For almost thirty years Fred Fejes has been teaching courses on LGBT Studies at Florida Atlantic University. Fejes came to FAU in 1985, hired as an associate professor in the Department of Communications to teach courses in media studies, theory and history.
Next year he offered the course “Gays in the Media.” It was the first course taught at a FAU with an explicit LGBT title and content.
“Both the title and the course reflected the times,” Fejes recalled. “Twelve students signed up. Three of them asked to enroll in the class as an independent study — that way the title did not appear on their transcripts.”
The course content consisted of “gay history,” ”theories” of sexual identity, homophobia and the dynamics of “coming out,” all organized around a critical viewing and discussion of various media representations of homosexuals.
Students were asked to sign a waiver at the beginning of the class as some of the material shown (e.g. two men kissing) could be found offensive. Among the movies viewed were “Making Love,” “Boys in the Band” and “Parting Glances.” The class was judged a success and some of the students even went on to organize the FAU gay student group Lambda United (Fejes was the first faculty advisor).
Over the next few years the course was repeated, its content, name and focus evolving to reflect the growth and development of the LGBT movement When “Paris is Burning” came out students researched the history of drag and transgender identity and wrote a paper on it.
Another year for their class project two students did a presentation on the history and significance of gay porn and compiled a video of the genre’s important moments.
“I had all the students again sign a waiver before the presentation, ” Fejes said.
In 1989 he also developed and taught another course “AIDS and American Society” to both help in the University’s effort in AIDS education but to also critically explore how the American society, government and media had responded to the epidemic. Among the viewings were the TV special “An Early Frost,” “Buddies,” and “Longtime Companions.” CNN, then a fledging cable news operation, bought in its camera to film a segment on what it called the “first college course on AIDS.”
Almost thirty years later, this fall, he will again be teaching an LGBT related class, this time called “Introduction to LGBTQ Studies.” It will be offered part of FAU’s Program in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, the first time the course will be listed as such in the University’s schedule. It is meant to provide a broad and detailed exploration of current social, cultural and political condition sexual and gender identities.
Reflecting on how the changes in the LGBT community and movement have been reflected in the course, Fejes noted “Obviously, with all of the development and new challenges, particularly over the last five years, I had to revise the class substantially.”
He notes that we can now talk about different “generations” in the LGBT community.
“People are typically not born into an LGBTQ family, they way they are into a Cuban, Italian, Jewish or other kind of family. How they come into awareness and learn about their sexual or transgender identity depends on the larger environment and social resources around them. People who came into awareness prior to 1969 faced a very hostile and condemning environment with few resources for support.”
In the 1970s and early 1980s there was gay liberation for men and lesbian/feminism for women, offering support and a community. Transgender identity, however, was very marginalized. In the 1980s and 1990s the presence of AIDS powerfully shaped the LGBT community and experience.
“Today we have a generation of people coming into awareness of their LGBTQ identity in an environment that, in many ways is far more supportive but also having its own major challenges.”
One of the big differences is the emergence of the internet and the digital media universe.
“Forty years ago a person learned about their LGBTQ identity through personal contact or reading something. Today more often the first knowledge comes from going on-line.”
While the political and legal victories, the growth of the transgender movement and emergence of the “gay market” are very encouraging, he notes we are only beginning to see what the “blowback” will look like.
“We are nowhere near ‘over the rainbow.’ In the eight years after Stonewall in 1969 there were numerous successes for gay rights activists. Then came 1977, Miami and Anita Bryant. Fifty years after the major advances in civil rights and women’s rights, racism and sexism are still very much part of our lives. There is little reason to suspect that cis-heterosexim will be any different. “
He notes that other issues are also emerging such as LGBTQ families. “Prior to same sex marriage and parents, it was easy to ignore such families. Now such invisibility is thankfully gone.”
Another is aging in the LGBT community.
“Aging presents a whole different take on the discussion of sexual and gender identity and desire that so far has not been given serious consideration in LGBTQ Studies. The Amazon series Transparent gives, I think, the first sustained exploration of how time and physical change shape the LGBTQ experience.”
The course will be offered on Tuesdays and Thursday 12:30 to 2 p.m. on the FAU Boca Raton campus. It is open to students from all majors and students from Palm Beach State and Broward College can enroll and receive transfer credit with their colleges.