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Welcome! Walk with us as we explore the twisting,colorful road of LGBTQIA+ student history at Cal Poly. Because the road to equality doesn't have to be straight.

Explore History

Before any discussion of current policy happens, context has to be provided. What was it like to be the first Cal Poly students standing up for LGBTQ+ rights? These are the Cal Poly Archive’s earliest materials concerning LGBTQ+ youth, consisting of flyers promoting acceptance from students advocating for a Gay Student Union and the San Luis Obispo Women’s Shelter promoting domestic violence assistance for homosexual victims. The collection begins in 1972, with no artifacts from the 60s; it’s assumed that the taboo of the topic at the time prevented public advocacy. 
 Photo Credit: Katelyn Biddle Existing because of the public advocacy seen in the 70s, signed by Cal Poly President Robert Kennedy himself and shown here in it’s home in the Cal Poly archives, this is the 1978-9 charter for the Gay Students Union at Cal Poly. The original charter couldn’t be found in the collections. Campaigning for a university-recognized Gay Students Union began in 1972, but all requests were denied until 1976, when State Attorney General Evelle Younger intervened. Before the intervention, Cal Poly administration had been sustained in it’s decision to withhold official recognition of the Union through two court cases. The State Attorney General’s legal opinion was requested, and though those documents have never been released, the administration decided it had no legally-viable reason to withhold recognition. The Gay Student Union was granted all rights and privileges to state facilities and equipment, as well as accounting from Associated Student’s, Inc. 
 Photo Credit: Katelyn Biddle Contrary to the recreational culture of the university, the academic world of Cal Poly was slower to gain acceptance of LGBTQ+ studies and issues. The Women and Gender Studies minor was introduced in 1990, and a Queer Studies minor debuted in 2017. Shown here is the titular office in the WGS Department’s hallway deep in Building 47 (known as the ‘Maze’ for good reason), belonging to Department Coordinator K. Weldon.  Photo Credit: Katelyn Biddle Elsewhere in the academic world of Cal Poly, LGBTQ+ people are represented in the faculty. Here, Dr. Jennifer Lewis, who identifies herself as a homosexual, teaches her Human Cultural Adaptations class on October 15, 2018. Lewis has a doctorate in Anthropology from New York University and received the Outstanding Career Achievement in Teaching by a Lecturer from the College of Liberal Arts in 2014. On the first day of classes each quarter, she introduces herself and her orientation bluntly to her students, and advocates: “Whatever makes you happy in life, do it.” Photo Credit: Katelyn Biddle In the student ranks today, LGBTQ+ have the largest numbers. Here, english major and third year Cole Trethaway, who identifies as gay, walks in Poly Canyon in October 2018. Trethaway has identified as gay since middle school, but struggled with his religious family’s initial refusal to accept him and his own self expression.  Not one for flamboyance, he is slowly feeling safe enough to express himself in small ways. 
Photo Credit: Katelyn Biddle One of the small ways Cole feels safe in his self-expression is through nail painting. “When I was younger, I was made fun of for being feminine. Now, I don’t care what people think and I love having painted nails. I get at least two compliments a day on them!” Here, Cole flaunts his natural nails on October 14, 2018. Photo Credit: Katelyn Biddle  Cole paints his nails, with a holographic color, for the first time. Photo Credit: Katelyn Biddle  Cole flaunts his fabulous toenails, which flash green and purple in the light. Photo Credit: Katelyn Biddle Just because there’s representation at Cal Poly doesn’t mean there isn’t controversy. Pictured here is the gender neutral bathroom in the Graphic Arts building on the Cal Poly campus. The bathroom was added in November 2017, as all single-use bathrooms on campus were updated with gender-neutral signage. The change was a response to the 2016-17 national controversy concerning gender-neutral bathrooms and the acceptance of transgender people in bathrooms of their gender. Once AB-1732 was signed into California law in 2016, public restroom signage is required to be accepting of all genders, but the change has been slow. In 2017, AB 1887 was issued, banning CSU funding or requirement of student or faculty trips to states who don’t have a similar bathroom policy or who allow discrimination based on gender or sexality. Photo Credit: Katelyn Biddle Though the travel ban will be well-covered in future pieces, another important facet to the present-day culture of LGBTQ+ students at Cal Poly is the prevalence of allies. Spotted here on the backpack of nutrition major and fourth year Spalding Bristow is the rainbow ribbon pin given out in 2017-18 by the Queer Student Union and PRISM programs to advocate for LGBTQ+ youth acceptance and public display of ally sentiment. Bristow says “ must be awful not feeling safe to fully be yourself, and I wanted to show that I support all love.” 
Photo Credit: Katelyn Biddle


Click to see who we found all around campus and what they thought of how accepting Cal poly culture was of LGBTQIA+ students. Double click to stop audio.

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Meet Dr. J.L.

Click to meet Dr. Jane Lehr, Chair of the Women and Gender Studies Major at Cal Poly, telling us about her position and about Cal Poly's new Queer Studies minor.


LGBTQ+ Students at Cal Poly

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