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Quake 2000: Campus simulates emergency response to Hayward Fault temblor

Quake 2000: A coordinated rehearsal

Salary plan proposal: feedback requested

Whistle-blower Lowell Bergman: an insider's view of '60 Minutes'

Breaking up Microsoft: What's at stake for the megagiant?

Berkeley expert assists United Nations with Gulf War fallout

Archaeologists, Native Americans face off over ownership of famed Kennewick Man bones

A diverse ecosystem offers little or no protection against invading species, says a new Berkeley study

Richard Malkin named College of Natural Resources interim dean

New admissions director is campus alumna who rose through the ranks

University appoints Burnside, Mason to administrative posts

Robinson named executive director of Public Affairs

Moving magma under Mammoth Lakes may be splitting rocks deep underground, Berkeley seismologist reports

Whitaker Foundation gives $15 million to bioengineering

Gay Bears! Campus archivist is preserving history of sexual minorities at Berkeley and beyond

Los Angeles high schoolers team with community groups in new outreach program for promising students

Mail barcoding innovation takes effect July 3

Mentoring offers mutual benefits

Campus mourns passing of four faculty members

I-House has encouraged cultural exchange for seven decades

Astronomers observe last light from mysterious blue star

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Gay Bears! Campus archivist is preserving history of sexual minorities at Berkeley and beyond

By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs
Posted June 7, 2000

Law Librarian Bill Benemann first came to Berkeley, as a sophomore transfer student, during an information blackout. It was the winter of 1969; homosexual activity was still a felony in California; there were no listservs, resource centers or theme housing designed to smooth the way for a new gay undergrad.

"I had never met another person who I knew was gay, never seen a gay character in a movie or on TV, never read a book with a gay character, never read anything that treated it as anything but an aberration," Benemann recalls. "There was a total embargo on information."

A librarian, archivist and freelance historian who has worked on campus for more than a decade, Benemann is "absolutely positive" that gays and lesbians made a life at Berkeley a hundred years ago.

"But I can't tell you for sure," he says, "because they didn't leave a story."

Future generations of "gay bears" will have a far richer record of their past, thanks to Benemann's oral history project and his efforts as adjunct curator of Bancroft Library's Sexual Orientation and Social Conflict Collection -- an unusual archive documenting both gay/lesbian and right-wing responses to "hot-button" issues like religion, children and politics.

Materials collected to date come from both the gay Catholic organization Dignity and the Christian right, and from either side of the dispute between the city of San Francisco and United Airlines over domestic partner benefits.

The former head of cataloging at the Bancroft, Benemann decided to offer his expertise, pro bono, to enhance the campus's record of gay/lesbian history, because he felt it wasn't getting the attention it deserved.

In the Library's Social Protest Collection, he recalls, "I found an issue of 'The Ladder' (the magazine of the early lesbian organization Daughters of Bilitis) and one copy of "The Mayor of Castro Street," a biography of Harvey Milk. That was the gay/lesbian collection!"

Today, however, accounts of gays and lesbians, recorded by Benemann, live in the University Archives' Gay Bears! collection.

Several of the oral history subjects recall an anthropology professor who was forced to resign in the late 1950s after being solicited by an undercover cop in a men's bathroom in Oakland.

Others endured more subtle pressures, from social isolation to the conviction that their lives were destined to be unhappy.

"Isolation from knowledge about gayness was probably one of the most salient aspects of that period for gays and lesbians," said Mildred Dickemann, who earned her doctorate at Berkeley in 1958.

Alumni from the '40s, '50s and '60s recall the Bancroft Avenue smoke shop that sold lesbian pulp novels; gay-friendly social groups in International House and the Cal Band; colorful local women, rumored to be lesbian, such as a Ghirardelli chocolate heiress who lived in the Berkeley Hills and wore masculine attire; and student forays to San Francisco and Oakland, where self-expression thrived at bars like the Black Cat and the White Horse Inn.

To bring the record up to date, Benemann has also interviewed members of the Class of 2001 who have reclaimed the former epithet "queer." These students, he notes, inhabit a "totally different planet" than the one he entered in 1969.

"I walked around campus for six months (hoping to find other gay men)," recalls Benemann. "So when I look up in Sproul Plaza, and see 'Queer Resource Center' (in a window of the student center), my heart still thumps a little."


Contributions sought for fall history exhibit at Doe

The Library and the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society of Northern California are collaborating on a history exhibit, "The Personal Was Political: Gay Liberation and Lesbian Feminism at Berkeley in the 1970s," for display in Doe Library this fall. The show will focus on the Berkeley campus and the East Bay. The organizers welcome contributions from those who participated in the movement during the '70s. Contact William Benemann at (benemann@



June 7 - July 11, 2000 (Volume 28, Number 34)
Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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