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Features May 2004: Volume 1, Number 2

Coming Out
by John O. White ’83, Warren


In 1979, when I arrived at UC San Diego Warren College Orientation from Salt Lake City, Utah, I was perhaps naïve about Southern California. I had been waiting to “come out” and college seemed like the perfect place to express myself honestly and proudly—not just my sexual orientation, but also my politics.

I hoped to somehow merge my interest in science and medicine with public policy and social justice issues.

UC San Diego in retrospect was the perfect school for me, although it started out slowly. You see, I asked simply at my student orientation session—“where do I find the gay student organization?” The student affairs staff member politely responded: “While at one time there was such an organization, there is no such organization now.” I asked why? And the response was, “I don’t know, but you can start such a student organization if you are interested.”

Slowly over the course of my freshman year, I found other lesbian and gay students interested in forming a social-political organization. And in 1980, we founded LAGO—the Lesbian and Gay (student) Organization. This was my first lesson in budgeting, politicking and public speaking. Scared as the devil, a small group of us asked for, and received, a full-page Lesbian and Gay issues section in the Guardian—once each quarter beginning in 1980. For two years, we filled the pages with poems, private reflections, comics, community event announcements, and a listing of resources—mostly off campus. The group was notable by its inclusion of women and men, and I received basic lessons in political activism from my student peers including Paula Rosenstein, ’82, Muir, now an accomplished attorney in San Diego, and Linda Sabo, who became a Student Regent.

I took a big step out of the closet with my LAGO co-chair, Christina Alvarez, ’84, Warren, M.A. ’95, when we were interviewed for a Guardian cover story titled: The Challenge of Being Gay at UCSD, which ran during January 1982. There was no going back at that point, and we were invited with others to be on a panel for the UCSD Contemporary Issues course “Human Sexuality”.

There were allied offices and places, although at the time there was no formal recognition of this. The counselors from Psychological Counseling and Services were a godsend for many of us as were peer support groups for gay men and lesbians. Academic advisers in the colleges were often helpful, and certain departments like sociology, visual arts, music and political science offered classes that were of a personal and academic interest to many. There were affinity groups such as Associated Students—Assorted Vinyl record store, Groundwork Books, the Food Coop and the CHE collective.

Pretty soon, we figured out that we needed an office and a telephone information line in the Student Center. It was granted by the ASUCSD. We reached out to faculty and staff by hosting quarterly potlucks in the International Center. We worked with faculty and staff on issues in common, including a proposed minor in Lesbian and Gay History, health policy issues, and issues of equality and non-discrimination. We received support and encouragement from helpful faculty such as Professor Harry Hirsch (now at Macalester College in Minnesota). His research and teaching interests include civil liberties and gay and lesbian politics.

One of my favorite memories is the establishment of the first “Susan B. Anthony” Non-Sexist Dance, which took place on February 13, 1981. I hear the Non-Sexist dances are still going strong on campus.

Congratulations UCSD on your commitment to diversity,
tolerance and programming for activities like the LGBT Resource Center. Go Tritons! Go Bobcats!

John O. White is a Capital Planning Director at UC Merced.


LGBT Resources at UCSD

LGBT Alumni Chapter

Alumni Association Programs for Students

"I took a big step out of the closet with my LAGO co-chair Christina Alverez when we were interviewed
for a Guardian cover story titled:
The Challenge of Being Gay at UCSD, which ran during January 1982."