Saturday, May 3, 2008

Missoulian: Gender Historian Documents Lambda

Though he is now a leader in the University of Montana's Lambda Alliance, Mike Connor had long wondered how the decades-old gay community organization came into being in the first place.

“We had known that Lambda had existed since the '70s sometime, but were unaware who had started it, how it had come about,” said Connor, seated at a table in the University Center Commons on Friday. “Those records were completely gone.”As he spoke, several other people seated at the table with Connor pored over a bulging scrapbook full of old letters and newspaper clippings.

-“Now,” Connor said, gesturing to the scrapbook, “we're finding out about that past for the very first time.”For that, Connor and others in the local gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community group can thank Will Roscoe, a Missoula native who arrived in town this week bearing an unusual gift: scrapbooks documenting the early years of Lambda and the tumultuous times of the mid-'70s, when homosexuals first organized and came out of the closet publicly in Missoula.Lambda was the first organization of its kind in Montana, said Roscoe.

He would know: He helped start it.In 1975, Roscoe - who grew up in Missoula - was an undergraduate student at the University of Montana. That year, a graduate student in the sociology department named Bob Kus was granted departmental approval to teach a class on “The Gay Americans: An Introduction to Gay Studies.” Roscoe showed up for the class - along with an overwhelming number of students and community members.

“There were too many of us for the room where the class was scheduled, so they moved the class off-campus to a sorority,” recalled Roscoe. “We called them ‘kegger seminars,' because we would always have a beer at the class and have these great discussions. It was this amazing thing where it was a class, but all these community members were there, as well as people from the sororities and fraternities; and within a few weeks we said, ‘We should have an organization.' ”

After kicking the idea around, the Lambda Alliance was formed, and Roscoe was named its first president.“People discovered I had a big mouth, and the thing to do with that was to make me president of the group,” said Roscoe with a laugh.
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