The installation of George Segal’s Gay Liberation sculpture on campus bolsters LGBT acceptance. Originally designed in 1980 for Christopher Park, Manhattan to commemorate a 1969 protest, a second cast was created for a west coast location in Los Angeles, which was later changed to Stanford University. The white-lacquered bronze sculpture is composed of four figures, two standing males and two seated females. The figures’ relaxed posturing suggests the freedom to which the gay rights movement aspired. Indeed, Segal remarked that his work represented “our common humanity.” With the AIDS epidemic haunting public consciousness in the 1980s, the sculpture assumed an additional layer of significance.
Within a month after its initial installation, the Stanford sculpture was vandalized and subsequently transported to storage. Once repaired, the sculpture was re-installed on campus after about a year, during which flowers accumulated over the empty site. A few additional acts of defacement occurred, and Gay Liberation was once again reinstalled on September 23, 1994. San Rafael-based conservator Tracy Power undertook most of the restoration project. Despite these instances of vandalism, the sculpture emblematizes the tenacity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities at Stanford throughout their struggle towards equality.
The Segal acquisition marks an important historical moment embedded within a continuum of LGBT-supported arts activity. Stanford’s LGBT Community Resources Center is a student organization that mentors students, promotes diversity awareness, and organizes lecture series, support groups, workshops, and cultural events. Specific programs sponsored by the LGBT Community Resource Center, along with its predecessors, GLAS (Gay and Lesbian Alliance at Stanford) and the Gay People’s Union, include the Gay and Lesbian Awareness Week, BGLAD (Bisexual, Gay, and Lesbian Awareness Days), QuAD (Queer Awareness Days), and the AIDS Education Project.
Artistic enterprises pertaining to LGBT students at Stanford and the larger Bay Area became particularly prominent in the 1980s, when students hosted numerous AIDS benefit concerts. The Residential Arts Program, Drama Department, and new tradition of Monday Night Flicks assisted in promoting LGBT and AIDS awareness through theatrical productions and film screenings. Students orchestrated a Gertrude Stein week in 1985 (April 16-19), GLAS put together its own series of student dances between 1986 and 1987, and Lynda Koolish presented an exhibition and slideshow, “The Evolution of Lesbian and Feminist Culture” in 1988. On December 5, 1998, Stanford hosted its first annual Queer Winter Ball. In the journalistic arena, LGBT student life received exposure from the local press in a Stanford Daily feature on homosexuality, published on January 24, 1986. The Stanford SWOPSI (Stanford Workshops on Political and Social Issues), published a special issue in the spring of 1982 entitled “Visions in Lesbian Literature.” Currently the LGBT Community Resource Center archives student dissertations on topics germane to sexual orientation and gendered identity.
Featured image: George Segal’s Gay Liberation, photograph by Ingrid Taylar (www.ingridtaylar.com)