In 1966, Columbia University became the first collegiate institution in the United States, and possibly the first in the world, with an LGBT student group. In the fall of that year, sophomore Robert Martin (using the pseudonym Stephen Donaldson) founded the Student Homophile League following a meeting with Columbia representatives, the residence halls of Barnard College, religious advisers, and two of the most important national leaders for gay and lesbian rights, Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings. The small student group had the support of the university chaplain and, thus, gained space in Earl Hall. The university granted the group a charter in April 1967 with the stipulation that it not organize social events. A subsequent front page article in the New York Times resulted in outrage from hundreds of alumni; one wrote “Tolerance has its limits. Let the pansies go elsewhere.”
By 1970, Columbia’s gay student group had become the more activist Gay People at Columbia-Barnard, which sought to “present as complete a view as possible of the contemporary gay experience: socially, educationally and politically.” The group provided social services and held “rap sessions” in the dormitories to discuss gay issues. Its most popular activity was monthly Friday-night dances, beginning in 1970, held on the second floor of Earl Hall, which welcomed the entire college-age gay community of New York. This popular event continued until at least the early 1980s here. The group still exists as the Columbia Queer Alliance (CQA) and hosts “First Friday” dance events in Alfred Lerner Hall.
In 1971, gay students, led by Morty Manford (later the head of the Gay Activists Alliance and son of PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford), requested space for a gay lounge. Although denied permission by the university, the group took over an unused space in the basement of the Furnald Hall dormitory. The lounge eventually was recognized by the university and the space is still in use, now known as the Stephen Donaldson Queer Lounge.