Columbia Queer Alliance

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Logo of the Columbia Queer Alliance

Columbia Queer Alliance is the central Columbia University student organization that represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning LGBTQ students. It is the oldest such student organization in the world, originally called the Student Homophile League, established in 1966[1] and recognized by the university on April 19, 1967.[2][3]


During its first year, the Student Homophile League had about ten members who fought with university administrators until the group was officially recognized.[1] Stephen Donaldson, a bisexual-identified LGBT rights activist, is commemorated by a plaque and a portrait in the queer student lounge that bears his name in one of Columbia's residence halls for spearheading the creation of the group.[4] One of the key issues over which Donaldson clashed with the administration was the right to keep members' names confidential.[3]

When the group's charter was finally granted in April 1967, Donaldson sent an announcement to every media outlet he knew, but the only response was a radio interview on WNEW, a New York station,[3] and an article in the Columbia Daily Spectator, which reported that some students believed the new group was an April Fools' Day joke.[5] Two weeks later, on May 3, The New York Times reported the story on its front page.[3][5] Donaldson later wrote: "The next couple days were frantic as media—which had ignored the press release—suddenly wanted the information I had already given them."[3]

Around the world, people were paying attention. The university administration was horrified at the publicity. A group of student homosexuals was "a quite unnecessary thing", said one, "and sure as hell won't help" recruiting or fund-raising.[3] The university was deluged with mail, both outraged and amused. Donaldson was quite pleased: "We were celebrities. I saw Columbia as the first chapter of a spreading confederation of student homophile groups."[3] The storm of controversy at the university quickly faded. Within a few months of the article appearing in the Times, Donaldson wrote: "All my friends know about me now, but I have not encountered any hostility yet."[3]

Student activists at Cornell University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University, Rutgers University, and Stanford University formed similar groups of their own within two years. More than 150 such student groups had been established by the end of four years.[3]


Among other activities, the Columbia Queer Alliance has hosted "First Friday Dances" for decades, which at their inception were one of the few places where college-age LGBT people could socialize with one another.


  1. ^ a b Retherford, Bill (Summer 2016). "Under the Rainbow". Columbia Magazine. p. 3. Retrieved June 16, 2016.
  2. ^ Dilley, Patrick (2002). Queer Man on Campus: A History of Non-Heterosexual College Men, 1945–2000. New York: RoutledgeFalmer. p. 167. ISBN 0-415-93336-6.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Retherford, Bill (Summer 2016). "Under the Rainbow". Columbia Magazine. p. 4. Retrieved June 16, 2016.
  4. ^ Retherford, Bill (Summer 2016). "Under the Rainbow". Columbia Magazine. p. 1. Retrieved June 16, 2016.
  5. ^ a b Schumach, Murray (May 3, 1967). "Columbia Charters Homosexual Group". The New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved June 16, 2016. (Subscription required (help)).

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