witnessed the first-ever “Illusions Drag Show” (still running fourteen years later as the “Spectrum Drag Show”) and PRIDE week along with the opening of the Rainbow Room, which provided a dedicated space on campus for queer students to come together in community.
2007 saw the hiring of the first Director of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Ally (LGBTQIA) Services, Timothy Gardner, who served until 2012. In 2010, Kim Ketterer was hired as the coordinator for LGBTQIA services and served as interim director of the program from 2012-2013. In 2013, Trish Boyles was hired as director of LGBTQIA services and served for two years. By 2014, LGBTQIA Services rebranded itself as “The Pride Center for Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity” and in 2015, the Pride Center moved from the Rainbow Room to a dedicated lounge and office space where it currently resides on the second floor of the University Center. With the expansion of the Pride Center came the growth of Pride Center staff, beginning with the hiring of Director Chelsea Fullerton (now Gilbert) in 2015 and Assistant Director Scott Burden in 2016. Since then, the Pride Center has added a one-year Graduate Assistant position to the team beginning in the Fall of 2017 and hired Mary Ellen (Mel) Kitchen, formerly in Lending Services at Lehigh’s Fairchild-Martindale Library, as its coordinator in August 2018.
With the formation of the Pride Center, numerous changes occurred both internally and in the wider Lehigh community that have helped push LGBTQIA+ awareness and competency to new levels. First, with the help of 2016 graduate Liz Pines, Lehigh University allotted 50+ gender-inclusive bathrooms around campus in 2014, and the number has skyrocketed since then. Additionally, the Pride Center created the “Trans @ LU” webpage in 2015, which provides a comprehensive overview of resources available to transgender, gender non-conforming, and/or gender questioning (“TGNC”) students, staff, and faculty at Lehigh University. One of the most important changes for TGNC folks at Lehigh highlighted by Trans@LU is the ability for people who have not had a legal name change to update their names in emails and Banner along with their Lehigh ID cards, a process that started in 2016 and continues to be expanded to all university-wide processes. Starting in the 2018-2019 academic year, Lehigh University now offers gender-inclusive housing at all price points to students of any grade level on campus. This initiative was made possible by a partnership between the Pride Center, Residential Life, and Housing Services, and we continue to work to update policies and facilities on campus to be inclusive of all who come here.