Authored by Kathleen Daly
At a time when there was a great deal of political and cultural turmoil there was one local New York City man who was a vocal activist for gay rights. Affiliation of any kind with a group like the National Gay Task Force was polarizing for some, especially when this was a time when the American Psychiatric Association, or APA, still had homosexuality classified as a mental illness. In the publication of the original Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, in 1952, as well as in the second version, “individuals were labeled sick because they did not fit in, not necessarily because they felt afflicted, in pain, or under any kind of mental stress” (Dunn 2017, 183). The stigma that homosexuals had to live under was codified under the guidelines of mental health diagnoses and it took a great deal of fighting back from many groups inside the APA, and a few outside as well, to get those definitions removed finally in late 1973. Other legal definitions and laws changing, such as the case of 1964’s Civil Rights Act and the fallout within the homosexual community (Bruce 2016, 46-47) gave rise to many people within it wishing to take further action.
William Bordeau became a literal card-carrying member of the National Gay Task Force, as it was known then, in the middle of the 1970’s. Bill, as he was known to many, was a theater teacher at Suffolk County Community College and then at Marymount Manhattan College. His titles included “design consultant,” “Assistant Professor of Communication Arts,” and “Professor of Theater” through his years of teaching, and his collections of materials from those years show a plethora of school performances as well as from his own pursuits in the theater arts.
There has been a seemingly long history of connection between homosexuality and the theater, as “…theater is one of the most provocative spaces that might be claimed for a homosexual presence” (Sinfield 1991, 57). Everyone is allowed in a theater, and one can pretend to the highest degree, and in fact encouraged. It is intrinsically an inclusive environment, whereas outside of the theater at the time was less so. It was a time of protest in the 1960s and 1970s, and Bill Bordeau was no stranger to lending his voice to activism of any kind, much like other young homosexual men and women of his time (Hillman 2011, 157).
The professor of theater and communication arts amassed a collection of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Plus, or LGBTQ+ history from the 1960s and 1970s, as well. During a time when there was a definite pattern of being opposed to hiring homosexuals in certain professions or occupations (Hewitt 1995, 472) having a card as Bill did would have been a major activist move, certainly. This card, and the letter with it, while not physically large, are a huge sign to anyone of the time that the man who carried it was willing to stand up for what he believed in at a time when people were actively trying to quiet people like him down.
Bruce, Katherine McFarland. 2016. Pride Parades: How a Parade Changed the World. NYU
Hewitt, Christopher. 1995. “The Socioeconomic Position of Gay Men: A Review of the
Evidence.” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology 54 (4): 461–79.
Hillman, Betty Luther. 2011. “‘The Most Profoundly Revolutionary Act a Homosexual Can
Engage in’: Drag and the Politics of Gender Presentation in the San Francisco Gay
Liberation Movement, 1964–1972.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 20 (1): 153–81.
Jensen, Richard J., ed. 2017. Social Controversy and Public Address in the 1960s and Early
1970s: A Rhetorical History of the United States, Vol. IX. Michigan State University
Sinfield, Alan. 1991. “Private Lives/Public Theater: Noel Coward and the Politics of
Homosexual Representation.” Representations, no. 36 (October): 43–63.