Billie Jean King.

Tennis star and equality advocate Billie Jean King to headline speaker series marking 40 years of LGBTQ activism at VCU

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Billie Jean King, a tennis superstar and pioneer for equality and the advancement of women and LGBTQ people, will headline a speaker series at Virginia Commonwealth University this fall, celebrating 40 years of LGBTQ activism at the university.

The speaker series, organized by the Humanities Research Center in the College of Humanities and Sciences, marks 40 years since VCU’s first LGBTQ student group, the Gay Alliance of Students, won official legal recognition as a student group after a two-year legal struggle.

Billie Jean King’s story is very moving and inspiring.

The series will explore the 1974–76 struggle at VCU, will put that local history into a broader national context with a talk by acclaimed San Francisco State University historian Marc Stein, Ph.D., and will conclude with a keynote address by King.

“Billie Jean King will be talking about our journey over the past several decades toward inclusion and equality in sports and society,” said Richard Godbeer, Ph.D., director of the Humanities Research Center and a professor in the Department of History. “I think it always helps when talking about issues of social justice to make the story personal instead of speaking only in generalities. Billie Jean King’s story is very moving and inspiring. Here is a hugely talented and admired athlete who lost all her endorsements and sponsorships overnight when she was outed in 1981, which is not that long ago.

“Even as we continue to work for greater inclusion and equality, it is easy to forget or take for granted the enormous journey that we have all taken together over the past few decades and the courage of advocates like Billie Jean King who have worked so hard to make progress possible,” Godbeer said. “The Humanities Research Center at VCU aims to inform and engage a broad audience that includes residents of Richmond and surrounding communities, as well as students, staff and faculty at the university. I hope that people from around Richmond will come to hear Billie Jean King talk about her experiences and broad issues of social justice that affect us all.”

The speaker series is co-sponsored by VCU’s Office of the President, the Division for Inclusive Excellence, the Office of the Vice President for Health Sciences, the Division of Student AffairsVCU AthleticsVCU Libraries, the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's StudiesVCU Alumni Rainbow RamsEquity and Access Services and Equality VCU.

All events will be free and open to the public.

The speaker series, Godbeer said, arrives at a time of challenging debate in the U.S. and elsewhere over issues of inclusion and social justice that will have a profound impact on the kind of world that we live in over the coming decades.

“One of our roles as a university is to help students become well-informed about the history that has brought us to the present so that they can become well-informed participants in ongoing conversations about how we relate to each other in a pluralistic 21st-century society,” he said. “We cannot understand our present or plan effectively for the future without understanding how we got here. This is an excellent example of how the humanities has practical relevance and can enrich crucial debates about the kind of society we want to live in, debates that are often under-informed. I hope that this speaker series will prompt informed, constructive conversation and that people will go away thinking and talking about these issues.”


“Trials and Triumphs, 1974–76: The Struggle for Recognition of VCU’s first Gay Student Group” 

Tuesday, Oct. 4, noon
Cabell Library Lecture Hall, 901 Park Ave.

Current VCU faculty and students who have been exploring this dramatic episode will tell the story of what prompted a lawsuit against VCU’s Board of Visitors, and the twists and turns leading to eventual victory in 1976. A panel of alumni, including the first two spokespeople for the Gay Alliance of Students, will then share their memories of that struggle and of life for LGBTQ students in the ’70s.

This event will be followed by a lunch reception and then the 2016 Burnside/Watstein LGBTQ Awards Ceremony at 3 p.m.


“Students, Sodomy, and the State: LGBT Campus Struggles in the 1970s”

Marc Stein, Ph.D.
Marc Stein, Ph.D.

Marc Stein, Ph.D., the Jamie and Phyllis Pasker Professor of History, San Francisco State University
Thursday, Oct. 13, 4 p.m.
Richmond Salons I and II
University Student Commons, 907 Floyd Ave.


“A Conversation with Billie Jean King”

Thursday, Oct. 27, 6 p.m.
VCU Siegel Center
1200 W. Broad St.