GLBT group active and expanding at Maryville College

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In the fall of 2002 a group of students redefined what it means to be in the closet in Maryville, Tenn.

Maryville College, located in the heart of Maryville is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the South. The privately owned college strives to be a force in changing students’ lives by promoting growth and liberation. The college offers an extensive curriculum focusing on studies in humanities, sciences, and the arts.

Along with the focus on liberal education, the college has a voluntary association with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The relationship between the church and Maryville College encourages the students to seek out wisdom, discover truth, and to become a loving person. The combination of the liberal curriculum and the positive relationship with the church provided an impetus for the formation of a GLBT group. One did form in 2002, but it met with resistance.

The Campus League of Students for Equal Treatment (CLOSET) is the GLBT group at Maryville College. CLOSET began as an idea among friends in 2001 and took full force in 2002. The group was formed to provide a place for GLBT students and their allies to come together and discuss issues that concern them.

Scott King, CLOSET member, points out that the group addresses GLBT concerns on campus.

"[Our concerns include] sexuality, gender, politics, religion, health, family, and community. [We] also wanted a safe place to discuss issues of harassment that have happened on campus, and a venue to address these issues to the administration," explains King.

In 2002 CLOSET went through the process of applying for a charter.

"The organization process was hell," says founding member Tony Murchenson. The group had to choose faculty advisors, create a constitution, and promote membership before they could send in the charter application.

Initially the process went smoothly, swiftly gaining approval from the Student Government Association and the Student Life Committee. It met with opposition from the president Dr. Gerald W. Gibson and the Maryville College Board of Directors. Months of debates, petitions, committees, letters, and phone calls ensued until CLOSET was given permission to form. A victory was won, but it came with drawbacks.

The permitted status given to CLOSET was created specifically for the group. Their status gives CLOSET full access to campus facilities, but denies them the right to petition for campus funds and from using Maryville College’s name in any of their publications, merchandises, advertisements, or announcements.

Even with the special permission status, CLOSET has been an active organization in and around the college campus. CLOSET has hosted and participated in such events as safer sex seminars, fundraising drag shows, poetry slams, dances, and forums on gender, sexuality and religion. They have also commemorated World AIDS Day, participated in Knoxville’s National Coming Out Week, and the National Day of Silence.

Four years later the permission status remains the same, but the group continues to be involved, thanks to the legacy of a few students who wanted to make a difference.