Proseminar in Homophile Studies

Louis Crompton portrait

Louis Crompton in his office in 1985 holding his recently published book.

Louis Crompton and Luis Diaz-Perdomo.

Louis Crompton with his husband Luis Diaz-Perdomo.

Sam Guido, History 250: The Historian Craft

The 20th Century was a time of change for the United States, especially social change. Many groups of people who had historically been marginalized were demanding that their rights be protected. Nebraska is not a state generally known for being progressive, but the state did play in various Civil Rights Movements. In the Fall 1970 semester, from September 1970 to January 1971, there was a gay studies course taught at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It was one of the first gay studies courses in the nation. The course reflected how views of homosexuality were changing in the United States and the controversy surrounding it raised a debate about academic freedom.

The course was designed and proposed by Professor Louis Crompton, who worked in the English Department. Crompton received his master’s in Mathematics at the University of Toronto, and his Ph.D. in English at the University of Chicago. He was an expert on the works of playwright George Bernard Shaw, but also wrote about the history of homosexuality. He was gay and was an activist for gay rights. Crompton was a member of the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations (NACHO), and was the chairman of their Religious Committee and Platform Committee. He became the first advisor for the Gay Action Group on the UNL campus, the RSO that later became known as Spectrum UNL. [1]

There were a lot of factors that led to Crompton proposing this class at the time he did, as opinions about homosexuality were changing and gay people were becoming more visible. The initial proposal for the class was sent to, Dean Walter Bruning, the Chairman of the Curriculum Committee, on in November 1969. [2] Earlier that year in June, the Stonewall riots in New York had drawn national attention to the issue of gay rights. The Gay Liberation Movement was starting to form, gaining inspiration from the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-War Movement. On October 10, 1969, the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH)’s Taskforce on Homosexuality released a report recommending, among other things, that there be more education about homosexuality. [3] According to Louis Crompton, there were at least sixty college communities that had gay student organizations in 1970. [4] Crompton saw that education about homosexuality was badly needed and that there was a growing demand for it, and believed that he was qualified to teach about homosexuality because of his extensive research in the field. Some sources claim that is was only the second gay studies course in the United States. [5] However, a list compiled by Crompton shows that there were at least four prior to his. [6] Regardless, his decision to propose this course was impressive, because he could have jeopardized his entire career by drawing undue attention to the University.

Crompton’s course was interdisciplinary and cross listed as English/Sociology/Anthropology 271. It could be taken by Juniors, Seniors, and grad students. There were thirty-four students who took it that semester, seventeen men and seventeen women. Most of them were Anthropology and Sociology majors [7]. The average age of students taking the course was about 23 years old [8]. The title of the class was Proseminar in Homophile Studies and was taught by three professors: Crompton, Professor James K. Cole from the Psychology department, and Dr. Louis Martin, who worked in the University Health Center. Crompton was the original coordinator of the class. He wrote the syllabus and topics list, compiled the bibliography, and prepared the tentative schedule for the semester. Thirteen guest lecturers also contributed. Some of those guests were fellow UNL professors, while others were from different universities. Other lecturers were from different fields entirely. One was a former police officer who worked with the Kinsey Institute [9]. According to the syllabus, “the aim is to see the homosexual not simply as a textbook or clinical case but as functioning member of a minority group in American society”[10]. To serve this purpose, it was necessary to provide perspectives from people in many different fields and with different perspectives.

The course went through all the proper University procedures to be approved. The Board of Regents knew that the course would be controversial, and debated the class in closed meetings. They were right, as the course attracted attention before it was even approved. An Omaha World Herald article was written about the class while Board of Regents meetings were still going on. [11] The members eventually unanimously approved the course for the Fall 1970 semester. [12]. A faculty steering committee was formed to evaluate the class and make suggestions for it going forward. The first suggestion made by the committee was to switch control of the class from Louis Crompton to Professor James K. Cole. Cole was given the position of coordinator. According to Crompton in 2004, “This was done for political reasons so a psychologist rather than an English professor would appear to be in charge.” [13] Many Americans, likely including some of the members of the Board of Regents, still believed that homosexuality should be treated like a mental health problem, and thought it strange that the class would be taught by an English professor. It seems Crompton still had a lot of input on the class, as even though Cole was the official coordinator, Crompton’s schedule for the course was followed. [14]

There was a lot of controversy surrounding the class, much of it driven by Terry Carpenter, a Nebraska State Senator from Scottsbluff. He began his crusade against the course as part of a legislative committee that held a hearing about the class. The committee’s purpose was to review Nebraska’s laws about sex offenders. [15] Louis Crompton was one of the people called to speak at that hearing, along with James Cole. He was concerned that he would be ambushed by questions about his personal life and felt the need to consult a lawyer before agreeing to make a statement at the hearing. [16] Unfortunately, it appears that his worries were warranted, as Carpenter asked several invasive questions at the hearing.  According to a student article in The Daily Nebraskan, Carpenter asked James Cole “How many positions are there?” That article also points out that Carpenter clearly had an agenda going into the hearing, and did not even attempt to appear objective throughout it. According to the author, the Senator had a “dull mind” and was caught in “a web of contradictions, malice, and nonsense.” [17] Despite the way he came across in the initial hearing, the Senator was still able continue and draw even more attention to the controversy.

Carpenter’s questions reveal some misconceptions that people had about the course, misconceptions that he helped to spread. Some people were worried that the course was not being taught in an objective way, and there was some confusion about the name of the course. Some critics of the course thought that the “pro” in Proseminar meant that the class was in favor of homosexuality. Peter Magrath felt the need to clarify the meaning of proseminar and emphasized that the class was taught from an objective perspective, and that “pro” simply indicated the type of seminar. [18] Another misconception about the class was that it was teaching students how to be gay. Carpenter’s comment about “positions” was not the only time he brought this up. He continued to hold this misconception about the class throughout the rest of his crusade against it.

The Senator’s crusade did not stop at one hearing. In 1971, Carpenter introduced a bill that would have made it illegal to teach about “aberrant sexual behavior in any form” at any public university in Nebraska except the College of Medicine of the University of Nebraska. [19] During his introduction of the bill at the Committee on Public Health and Welfare, Carpenter outright admitted he didn’t know very much about the class, and went on to claim that the Board of Regents also didn’t know anything about the class. Throughout most of the discussion about the bill, James Cole was the one speaking for the course. It made sense for him to handle public relations for the course, as he was formally the coordinator, and it may have also had the unintended effect of protecting Crompton from too much public scrutiny. Cole likely consulted with Crompton often about what he should say to defend the course, and Crompton was able to avoid being in the center of all of the controversy. Carpenter wanted the University to provide a list of all the students in the class so that their parents would know they were taking it. Carpenter hadn’t read the syllabus for the course, and he seemed to believe that the schedule for the course was being kept secret by the University and the instructors. In fact, the detailed schedule for the course had been provided to the Board of Regents, and they had reviewed the list of topics prior to approving the course. Much of what Carpenter said seemed to be attacking the University, as well. He sabotaged the elections for the Board of Regents, so that two of the members involved in the decision to allow the course were not re-elected. He bragged about this when introducing his bill, saying that he was “egotistical” enough to believe that that was because of his influence. [20] Carpenter was trying to make the discussion surrounding his bill all about morality and the automatic disgust most people had when the topic of homosexuality was raised. Some of his rhetoric implied that there was something wrong with any senator who did not vote for his bill, and that any senator who voted against his bill must be in favor of homosexuality.

There were a lot of arguments used to discredit Carpenter’s bill. The way the bill was written it was very broad and could have made it illegal to even mention homosexuality or other “aberrant sexual behavior” in law or psychology classes. [21] It was also criticized for infringing on the rights of the University, and on the rights of the students. Most of the arguments against Carpenter’s bill focused more on academic freedom than on the actual topic of the course. By not giving into Carpenter’s insistence that the debate be about morality, opponents of the bill were able to give other senators another reason to vote against the bill. In a speech, Peter Magrath defended the topic of the course and the methods the instructors used. He did connect the class to the broader issue of academic freedom. [22] Carpenter was, of course, belligerent during the legislative debate about his bill. When another senator started asking him questions about the scope of his bill, Carpenter belligerently responded, “Can the Senator describe what he thinks a homosexual is? What do they do?” On April 22, 1971, Carpenter’s bill was indefinitely postponed, with seventeen senators voting to postpone, fifteen senators voting not to postpone, and seven senators abstaining. [23]

In the aftermath of the semester, the class was discontinued and replaced by a class with a broader focus on human sexuality. James Cole said that the decision not to continue the class had nothing to with the controversy surrounding it. While he had been teaching the proseminar, he realized that the students didn’t have a good base of knowledge about human sexuality that would have helped them put what they were learning into context. [24] Some testimony from the Committee on Public Health and Welfare contradicts that, however. Ed Schwartzkopf, a member of the Board of Regents, spoke in defense of their decision to allow the course. During his testimony, he said of the faculty “we really forced them into an untenable position” and “we are really forcing them to do this against their will.” [25] It seems as if Cole’s decision to discontinue the class about homosexuality may not have been entirely voluntary. In light of the decision to change the focus of the course, the English Department stopped cross listing the class, and Louis Crompton stepped down from teaching it. However, it seems as if by 1978, after the controversy died down, Crompton was teaching a similar class with a Psychology professor. According to a Daily Nebraskan article (that erroneously states that the original controversy occurred in 1972, rather than 1970-1971), this course was listed as PSYC 471, cross listed in Sociology and Human Development, and titled Proseminar in Human Sexuality. [26]

The significance of the course is undeniable, and it was decades ahead of its time. Nebraska’s sodomy laws were not repealed until 1978, eight years after Crompton taught this course. Crompton was able start a dialogue about the class with people at other universities, including Evelyn Hooker, who was instrumental in writing the NIMH report that called for more education about homosexuality. He also corresponded with other members of NIMH’s Task Force and with some student groups. Crompton died in 2009, survived by his partner (eventually husband) of over forty years, Dr. Luis Diaz-Perdomo, also a former UNL faculty member. The LGBTQA+ Resource Center at UNL has a Louis Crompton/Luis Diaz-Perdomo Scholarship intended to help students who are active in the queer community. [27]

The course reflected how opinions of homosexuality were changing and became part of a debate about academic freedom. Gay people were starting to be seen as a minority group, rather than a group of people that needed medical treatment or to be “cured.” Today, students at UNL can get a minor in LGBTQA+/Sexuality Studies through the Women’s and Gender Studies Department. Some of the classes in that minor are specifically about gay literature, which Crompton would surely appreciate. There is a LGBTQA+ Resource Center in the Nebraska Union on City Campus. That a pioneer in the development of gay studies was a faculty member at this University, is something that Nebraskans and the University should be proud of.


  1. “Crompton/Diaz-Perdomo Scholarship,” University of Nebraska-Lincoln, accessed November 13, 2018,
  2. Correspondence from Louis Crompton to Dean Walter Bruning, November 1969, RG 12-10-55, Louis Crompton Papers, Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
  3. U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Public Health Service, Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute of Mental Health Task Force on Homosexuality: Final Report and Background Papers edited by John H. Livingood (Maryland, 1976), 4-5,
  4. Statement to Legislative Committee on Proseminar in Homophile Studies by Louis Crompton, 29 October 1970, RG 12-10-55, Louis Crompton Papers, A&SC, UNL.
  5. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, “Crompton/Diaz-Perdomo Scholarship.”
  6. Courses on Homosexuality in American Universities and Colleges, RG 12-10-55, Louis Crompton Papers, A&SC, UNL.
  7. Registration in Homophile Studies, RG 12-10-55, Louis Crompton, Papers, A&SC, UNL.
  8. Speech to the Experiment Station and Extension Conference by Peter Magrath, “Our Teaching Approach to People,” 5 November 1970, RG 12-10-55, Louis Crompton Papers, A&SC, UNL.
  9. Correspondence from Louis Crompton to Evelyn Hooker, 26 May 1971, RG 12-10-55, Louis Crompton Papers, A&SC, UNL.
  10. Course syllabus, Fall 1970, RG 12-10-55, Louis Crompton Papers, A&SC, UNL.
  11. Don Pieper, “Regent Objects to Prof: Homosexual Course ‘Should Seek Cure,’” Omaha World-Herald, April 12, 1970.
  12. Minutes of Committee on Public Health and Welfare, 23 February 1971, RG 12-10-55, Louis Crompton Papers, A&SC, UNL.
  13. Correspondence from James K. Cole to the Homophile Steering Committee, 30 July 1970, RG 12-10-55, Louis Crompton Papers, A&SC, UNL.
  14. Correspondence from Louis Crompton to Evelyn Hooker, 26 May 1971.
  15. Correspondence from Jack W. Rodgers to Louis Crompton, 15 October 1970, RG 12-10-55, Louis Crompton Papers, A&SC, UNL.
  16. Correspondence from Patrick W. Healey to Louis Crompton, 19 October 1970, RG 12-10-55, Louis Crompton Papers, A&SC, UNL.
  17. “Trick or treat…  a real spook,” The Daily Nebraskan, October 30, 1970.
  18. Speech to the Experiment Station and Extension Conference by Peter Magrath, “Our Teaching Approach to People.”
  19. LB 443 introduced by Terry Carpenter, first read 27 January 1971, RG 12-10-55, Louis Crompton Papers, A&SC, UNL.
  20. Minutes of Committee on Public Health and Welfare, 23 February 1971.
  21. LB 443, 27 January 1971.
  22. Speech to the Experiment Station and Extension Conference by Peter Magrath, “Our Teaching Approach to People.”
  23. Legislative Debate on LB 443, 22 April 1971, RG 12-10-55, Louis Crompton Papers, A&SC, UNL.
  24. Background to the Proposed Revision of the Proseminar on Homophile Studies by James K. Cole, RG 12-10-55, Louis Crompton Papers, A&SC, UNL.
  25. Minutes of Committee on Public Health and Welfare, 23 February 1971.
  26. Deb Emery, “Controversy over course cools down,” The Daily Nebraskan, March 15, 1978.
  27. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, “Crompton/Diaz-Perdomo Scholarship.”


  • Emery, Deb. “Controversy over course cools down.” The Daily Nebraskan, March 15, 1978.
  • U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Public Health Service. Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration. National Institute of Mental Health. National Institute of Mental Health Task Force on Homosexuality: Final Report and Background Papers edited byJohn M. Livingood. Maryland, 1976.
  • Louis Crompton Papers, RG 12-10-55. Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
  • Pieper, Don. “Regent Objects to Prof: Homosexual Course ‘Should Seek Cure,’” Omaha World-Herald, April 12, 1970.
  • “Trick or treat…  a real spook.” The Daily Nebraskan, October 30, 1970.
  • University Communications. Louis Crompton. 1985. RG 42-12-02. University Communications Photo Collection. Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Crompton/Diaz-Perdomo Scholarship.” Accessed November 13, 2018.
Proseminar in Homophile Studies