Then & Now: LGBTQIA+ Activism at GW

“Then and Now” is an occasional series featuring the ways the George Washington University has evolved and the stability of its core mission during its 200-year history. 


Pride Month is celebrated every June in tribute to those involved in the 1969 Stonewall Riots, which helped spark the gay liberation movement and the 20th-century fight for LGBTQIA+ rights in the United States. 

At the George Washington University, LGBTQIA+ activism reaches back decades. 

Here is a selection of highlights of gay activism at GW through the years:

Rhinestone Review Cover


First page of Rhinestone Report with cast and set list



Page in the Rhinestone Report listing the production staff


Page in the Rhinestone Report with a letter about Pride Week from the D.C. Gay Pride Commission





In October 1971, the GW Gay Liberation Alliance was founded by a small group of students. The next month, it was recognized by the university as the Gay People’s Alliance (GPA). After some time, the organization lapsed but revived in 1976, briefly under the name Gay Students of GW before reverting back to GPA.


Hatchet article by Allan Vick from 1971 titled "Understand the Gay"



On Oct. 14, 1971, GPA’s founder Allan Vick told the Hatchet that the goal of the club was to help gay students and help straight students in “breaking the stereotyped image of gay life.”



Gay and lesbian issues were featured often in the Hatchet throughout the 1970s.


Hatchet article about a discussion between the GPA and task force



A 1978 article in the Hatchet explored the problems faced by lesbian students on campus.


Article about a speaker and GPA discussing homosexuality



A 1979 article detailed the visit of Thomas Ziebold, a doctor at D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Clinic, where he spoke about the myths surrounding homosexuality to a group of GW students participating in the health center’s course on human sexuality.


Letters to the editor about rights being ignored



A 1978 letter to the editor pushed for more inclusion of gay and lesbian students in the paper’s articles about residence hall life and dating.



In the early years, GPA sponsored Valentine’s Day dances, drag shows and a 1979 lecture by Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, the first openly gay service member to purposely out himself to the military to fight its ban on gays. By 1984, there were 350 members of GPA, made up of students, alumni and staff, making it the largest gay student organization in the D.C. area.


Photos from GPA's Halloween party in 1971

More than 400 people attended GPA’s Halloween party. From the GPA scrapbook 1971-1972.


Photos from the Debutante Drag Ball

Debutante Drag Ball. GPA scrapbook 1971-1972.



A spread from the Cherry Tree of social organizations, including a visit from former Air Force Sgt. Leonard Matlovich

In 1979, former Air Force Sgt. Leonard Matlovich spoke to GW students about his discharge from the armed service and his political activities.


A poster for a valentine's day party

Valentine’s Day Party Poster, 1987.




In the mid-1980s, as the HIV/AIDS crisis continued in the D.C. region, GW faculty and students were among those working with the gay and lesbian community to generate awareness and education about the disease. In 1983, GW hosted D.C.’s first AIDS forum in Lisner Auditorium. 


An op-ed about the importance of not ignoring the AIDS crisis

One 1985 op-ed on HIV/AIDS called out anti-gay community members who attempted to remove themselves from the HIV epidemic and refused to support the funding of HIV/AIDS research.




Around 1986, GPA became the Lesbian and Gay People’s Alliance (LGPA).


Letter about the GPA's name change

Name change letter.



Photo of the Gay People's Alliance

GPA, 1980.


Group photo of LGPA

LGPA, 1987.


Photo of three LGPA members

LGPA group shot.


Cherry Tree Spread about the LGPA

Page about group and their activities for the year.




GW’s gay and lesbian student groups actively combatted misconceptions about the link between HIV/AIDS and the gay community and raised money for programs helping people with the disease, such as the D.C. Whitman-Walker Clinic. In 1997 GW Pride held an “Alumni Gayla” with special guests Candace Gingrich, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and D.C. activist Franklin Kameny.


Flyer announcing the alumni gayla in 1997

Alumni Gayla 1997.


Cherry Tree Spread "GW Cares about AIDS" with images of related student activities

GW Cares About AIDS.



Spread from the Cherry Tree about the annual aids walk



Annual AIDS Walk, 1998.


Cherry Tree spread about the annual aids walk




Annual AIDS Walk, 2000.

Cherry tree spread about the annual aids walk



Annual AIDS Walk, 2001.


Cherry Tree spread about the annual aids walk



Annual AIDS Walk, 2002.


Cherry Tree spread about annual aids walk



Annual AIDS Walk, 2003.


Cherry Tree spread including a feature on GW Pride



GW Pride Org Feature, mentions HIV/AIDS drag show fundraiser.



In the mid-90s, LGPA became known as the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Alliance. Transgender was added to the name in 2002. In 2002, the LGBT Alliance decided on the neutral and inclusive name of GW Pride, which had been the club’s nickname since about 1999. Other LBGT clubs also began to emerge, and many of them helped to lead the charge on GW’s 1991 change to its non-discrimination policy to include “sexual orientation.”


Flyer for the Halloween Bash in 1997

GPA’s Halloween events often attracted large crowds from students all over the D.C. area.


Cherry Tree spread showing photos of the Halloween Bash

Halloween Bash ‘97.



Flyer announcing National Coming Out Day event



National Coming Out Day Poster 1997.


Photos of student groups in the Cherry Tree, including GW pride



GW Pride, 2000.


Cherry Tree Spread about the out crowd



Out Crowd, which formed in 2000 as a support group for LGBT students who were just coming out, eventually expanded its programing to become a major political and social campus organization.


Cherry Tree spread featuring GW Pride



GW Pride.


Publication including content on the anniversary of GW Pride



GW Pride’s 35th Anniversary.


Cherry Tree spread showing Allied in Pride group



Allied in Pride, 2007.



Established in 1994, the AIDS and Cancer Specimen Resource (ACSR), a cooperative agreement with the National Cancer Institute, has the largest collection of annotated HIV malignancy specimens globally available to qualified researchers studying HIV and HIV-associated cancers. Overseen by principal investigators from GW and the University of California, San Francisco, and housed within the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, the ACSR received in 2019 one of GW’s largest research grants—$22 million from the National Institutes of Health—to continue its cutting-edge research. 

GW continued its long history of HIV/AIDS research in 2005 when it provided the seed money to create the HIV/AIDS Institute, led by Alan E. Greenberg, professor and chair of the department of epidemiology at the Milken Institute School of Public Health. Now known as the District of Columbia Center for AIDS Research (DC CFAR), the institute became one of 19 NIH-funded Centers for AIDS Research (CFARs) in the United States, a network that supports research aimed at reducing the burden of HIV domestically and globally.

In 2014, GW researchers at the Milken Institute School of Public Health and the Rodham Institute in SMHS received a $23.8 million grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to study a new healthcare model that aims to improve HIV prevention and care while lowering healthcare costs in D.C. 

The university also has long embraced Pride celebrations and welcomed LGBTQIA+ activists and guests to discuss LGBTQIA+ issues.


Kye Allums, the first openly transgender NCAA Division I college athlete, celebrates commencement with fellow GW grads

Alumnus Kye Allums (left), B.A. ’11, a former basketball player on GW’s women’s team became the first openly transgender NCAA Division I college athlete when he came out as a trans man in 2010.


Laverne Cox speaking at podium

First openly transgender Emmy-award nominee Laverne Cox encourages GW students to embrace their complex identities. (Photo courtesy of GW Today)



Dr. Anthony Fauci speaking to a full room

In 2015, Anthony S. Fauci, the director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, attended the launch of DC CFAR. (Photo courtesy of DC CFAR)


Brigadier General Tammy Smith speaking at conference

Brigadier General Tammy Smith, the first openly gay senior Army Reserve officer was keynote speaker for the 2016 Women Leadership Conference. (Photo by: Logan Werlinger/GW Today)



Tan France speaking into a microphone

Tan France, star of the Netflix show "Queer Eye," visited GW in 2019. (Photo by: William Atkins/GW Today)


Paola Ramos speaking at Latinx Heritage Celebration.

Paola Ramos, host of VICE’s “LatinX” and speaker with Lesbians Who Tech, spoke at GW’s 2019 Latinx Heritage Celebration. (Photo by: Sydney Elle Gray/GW Today)



Discussion between two people on stage at Diversity Summit

MJ Rodriguez (l) sat down with Drew Amstutz, Student Association vice president for public affairs, to discuss living boldly at the fifth annual Diversity Summit in 2019. (Photo by: Sydney Elle Gray/GW Today)


Stephen Forssell, founding director of the LGBT Health Policy and Practice Program, speaks at the GLMA Annual Conference on LGBTQ Health.

In 2019, GW’s LGBT Health Policy and Practice Program was recognized for its impact on improving health outcomes for LGBTQ individuals with a GLMA Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality Achievement Award.



Rainbow cupcakes at an event celebrating Pride

(Photos by William Atkins/GW Today).


Panel at the Log Cabin Forum

GW College Republicans invited Log Cabin Republicans and LGBT conservatives to talk about what it means to be gay and conservative. (Photo by: Harrison Jones/GW Today)



Unless otherwise noted, historic images courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center of the George Washington University Libraries. This history was compiled by GW Today writer Tatyana Hopkins and researched by Stephanie Mihalik, senior special collections associate for university archives, and Brigette Kamsler, university archivist.