Student Homophile League

Stephen Donaldson, an openly bisexual student, started the Student Homophile League (SHL) in the fall of 1965 at Columbia University. Due to the organization’s insistence on pseudonyms and anonymity SHL could not get officially sanctioned by University administration, so it functioned as an underground organization for the first two years of its existence. It received an official charter on April 19, 1967 after recruiting prominent student leaders to public liaisons so that the group’s actual participants could remain anonymous. The SHL received negative press from both public and campus media, but membership continued to grow.

A second chapter formed at Cornell University in March of 1968 in response to an article in the Cornell Daily Sun about SHL at Columbia. In the spring of 1969, the Cornell SHL began experiencing friction between students who wanted the group to focus on civil liberties and those who wanted it to promote acceptance of gay culture. The goals of the group began to shift towards actively confronting homophobia. Interestingly enough, the Cornell chapter began with more heterosexual supporters than gay students. After news of Stonewall hit, the Cornell SHL decided to take a radical step and align themselves with the campus chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). This action alienated some members but provided SHL with powerful support. SHL began to promote increased visibility and awareness regarding queer issues. In 1970 SHL became the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in a desire to emulate the radical nature of the campus’s prominent Black Liberation Front. GLF engaged in more direct actions, such as sit-ins and boycotts. New York City had its own GLF, which was founded a year prior to the one at Cornell, but it collapsed in 1971 due gender-related tension.

Thanks to the prominence of women in Cornell’s GLF, the chapter managed to remain active. After the disbanding of New York’s GLF, Cornell joined forces with gay organizations at over 175 colleges and universities nationwide to form a national coalition to make the gay rights movement more visible. Columbia Queer Alliance is the central Columbia University student organization that representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning LGBTQ students. It is the oldest such student organization in the world, originally called the Student Homophile League (SHL), established in 1965. Stephen Donaldson, a bisexual-identified LGBT rights activist is commemorated by a plaque in the queer lounge that bears his name in one of Columbia's residence halls for spearheading the creation of the group.