|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.