A Brief History of GABLES 


Although Columbia is credited with having the first campus gay and lesbian student organization – the Student Homophile League, which was established in 1966 – many gay, lesbian and bisexual faculty and staff at the University had until the 1990s considered the general social and political environment of Columbia to be "closeted" and unaccepting of them. Even though other universities had visible lesbigay faculty and staff, at Columbia, gays, lesbians and bisexuals were generally invisible to students and colleagues. Those who were known to be homosexual were in many cases silently accepted by their straight colleagues with the almost implicit understanding that it was not really appropriate for gays and lesbians to mention or discuss their sexual orientation or "private life."

By the early 1990s a substantial, largely underground minority of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals existed among faculty and staff, often aware of each other but closeted insofar as the Columbia community was concerned. Silence and the stifling blanket of presumptive heterosexuality covered Columbia. And, perhaps more importantly, health, tuition, and other benefits granted to married couples were denied to same-sex partners, as was the case in most universities at the time.

Without any doubt, the efforts of GABLES-CU to provide visibility and communication within the Columbia community improved the climate for gays, lesbian and bisexuals here. From 1993 through 1997, a series of campus-wide social, political and scholarly events brought together straight and gay colleagues at different levels of the university and began to foster a new sense of visibility, understanding, and open acceptance. While the battle is by no means over, and in fact may never be, much was accomplished in a very short period of time.

Community News
Columbia Lesbigay Community Newsletter, 1993-1996

 V.5, No. 4 – December 1996
 V.5, No. 3 – November 1996
 V.5, No. 2 – October 1996
 V.5, No. 1 – September 1996
 V.4, No. 7 – April 1996
 V.4, No. 6 – March 1996
 V.4, No. 5 – February 1996
 V.2, No.4 – Dec/Jan 1994
 V.2, No. 3 – November 1994
 V.2, No. 2 – October 1994
 V.1, No. 7 – April 1994
 V.1, No. 6 – March 1994
 V.1, No. 5 – February 1993
 V.1, No.4 – December 1993
 V.2, No.3 – November 1993
 V.2, No. 2 – October 1993
 V.1, No. 1 – September 1993

Between 1993 and 1995, the University did in stages extend all fringe benefits to same-sex partners, in large measure because of the educational and lobbying efforts of GABLES-CU. Columbia thus became one of the first handful of U.S. universities to take this step. The process at Columbia was greatly helped by the fortunate concurrence of efforts within the New York City government, under Mayor David Dinkins, to establish a domestic partnership registry for same-sex partners and to grant domestic partner benefits to city employees; also by the support for gays and lesbians at the state level by Governer Mario Cuomo, whose insurance commissioner overturned previous state health insurance policy to allow HMOs to offer domestic-partner health benefits; and finally by the New York City municipal human-rights ordinance, implemented under Mayor Ed Koch, that protects gays and lesbians from discrimination within city limits. Additionally, much credit for this progress must go to Columbia University Provost Jonathan Cole, who in some respects initiated the process of granting domestic partner health benefits and who has been consistent in his strong support for gay/lesbian/bisexual equal rights.

Less progress was made in another important area, however, namely that of curricular reform. There has as yet been no broad mandate to incorporate lesbigay material into existing courses (much as women's studies and non-Western subjects have to some extent already been), nor have new courses or departments been established to investigate gay/lesbian/bisexual history, sociology, psychology, gender studies and related areas. This is an arena in which faculty will need to show more courage and leadership for real change to occur.

GABLES-like groups have sprung up at a number of other colleges and universities since 1992 (for example New York University and Princeton), in some cases using the generic GABLES acronym. Usually the agendas are much the same. Colleges' and universities' reaction to and accommodation of such groups has been variable. In some places were granted campus recognition, at others they were ignored or even attacked by the administration. At Columbia formal recognition and support was effectively granted by University administration through its general support, ad hoc funding for special events, and provision of fund accounts for expenditures and receipt of gifts.

Prepared by Stephen Davis, 1993-94 co-convener, Gay/Bisexual/Lesbian Faculty, Staff & Supporters at Columbia University (GABLES-CU) – Last updated:4/25/2014.

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Last revision: 04/25/14