Eric Denby

Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Wilson J. Warren

Second Advisor

Dr. Susan K. Freeman

Third Advisor

Dr. Edwin Martini


LGBT, activism, liberation, radicalism, history

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


The 1960s and 1970s were decades of turbulence, militancy, and unrest in America. The post-World War II boom in consumerism and consumption made way for a new post-materialist societal ethos, one that looked past the American dream of home ownership and material wealth. Many citizens were now concerned with social and economic equality, justice for all people of the world, and a restructuring of the capitalist system itself. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan was a hotbed of student activism. As an early headquarters for the Students for a Democratic Society, a location of various student and faculty led demonstrations against the U.S. occupation in Vietnam, and the home of the Black Action Movement, the University of Michigan was no stranger to the emergence of a dissatisfied and action-oriented youth culture. Increasing scholarship has focused on gay liberation movements within this context, yet a gap exists in specific liberation efforts on college campuses, including the University of Michigan.

The struggles of recognition and inclusion for lesbians and gays at the university are traced to the founding of the Ann Arbor Gay Liberation front in March of 1970. In just two years, the Gay Liberation Front was recognized as a student organization, held the first gay dance in Michigan, and was instrumental in the creation of the Human Sexuality Advocates office, the first institutional student services office dedicated to gay and lesbian students. In a period of growing political backlash and public prejudice, these achievements were remarkable.

This thesis addresses the origins of gay liberation at the University of Michigan. Through careful analysis of organizational records, official communications from university administrators, and local media reports, what ultimately emerges is a gay liberation group that adopted the rhetoric and tactics of other new left movements but used those strategies to gain not institutional destruction or overthrow, but inclusion and acceptance.