Predating the Stonewall Riots, Bucks County Made an Early Stand for LGBTQ+ Rights

BCCC protest gay rights 1968
Image via The BCCC County Collegian at The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The May 1968 student walkout at Bucks County Community College, sparked by the cancellation of a program featuring a homosexual speaker.

Thirteen months before the June 1969 Stonewall riots erupted in Greenwich Village, a now-virtually-forgotten gay-rights protest unfolded at Bucks County Community College (BCCC). The May 1968 student demonstration was covered by Kevin Riordan for The Philadelphia Inquirer

The student-walkout began when a speaker presentation was cancelled. 

BCCC had scheduled a lecture from a “practicing homosexual.” When news of the presentation reached the public, more than 100 complaints were lodged against it. 

The school’s then-president, Charles E. Rollins was eager to sidestep the controversy. He therefore cancelled the talk just hours before its start time. 

Ralph Sassi, 73, was student government president at the time. When he and his organization were originally pitched the session, he saw no reason not to approve. 

In light of the cancellation, however, he joined the protest, objecting to the administrative sanction of a viewpoint he felt was worth hearing. “I thought the best way was for everyone to be able to speak, and to listen,” said Sassi. 

Barry Loveland, coordinator of the LGBT Center Central PA History Project, sees a wider context to this long-ago stand.  

“At other campuses and colleges around the state you started seeing activity a year or two after Stonewall,” he said. “The fact that Bucks County College students rebelled after a gay activist — most of whom had likely never heard of him before — was barred from speaking at their picturesque suburban campus was pretty amazing.” 

More on this historical student action is at The Philadelphia Inquirer. 

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