"Where Perversion is Taught"


County Collegian, May 7, 1968. Reprinted with permission of Bucks County Community College.


County Collegian, May 14, 1968. Reprinted with permission of Bucks County Community College.


County Collegian, May 14, 1968. Reprinted with permission of Bucks County Community College.


County Collegian, May 14, 1968. Reprinted with permission of Bucks County Community College.


County Collegian, May 14, 1968. Reprinted with permission of Bucks County Community College.


County Collegian, May 14, 1968. Reprinted with permission of Bucks County Community College.


County Collegian, May 14, 1968. Reprinted with permission of Bucks County Community College.


County Collegian, May 14, 1968. Reprinted with permission of Bucks County Community College.


Bucks County Community College President Charles Rollins examining college building plans, 1965.


Charles Rollins and the Tyler Hall courtyard where the 1968 demonstration took place, 1980s.

First published April 13, 2021. Last edit February 8, 2023.

            On May 9, 1968, one of the largest gay rights demonstrations before the Stonewall Riots of 1969 took place at Bucks County Community College (BCCC) in Newtown, Pennsylvania. Newtown was located 31 miles northeast of Philadelphia and 14 miles west of Trenton. Approximately two hundred students rallied in a campus courtyard to protest the college president’s cancellation of a lecture by gay movement leader Richard Leitsch, president of the Mattachine Society of New York. Most of the protesters, students at a two-year college that had opened in 1965, were probably straight and did not think of themselves as gay rights advocates; they were motivated by a combination of support for student rights and opposition to antigay censorship. While historians have previously identified more than two dozen pre-Stonewall LGBT demonstrations, sit-ins, and riots, this one has been overlooked until now. 

Invitation and Organization
            The idea of inviting Leitsch to speak apparently originated with the newly-established Cultural Committee of the BCCC Student Government. The Student Government was authorized to allocate funds collected from student activity fees ($15/year per student) to campus clubs and organizations. It is unclear who specifically recommended Leitsch, but the student newspaper indicated that the Cultural Committee selected him “on the basis of returns from a questionnaire circulated among students seeking their preferences in topics for open discussion.”

            According to a recent interview with Ralph Sassi, who was the Student Government President in 1967-68, a woman on the Cultural Committee submitted a proposal to fund the Leitsch lecture. “Why not?” he recalls thinking, adding that since all students paid student fees, all should have the right to propose speakers. Cultural Committee Chair Donna Saurman told a local reporter that “this was to be our first speaker.” Advance publicity described Leitsch as a “practicing homosexual” and the Mattachine Society as an organization “dedicated to improving the status of homosexuals” and “seeking to end job discrimination against homosexuals.” The student newspaper also referenced media reports about Leitsch’s recent successes in challenging antigay police practices in New York. Leitsch’s fee was reportedly $450 (equal to the fees collected from thirty students and equivalent to approximately $3400 in 2021). The title of the planned presentation was “The Problems of the Homosexual in Our Society.”

            Leitsch (1935-2018) served as president of Mattachine New York from 1965 to 1971. He is perhaps best known today as the initiator of the 1966 Julius Bar Sip-In, an action undertaken by three gay men to challenge the New York State Liquor Authority’s policy against serving known homosexuals in bars. At the Julius Bar in Greenwich Village, the men asked to be served after identifying themselves as homosexuals. When they were denied, which they hoped would happen, they had the basis for filing a lawsuit that eventually succeeded in loosening (without fully overturning) the ban. Leitsch also is remembered today as a leader in the effort to end sexual entrapment by New York City police in the mid-1960s. During his years as a Mattachine leader, he was interviewed on multiple radio and television programs and was invited to speak at many colleges, universities, and community forums, as were activists Barbara Gittings and Clark Polak of Philadelphia and Frank Kameny of Washington, D.C. In 1969, Leitsch authored some of the earliest and most detailed gay media reports on the Stonewall Riots.

Cancellation and Demonstration
            On the day of the planned lecture, students learned that BCCC President Charles E. Rollins (1922-2016) had decided to cancel the event just three hours before it was scheduled to begin. Some early media reports referred to this as a joint decision of the college administration and faculty, but under pressure from faculty critics, Rollins soon declared that the decision had been his and his alone. He reportedly described the invitation as “an error in judgment” and announced that instead of allowing Leitsch to deliver his presentation, faculty members in psychology, sociology, and philosophy would address the topic at a campus forum later that day.

            Two hours after the president’s announcement, a large group of students (estimates ranged from 175 to 200) gathered for more than an hour in the courtyard outside Tyler Hall to “dramatize their differences” with the president. One local newspaper reported that the lecture’s cancellation had led students to “walk out of classes and stage a demonstration.” More specifically, “students ran through halls of the student and academic buildings, shouting ‘Leitsch has been canceled…. Protest meeting in the courtyard.’” Described in one paper as a “Paul Revere-type alarm,” this sent students “scurrying out to the cobblestone courtyard.” If 200 students participated, this was approximately one-sixth of the entire student body.

            Another local paper described an “orderly student demonstration” and a “mild” protest, noting that “the students were firm, and except for an occasional raised voice, generally mannerly in spelling out their differences of opinion with the school administration.” At the rally, the president (accompanied by security guards) acknowledged that his decision was “arbitrary” and made at the “11th hour,” but told the students that Leitsch’s appearance “would not be in the best interest of the student body or the community.” He called for the development of a college policy on guest speakers, though warned that this would not mean that students “can do as you damn well please,” which would be tantamount to “anarchy.”

            Also addressing the rally, Student Government President Sassi of Levittown, Pennsylvania, spoke out against the president’s decision, saying that he was as “upset” and “disappointed” as others were. He nevertheless “pleaded with the students to respect Dr. Rollins’s decision and continue their questions in an orderly and well-behaved manner.” Rollins later commented that the protest was “orderly” and “rational,” asserting that the students were “not demanding” and stating that “this speaks well for our students.” He may have been comparing the BCCC demonstrators with recent protesters at South Carolina State University (February), Howard University (March), Columbia University (April), and multiple French universities (March through May), some of whom had occupied campus buildings and engaged in other aggressive actions. More generally, this was a period of heightened concerns about political violence and social protest—civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in April, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was killed in June, and the Democratic Party convention in Chicago exploded in August.

            Student critics may have been peaceful and orderly, but they charged the administration with “censorship, inhibiting intellectual growth, hindering the pursuit of inquiry and being pressured by religious and political forces.” One objected to “being treated like a child”; another stated that “one of my basic rights is being trampled.” According to the student paper, “Several students accused President Rollins of playing politics and being under the influence of people outside of the college.” One asked, “Are we going to have to jump anytime the community wants it? Who are they to say if we can or cannot hear someone?”

            According to one local media report, Rollins acknowledged at the rally that “he had received ‘pressure from outside community groups and individuals” and “some of the complaints came from parents of students and members of the clergy.” The student newspaper quoted Rollins as saying, “This way doesn’t lay the institution open to criticism. We (the college) are so much closer to our community than an institution like Penn State.” After explaining that “the college is under pressure from the people in the community who finance a third of the cost of tuition of every student through taxes,” Rollins noted, “I certainly appreciate your feeling that the establishment has done it to you again.” Dean of Students Robert C. Lee later reported that Rollins had received “close to 100” complaints.

After the Demonstration
            Some students were not quite ready to give up. According to one report, a “bearded youth” at the rally announced that arrangements were being made to have Leitsch deliver his presentation at the nearby home of student Sandy Naylor. Approximately sixty students made their way to the home of Naylor’s parents, but as it turns out Leitsch had been in a car accident earlier that day. In a telegram sent to Cultural Committee Chair Saurman, Leitsch revealed (presumably without any prior knowledge of the president’s cancellation) that he would not be able to attend the originally scheduled event at the college.

            Back on campus, faculty members Walter Alvey (History and Religion), Ruth Frank (Education), William McNeill (Sociology), and James Richard (Psychology) spoke at the alternative forum on homosexuality that Rollins had announced. Academic Dean Wallace Appelson moderated and 40-50 students and faculty attended. While one faculty member asserted that “the individual homosexual would not have a problem with society if society would accept him as he is and stop discriminating against him,” several biology professors were “determined to deny the homosexual a place in society” and described homosexuality as “abnormal.” One claimed that “he had reliable information from an MD that homosexual practices caused physical as well as psychological damage.” A student commented in response that “people who protest the loudest against homosexuals are often those who fear homosexuality within themselves.”

            One day later, the student government organized a meeting with Dean Lee to address the previous day’s developments. Asked why the lecture had been canceled, Lee responded, “The concept of student rights to have the speaker of their choice should not be infringed upon. On the other hand the community is the tax base from which the college gets its support. Therefore we must make an attempt to satisfy its wishes. Community pressure was a major factor. Also, some of the faculty did not think the students were mature enough to listen to this speaker and come away unscathed.” Lee then turned more critical, declaring, “I consider some of these people intellectual cowards and will consider them so until they change their views…. One of their main objections was the $450.00 fee. They hid behind it.” He later noted that “tax money was the main concern,” adding that community members “got the impression it involved their tax money, instead of students’ money.” The dean also observed, “As a citizen of Newtown, I am ashamed to be a part of the community. If we are to grow as individuals we must be exposed to something new. If you knew everything, you wouldn’t be here…. To stifle intellectual growth is reprehensible.”

            At the meeting with Dean Lee, Student Government President Sassi stated that he was “much disturbed” by the attitude of many faculty members, some of whom were “threatening to flunk students for attending this meeting.” While Lee thought this “rumor” was “highly exaggerated,” he acknowledges that it was “not out of the realm of possibility.” The dean later told a local reporter that “if the speaker had been presented in a ‘well-structured, academic situation,’ as a member of a panel in which doctors also would participate, the public might have accepted him.” Just two weeks earlier the Student Homophile League at Columbia University had organized a protest at a medical school panel discussion of homosexuality because the panel featured straight psychiatrists and excluded gay people.

            In the aftermath of the campus demonstration, student leaders made plans to reschedule Leitsch’s lecture for May 21 and move it to an off-campus location. As Sassi noted, “We paid the fee and we expect to hear him…. If you can’t have a controversial topic discussed in a controlled, educational atmosphere, where can you have it?” He acknowledged that “we have a difficult situation in this community,” but added that “the community should realize that we are mature enough to understand both sides.” According to one report, however, the Student Government decided to cancel the lecture after a two-hour meeting with President Rollins, allegedly because final examinations were about to start and it would be challenging for students to “study for tests and hear his talk.” Another report indicated that a committee of administrators, faculty, and students discussed the issue for nearly three hours, and while a majority of the students initially supported the plan to have Leitsch speak at an off-campus location on May 21, the committee reconsidered after discussing “the legal liabilities” and the “long range effects” on “college-community relations.” A future invitation for Leitsch “would be considered at some future date, possibly this fall.” There are no indications that another invitation was extended and some reports suggest that the $450 fee was not refunded.

Community Debate
            Meanwhile, the controversy continued to play out in the local community. On May 15, the Bucks County Commission and BCCC Board of Trustees discussed the subject at their regularly scheduled meetings. John McKinney, a leader of the rightwing Bucks County Constitutional Party and member of the John Birch Society, decried student support for “speakers who dispense filth, perversion and subversion” and warned that this was “a step toward the college’s conversion into ‘another Berkeley or Columbia.’” He also “attacked a private college scholarship fund initiated recently for Negro students, terming it ‘discrimination in reverse.’”

            Without endorsing McKinney’s extreme views, the commissioners and trustees generally expressed support for President Rollins’s actions. One noted, “I was very happy the first lecture was canceled…. The educational quality of such a lecture is a matter of conjecture.” Commission Chairman Joseph Canby added, however, that “we have no control over the rescheduled meeting of Leitsch by the students. We don’t approve but have no right to question a meeting in a private home.” To handle similarly difficult matters in the future, the BCCC Board of Trustees authorized the creation of a nine-person committee (three administrators, three faculty, and three students) to make policy decisions about campus controversies and campus speakers in the future. According to Canby, “There has to be a certain amount of academic freedom.” This likely helped Rollins regain the support of the BCCC faculty, some of whom had been circulating petitions to censure him. Rollins later told a reporter that “the student-faculty advisory committee is beneficial..., as it not only promotes better understanding but protects the study body from expressing its opinions in an ‘asinine’ way.”

            As the Bucks County Commission discussion suggests, public debate about the cancellation of the Leitsch lecture extended beyond the college campus. There were at least seventeen letters to the editor and editorials that addressed the issue in the Bucks County Courier Times, County Collegian, Delaware Valley Advance, Doylestown Daily Intelligencer, and Philadelphia Inquirer. Ten letters, most written by students, offered support for the Leitsch lecture or criticisms of his opponents, though they did so primarily in defense of free speech, academic freedom, and student rights rather than gay rights. Indeed, some “supporters,” while defending the rights of students to invite Leitsch, took genocidal positions on homosexuality or presented homosexuality as a problem to be solved or a sickness to be cured. Six letters and one editorial indicated opposition to the Leitsch lecture, though two writers accounted for four of the letters. Together, these letters and editorials provide a snapshot of a suburban community discussion about homosexuality involving people from different age cohorts with conflicting sexual values and opposing political orientations.

            Many of the letters in support of the Leitsch invitation emphasized the distinctive characteristics of academic institutions and the opportunities they provided for consideration of controversial issues. One anonymous supporter, appalled that opponents of the Leitsch speech had made “threats to burn down college facilities, asserted that “the real problem is that the students were deprived of the privilege to hear this man.” A letter signed by “not an ostrich” observed, “Upon entering college I thought I was old enough to learn more about the various facets of life…. Why shouldn’t Bucks County Community College students be able to hear controversial topics just as students from other colleges?”

            Chuck Berry complained that “it was student planned, student money, and the right of the students to hear Mr. Leitsch.” He continued, “We cannot stop the problem of homosexuals in this country and shutting our eyes and pretending it doesn’t exist isn’t going to help. The younger generation seems to accept life for what it really is, not how we wish it could be. Life is reality and so is homosexuality. Do we pretend it’s not there and hope it will go away, or do we bring it out into the open and see what can be done about it?” Dan Marseglia expressed support for the administration’s decision given the “stress under which the decision was made,” but commented, “What appalls me is the closed-mindedness so evident in our community and the inability to let a controversial subject be discussed in a college environment.”

            Many of the letters that supported the Leitsch speech singled out John McKinney and the Constitutional Party for criticism. Michael Barton accused them of hypocritically violating constitutional principles such as freedom of speech. According to Barton, “They have hidden behind words such as ‘filth’ and ‘subversion’ but have forgotten words like ‘freedom’ and ‘curiosity’ and phrases such as ‘the right to think for oneself.’… When any individual or community group can stop any man from speaking regardless of his viewpoint, then this country and the principles upon which it was founded are in grave danger.” Thomas Beccone defended the president’s actions, but said that he was “sad” that “a minority pressure group” had violated “academic freedom” and “freedom of speech.” This type of so-called “patriotism” was “the patriotism of book burnings and witch hunts” and this type of “jingoistic bally-hoo” had led to the Spanish American War, World War I, and “the rise in power of a certain infamous dictator in Germany.” According to Beccone, who identified himself as a former varsity football player, a future U.S. Marine, and a “responsible patriot,” no student was “forced to attend the lecture” and its purpose was “not to promote homosexuality but to explain the role of the homosexual in society.” Beccone made it clear, however, that he did not “advocate homosexuality,” believing that it was “a sickness.” In his exterminationist view, “we must attempt to understand it through exposure to it if we are to properly treat it and rid our society of this social ill.”

              J. W. D. joined in the criticism of McKinney and his party, declaring that their attack on the student-sponsored event “makes me glad to be a Republican.” Ronald Delp also criticized McKinney, claiming that it was “illogical” to criticize “‘discrimination in reverse’ regarding a scholarship for Negroes” and then advocate for discrimination against public speakers at BCCC. “Should students be spared exposure to facts and issues that comprise the world they are about to enter?” he asked, before stating in response that “if that’s the case, the purpose of a college education…is not to broaden outlook or increase awareness of that which is in the world, but to solidify prejudices.” Delp noted as well that “any student worth his salt does not adopt the viewpoint of a speaker by simply listening to him.” May Owen, who described herself as a married mother of two sons and a student at BCCC, observed that she had thought previously that the college was “a place where I might seek the truth through education while being exposed to new ideas.” Now she was “concerned that this ideal is being destroyed” by the “rash generalizations” of those who had warned that “‘speakers who dispense filth, perversion and subversion’” might turn BCCC into another Berkeley or Columbia. “If outside pressures were not the cause of Mr. Leitsch’s cancellation,” she concluded, “then I am even more concerned.”

            A smaller set of letters and editorials took positions closer to McKinney’s. E. Stanley Rittenhouse observed that it was “sad, sickening, and disgusting” that BCCC officials would “allow a homosexual to come onto the campus and bring his moral decay.” According to Rittenhouse, “The saddest part of all is that nothing was done about this until the wrath of public opinion came down upon those responsible.” Only then was anything done “to stop this purveyor of sexual perversion.” The Bucks County Courier Times adopted what it viewed as more of a compromise position, editorializing that “the topic is a serious one of grave import and certainly it is not one we should exclude from serious study merely because it is repelling to most of us.” That said, it was not a topic “that can be handled or considered from the dilettante approach of a talk lasting little more than an hour.” According to the editorial, this made it seem like the event had been scheduled for “titillation” rather than “values.”

            According to M. J. Frye, supporters of the Leitsch lecture had “twisted the meaning of freedom,” since “freedom under God is freedom with responsibility and doesn’t give anyone the right to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre” or “punch anyone in the nose.” According to Frye, “Students have a right to hear about homosexuals, but why not hear about same from an expert—not such a one as Mr. Leitsch but a doctor who has studied this field and would warn against these afflictions and the consequences such as God did in His holy word, the Bible.” An anonymous “interested reader” noted that freedom of speech does not mean that “mature adults” should “forfeit their right to guide the young adults of our community into meaningful adulthood.” According to this writer, a panel featuring “pro and con” perspectives from Leitsch and a medical expert would have been better than “Leitsch grandstanding it with a crowd of curious self-seeking young people” who were indulging their “morbid curiosity.”

             One critic adopted a more personal, private, and pathetic approach. A May 1968 postcard addressed to “Big Shot Big Deal Sassi Rah Rah Rah” at his family home in Levittown declared, “Just because youre one and live on Queen Ann Rd didn’t say you have to bring Queen Leach here. Go to Rittenhouse Sq or Village East or Venice West—you can sure tell where you got your hi school education that must be where perversion is taught go borrow a dress and wear it you stupid creep but keep your problems to yourself your headshrink and your confessor you stink you nance.” More than fifty years later, Sassi still has the postcard, a memento of a moment when he had been asked to support funding for a gay rights speaker and responded, “Why not?”

Analysis and Assessment
            The significance of the BCCC demonstration is multifaceted. Historians previously have identified several dozen LGBT demonstrations before the 1969 Stonewall Riots; there is even an error-filled Wikipedia page on “LGBT Actions in the United States prior to the Stonewall Riots.” These protests, which were public and visible at a time when many thought homosexuality should be kept private and invisible, challenged popular biases and prejudices, critiqued discrimination and mistreatment, and presented LGBT people as deserving of basic rights and freedoms. In this way, they created a foundation upon which activists in later decades were able to build. As the BCCC controversy shows, these protests also led to community debates about LGBT issues, opening up new possibilities for political reform and social change. (For a history of LGBT protests from 1965 to 1969, see Marc Stein, The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History, published by NYU Press in 2019, and “Documenting the Stonewall Riots,” https://history.sfsu.edu/content/documenting-stonewall-riots-bibliography-primary-sources.)

            In some respects, the 1968 BCCC gay rights demonstration was more unique. In contrast to other pre-Stonewall demonstrations, which challenged government policies, police practices, religious hostility, business discrimination, media mistreatment, and scientific prejudice, the Bucks County protest targeted an educational institution and the central issues were student rights and antigay censorship. Historians have thus far identified only one other pre-Stonewall gay rights demonstration on a college or university campus: the Columbia University protest referenced above. The BCCC demonstration also was unique because most of the participants, including the student government president, were presumptively straight. This adds to historical evidence that has been accumulating of changing attitudes about gay issues among college-educated youth in the late 1960s, a prelude to more widespread discussions about LGBT issues on college and university campuses in the 1970s. With respect to the number of participants, it is significant that the Bucks County protest was larger than most of the best-known LGBT demonstrations in the years leading up to the Stonewall Riots, including the Annual Reminder demonstrations at Independence Hall (1965-69), the Dewey’s sit-in in Philadelphia (1965), and the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot in San Francisco (1966).

            Why have LGBT historians, including me, not known about the BCCC demonstration? In part, this might reflect the nature of the media coverage in 1968. While the Bucks County demonstration generated several dozen newspaper stories, letters, and editorials, most of these were in local suburban and student newspapers; there was minimal coverage in the LGBT press, just a few items in the Northeast section of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and nothing that reached a broader audience. With respect to the LGBT press, gay activists could not take credit for the demonstration and seem to have displayed limited interest, leaving minimal traces in the types of sources that LGBT historians have used to document pre-Stonewall activism.

             Beyond these factors, there has been a persistent bias in favor of prestigious colleges and universities in both LGBT histories and histories of student movements. We know far more about early LGBT activism at Columbia, Cornell, the University of Minnesota, and New York University, and far more about student activism at Berkeley, Michigan, and Wisconsin, than we do about their community college counterparts. Significantly, the Bucks County debate featured multiple comments about whether BCCC was going to become another Columbia or Berkeley, but as far as we know the Tyler Hall protest did not lead to warnings about other schools becoming another BCCC. In addition, LGBT historians have tended to pay more attention to cities than suburbs, so we know far more about LGBT history at the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University in Philadelphia than we do about LGBT history at BCCC.

            How might the characteristics of Bucks County have influenced the BCCC demonstration? Like many other suburban regions in the United States, Bucks County experienced significant growth and change in the 1960s. Its population exploded, rising from 145,000 in 1950 to 410,000 in 1970, making it one of Pennsylvania’s most populous counties after Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Some of this growth reflected the decision of William Levitt to build his second mass-produced “Levittown” in the county. It also reflected dynamics related to the “urban crisis” and “white flight.” While the population of Bucks County was exploding in this period, nearby Philadelphia’s population declined from 2.1 million in 1950 to 1.9 million in 1970. With respect to race, Philadelphia’s population was more than one-third non-white in the 1960s, but Bucks County’s was less than five percent nonwhite; in fact, Levittown initially restricted ownership to whites.

            As for partisan politics, Bucks County supported Republican candidates in all but three presidential elections from 1900 to 1988, before voting narrowly for all Democratic presidential candidates in every election since then. In contrast, Philadelphia began voting for Democratic presidential candidates in 1936 and in the last several decades the Democratic victories have been huge. In short, Bucks County in 1968 was a predominantly white and Republican suburban county. It was close enough to Philadelphia and New York to be influenced by big city developments (perhaps most notably in the cosmopolitan arts community of New Hope) but far enough away to define itself as distinct with respect to race, religion, class, gender, and sexuality.

            As for the protagonists in the controversy surrounding the BCCC protest of 1968, Constitutional Party leader John McKinney died in 1976, having lost campaigns to be elected to the U.S. Congress in 1966, the Pennsylvania Senate in 1970, and the Bucks County Commission in 1971. Richard Leitsch served the leader of the Mattachine Society of New York until 1971 and died as a celebrated early gay rights leader in 2018. Charles Rollins was the founding president of BCCC from 1965 to 1987; after his retirement the student union building was renamed the Charles E. Rollins Center in his honor. He died in 2016. Student Government President Ralph Sassi moved to southern California in 1980 and still lives there today. I have not been able to locate Cultural Committee Chair Donna Saurman or student Sandy Naylor and would appreciate leads in finding them.

            Today BCCC has nearly 10,000 students on three campuses. Since 2003 nearby New Hope has held a pride event every spring and Doylestown has a visible LGBT community. The college now has several out LGBT and queer faculty, staff, and administrators. The college’s anti-discrimination statement references sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. In 2020 a college press release announced that associate sociology professor Max Probst would be teaching a new “experimental” introductory course on queer studies; Probst was quoted as saying that in more than a decade of teaching at BCCC he had noticed that students were highly engaged by discussions about LGBTQ+ topics. The only other course description that mentions sexuality in the 2020-21 college catalog is a psychology course on “human sexuality,” though Probst notes that LGBT and queer issues are covered in the college’s introductory course on gender studies. Because of the pandemic, the introduction to queer studies course was canceled in the Fall 2020 semester, but Probst hopes to offer it in the future. Meanwhile, student clubs at the college include SAFE (Students Advocating for Equality), which aims to provide a “safe haven” for LGBT, questioning, queer, and allied students on campus, and the Open Door Club, which provides “a safe, positive, and proactive environment that focuses on serving the LGBTQ+ community.”

            Some things, however, never change. In 2012 local community members attacked a drag show organized by the Open Door Club to raise funds for HIV/AIDS services. In 2017 a small group of Christian activists organized a protest at BCCC, calling for the LGBT community to get “back in the closet.” At a college where predominantly straight students demonstrated in support of their right to hear from a gay movement speaker in 1968, that is not likely to happen.

Link to 2022 Commemoration of the Protest
“Bucks Looks Back: Gay Rights History Made Here,” a forum held Monday, May 9, 2022, on the 54th anniversary of the protest, at the Newtown Campus and on video. 

Comments to OutHistory at: outhistory@gmail.com

            About the Author: Marc Stein is the Jamie and Phyllis Pasker Professor of History at San Francisco State University. He is the author of four books, including City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia (2000) and The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History (2019). His next book, Queer Public History: Essays on Scholarly Activism, will be published by the University of California Press in 2022.

            Acknowledgments: For her generous research assistance, I thank Monica Kuna, Director of Libraries at Bucks County Community College. I am also grateful for the comments and suggestions of John Anderies, Jonathan Ned Katz, Barry Loveland, Jorge Olivares, and Bob Skiba, and for helpful conversations with Ralph Sassi and Max Probst.


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“Bucks Drag Show Success, Despite Negative Media,” Philadelphia Gay News, 6 Dec. 2012.


Jocelyn Pappas, “Protesters Return to Newtown Campus,” The Centurion, 16 Feb. 2017.

On June 16, 2021, The Philadelphia Inquirer, published a story based on Marc Stein's research: Kevin Riordan, "Before Stonewall, LGBTQ history was made at Bucks County Community College — and then forgotten. Until now." Sub-headline: "When Bucks County Community College abruptly cancelled a 1968 gay rights advocate’s talk at the school, up to 200 students protested. That history is now being celebrated."

On May 12, 2022, Bucks County Community College commemmorated the protest on its 54th anniversary: see https://www.bucks.edu/calendarnews/news/news/one-of-the-largest-pre-stonewall-protests-happened-here-in-1968.html

The protest was also highlighted in "Out on Campus: A History of LGBTQ+ Activism at Pennsylvania Colleges & Universities," a travelling exhibit produced by the Pennsylvania LGBT History Network (https://www.centralpalgbthistory.org/out-on-campus.html). See also Marc Stein, “Out on Campus: A Collaborative Project on Pennsylvania LGBTQ+ History,” Perspectives on History, Dec. 2022, https://www.historians.org/research-and-publications/perspectives-on-history/december-2022/emout-on-campus/em-a-collaborative-project-on-pennsylvania-lgbtq-history and Marc Stein, "Out on Campus: An Interview with Curator Barry Loveland," History@Work, 2 and 6 December 2022, https://ncph.org/history-at-work/out-on-campus-an-interview-with-curator-barry-loveland-part-one/ and https://ncph.org/history-at-work/out-on-campus-an-interview-with-curator-barry-loveland-part-two/.