Voices, Identities, & Silences: Investigating 150 Years of Diversity in the Purdue Archives

Queer Student Life in the 2000s

As one of the largest public institutions in the Midwest, Purdue University is home to a diverse student population. Considering that 20 percent of adults in the American Midwest identify along some part of the queer spectrum, this population includes a significant number of college students who identify as one or more of many different queer identities [1].

The LGBTQ+ Alliance, which experienced many changes in its name since its founding at Purdue in 1994, including the Queer Student Union (or QSU), functions as an umbrella organization for other organizations on campus that serve Purdue’s queer population such as the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP), Delta Lambda Phi, and Gamma Rho Lambda, as well as organizations local to Lafayette such as Pride Lafayette.

The examples here, drawn from the mid-2000s, come from a turbulent era in queer history before the landmark Supreme Court decision on marriage equality in 2015 and during the Bush Administration [2]. By focusing on the middle years of the LGBTQ+ Alliance and its various iterations, this collection of artifacts examines the organization’s role in areas of activism, outreach, and socialization on Purdue University’s campus, creating insight into the opportunities queer students had to advocate for their rights and create community.

Transgender Day of Remembrance Flyer

This is a flyer for the Transgender Day of Remembrance observation at Purdue on Thursday November 20th, 2008 [2]. The Transgender Day of Remembrance, or TDOR, is the day set aside for members of the LGBTQ+ Community and their allies to hold memorial services and events for the transgender people who were killed during that particular year. The event this poster is associated with takes place at the Engineering Fountain, which has been the site of events, protests, and memorials throughout Purdue’s history.

This particular event is the first that was hosted by both the Queer Student Union (QSU) and the National Organization for Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP), because previous TDOR event flyers refer only to the QSU. NOGLSTP’s Purdue chapter was founded in 2008, and this flyer is the first of the sponsored events put on by the two organizations together. NOGLSTP’s Purdue chapter continues to hold events and memorials on Purdue’s campus, and the presence of this organization speaks to Purdue’s high volume of students in attendance who study engineering and the sciences.

Purdue Queer Student Union Gaypril Flyer

This flyer was for the Queer Student Union Gaypril! events that took place in the Spring of 2008. The events listed on the flyer are a combination of social events (such as Ultimate Frisbee and Picnics) and education outreach concerning issues regarding the LGBTQ+ community. Some of these educational events include a forum on the history of the usage of the word ‘gay’ in culture and the Sex on the Mall annual event providing educational materials and events concerning safe sex and sexuality. Other highlighted activism-related events include the Day of Silence, where participants spend the day silent to honor and raise awareness of the queer people who have been forced to stay in the closet.   

This Gaypril! flyer serves as a snapshot into queer student life at Purdue in the mid-2000s, demonstrating the wide variety of events and opportunities available for LGBTQ+ Purdue students who live and study on campus. As an organization, the various iterations of the LGBTQ+ Alliance served as a group tasked with multiple roles, including providing safe spaces - places where students could gather free of harassment for their identities and attendees could trust there would be an open atmosphere - for queer students to gather. The group also used these events to provide education and outreach to both queer people and allies, and encourage activism in an era where queer people faced frequent discrimination [4]. While the LGBTQ+ Alliance records list little information about the extent of anti-queer sentiment on Purdue’s campus, ephemera from newspaper clippings and meetings indicate that the need for education and outreach during the late stages of the Bush administration was of high priority for the center [5].

Date-A-Queer Event Records and Financial Documents

These are a pair of written record sheets concerning money raised during a ‘Date-a-Queer’ event put on by the LGBTQ+ center (known at the time as the Queer Student Union or QSU) on November 30, 2005. The first sheet concerns the overall participants (whose names have been redacted) and is a financial record of the money raised during the event, a total of $549 [6]. The second sheet is a participant application sheet, or “Auctionee Application” filled out by the chair of the QSU (name also redacted). The sheet includes details about the auctionee such as gender, contact information, and a description of the applicant’s ideal date. As the only application sheet present in the collection, it is hard to say if the applicants response was typical or representative of the queer population of Purdue, but her role as the chair of the QSU does indicate the state of leadership of the student organization at the time.  

The event was set up to raise money for the QSU by giving participants the chance to bid on specific people available for auction in order to have the chance to go on a date. The center held a number of fundraisers for members and the general public during the 2000-2010 era, and the ‘Date-a-Queer’ event functions as an example of one such event. Other events designed for outreach and socialization were funded in part by these kinds of efforts. The results of these dates are not on record in the archives, as the record sheets for the event were located in a folder of financial documents under the section “copies of contracts”. The materials appear to have been kept as part of the center’s records concerning fundraising and event costs rather than to highlight or promote the event itself, though its presence speaks to the complexity of queer dating at Purdue and in the midwestern United States in the mid-2000s.   

Author Bio:

Lee Hibbard is a 3rd year PhD student in Purdue University’s Rhetoric and Composition program. He graduated from the University of Alabama in Huntsville with a Masters in English Literature in 2015 and the University of Nebraska in Lincoln with a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature in 2010, and has been teaching undergraduate college writing for six years. His primary research interests include digital rhetorics, archival practices and outreach, queer rhetorics and transgender advocacy, and game studies.

[1] Amira Hasenbush et al., “The LGBT Divide: A Data Portrait of LGBT People in the Midwestern, Mountain, and Southern States,” Williams Institute, December 2014, williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/LGBT-divide-Dec-2014.pdf

[2] Jennifer Finney Boylan, “Afterword: Imagining a World Filled With Love, Not Hate”, in LGBTQ States, eds. David Deschamps and Bennet Singer, pp. 263-264, 2016.

[3] Transgender Day of Remembrance Flyer, Nov 20 2008, Box 1, Folder 16, Purdue University LGBTQ+ Student Alliance Records, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, West Lafayette, Indiana.

[4] MBLGTACC 2004 Resolution to support nondiscrimination on the basis of gender identity, Jan 29 2006, UA 159, Box 1, Folder 30, Purdue University LGBTQ+ Student Alliance Records, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, West Lafayette, Indiana.

[5] College Nondiscrimination Policies (no listed author), 2005-2006, UA 159, Box 1 Folder 15,  Purdue University LGBTQ+ Student Alliance Records, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, West Lafayette, Indiana.

[6] Date-A-Queer Event participant list, Nov 11 2005, UA 159, Box 1, Folder 28, Purdue University LGBTQ+ Student Alliance Records, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, West Lafayette, Indiana.