Editor's Note: Robert Ganshorn was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front at Purdue University before creating one of the first Public Television documentaries on gay lifestyles broadcast during his graduate studies at Indiana University. Failing to become the Gay Walter Cronkite, he is retired from Ganshorn & Associates in Chicago and now lives in Thailand with his loving partner of 31 years.
The first summer after the GLF (Gay Liberation Front) had been created in 1973, wonderful Purdue University became overrun with- pardon me- hosted "Campus Crusade for Christ."
As the only founding board member of GLF who was summering on the campus, I had arranged for only one event- which was a collection of movies from the archives at Purdue. None of them were specifically Gay themed movies, but all formed the argument for the stupidity of intolerance generally. I entitled the collection: "The Mistakes of Intolerance."
Pamphlets were printed and distributed. I prepared a display window on the main pedestrian walk in the student union to publicize this one and only GLF activity of the summer. The objective was to breathe on the coals to be certain that once we were up to full strength again in the fall we would have something to build upon with the incoming class.
Now, the CCC folks were everywhere on campus. They were testifying to one another, handing out brochures, saving one another, annoying old ladies, performing miracles, dragging people into the streets to save them, not to mention handling snakes, burning witches, books and such. They were very young people, some as young as fifteen. They were running amuck, creating havoc through numbers. They were not only "good" people according to themselves, they were also out to create goodness in others- according to their definitions.
Out of curiosity, I covertly attended a few of their functions that summer. This invariably left me wondering what kind of people could be attracted to this sort of lockstep mentality of conformity- and then I remembered Catholicism, and it all made sense. These were a very boring gathering of kids, testifying publicly to their recently found enlightenment. They had the rock solid certainty and ignorance to even attempt to convert Jews I knew. And they had a pamphlet for everything (including one for Jews)!
The university liked having them there so they could showcase their "God Fearin" campus which could only add luster to their future student recruitment. Further, these children were being housed in residence halls, for a fee to the university, which mean cash flow they would ordinarily have lacked. They left the residence halls they infested in such a mess they required an emergency rebuild prior to the start of regular classes. Their motto was to "go and create disciples" which is just the sort of thing you would expect someone impressionable to eat up. These kids felt empowered by narrow minded righteousness. It would be in character for them to thank God "for people like us" who are worthy.
It never occurred to me that my small film presentation would attract attention of these glory hallelujah folks. They were not a target of mine- just an inconvenience on Purdue's campus.
Well, they targeted me and lost. There was a pamphlet distributed to the CCC groups including our presentation, which encouraged the faithful to attend "The Mistakes of Intolerance" armed with prayer (evidently they are for intolerance?). As I was setting up the film projectors on the night of the event a few early arrivers appeared and announced that they were with the CCC. One of them wished to address the assembled audience prior to the films being presented. I had introductory remarks that I would be making and CCC boy wanted "equal time." I informed him that he and his group were already infesting every corner of the campus like cockroaches and if they failed to remain quiet, I would call security. I was in no mood whatsoever to put up with these superficial simpletons.
These CCC boys were the least "manly" things imaginable and I put full press on my wide shoulders and railroad background to intimidate them into their place. I exaggerated the issue, I informed them that they were too effeminate to be homosexual, but if they were interested there was GLF literature available to them at the exit table. (Not that there is ever one too effeminate, but I was barely twenty years old and had no backup). They remained quiet.
The program went off without a hitch to a predictably small summer audience. Several persons took literature and contacted me later. Remember, I was still the feared person to know among Gays in West Lafayette. No one wanted to linger to be seen with me following any public Gay event, which was fine. It was disappointing, but typical at Prude U in 1973. It was often lonely.
Afterward, I went to dinner alone at the Student Union and was suddenly joined at my table after hearing, "He's over there!" by a half dozen of the least effeminate CCC members, who had been enlisted by the wimpy ones after the film revue, having the expressed desire to "save" me over my pecan pie.
Over a long and torturous conversation lacking any form of logic I was informed:
That I was sinful.
"Oh really!" I said, "and you are not?"
They could not say back to me that they were not sinful and violate their own teachings
That I was deluding myself.
Oh Really:" I said "and you are not?"
After they pressed this, I reminded them that our imperfect minds could not know all anyway.
That there is no excuse for my actions and I am hated in the eyes of God and Man.
"Bullshit!" I said. "God is unconditional love. He made me as I am, for a purpose he will reveal to me in good time. But don't worry; I am sure he forgives even you."
They kept hanging about until I became quite bored and began to compliment each of them on the beauty of their hair, eyes and noses until they became red faced embarrassed.
"You know, I could sit here and gaze into your lovely eyes all day while you deceive yourself." I said at one point.
Of course for these 18 to 20 year old boys to be complimented on their appearance by me would ordinarily bring out their immature hostility. A great number of young men overcompensate on testosterone. The ones who feared their possible gayness could frequently be the most violent as they have the most to lose. I knew about male hostility and had dealt with it already.
These boys were completely stuck. They could not resort to vulgarity or violence due to the code of conduct they enforced on themselves. They thought to intimidate me by their number but instead they got to hear about one another's "kissable lips." Finally to contain their red faced embarrassment and fury, they slid away with their little Christian tails dragging behind them.
They told me they would pray for me, for which I thanked them but asked that they also pray for understanding and tolerance of variety in the world.
From the unpublished book: "Gifts, Some Secrets Take a Lifetime." by Robert Ganshorn