I went to U.Va. with Bert Ellis and am, of course, revolted that he is the kind of person Governor Glenn Youngkin wants to help bring down hundreds of years of liberal education at the University. While Ellis’ idea of free speech is promoting discredited racists such as William Shockley, he has a history of suppressing LGBTQ+ voices going back to our time at the University.
When I was president of the Gay Student Union at the University in 1975, we co-sponsored with the University Union the great Franklin Kameny, a pioneering gay activist since the late 1950s, as a speaker. But when Ellis, then a tri-chairman of the University Union, got wind of the collaboration, he pulled the University Union out. “When I saw it [the Kameny request], I immediately canned it," Ellis said.
Charles Francis, an archive activist, University alumni and president of the new Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. found that quote from Ellis at that time in The Cavalier Daily along with this — “I did not want the University Union associated with the GSU. In view of the student population here, it is not the type of activity the University Union should sponsor. It’s [homosexuality] not an issue viewed highly in the University, and it would not help the University Union’s position and prestige.” The GSU assumed sole sponsorship of the event and Kameny filled the hall. Francis wrote about all this in the Washington Blade here.
Kameny went on to be one of the most honored Americans of his time. His papers were acquired by the Library of Congress. His home is on the National Register of Historic Places — an honor that will never come to Ellis or Youngkin.
Ellis was into "cancel culture” when it was a tool of the right-wing to suppress topics such as gay rights that they saw as a threat. And now he is in league with Youngkin and much of the Republican Party into once again censoring curricula and subjects that don't fit their straight, white, Christian fantasies of what America was, is or should be.
I remember these words of Thomas Jefferson inscribed in stone over an entrance archway at the University — "We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” The Youngkins and Ellises of the world can't handle the truth about such things as differences in human sexuality and about our country's profoundly racist foundations. Yes, they've grabbed some power in this decisive moment. But the truth will out.
Andy Humm is a Class of 1975 alumnus and co-host of Gay USA, a weekly national cable news show on LGBTQ+ issues worldwide.