The Queer Student Affairs Career of Stephen Lenton, 1970-1980

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Homophobia, LGBTQ students, LGBTQ employees, Stephen Lenton


This article primarily uses document-based historical methods to reconstruct Stephen Lenton’s LGBTQ advocacy while a student affairs professional at Virginia Commonwealth University from 1970 to 1980. Lenton enjoyed significant career success in his first several years at VCU, establishing popular and successful programs and a strong rapport with students. In 1974, Lenton agreed to advise VCU’s first LGBTQ student organization, even as its members sued the institution for refusing to register their group. After the students won the lawsuit, Lenton became a visible and noted advocate for LGBTQ people and became an openly gay man on campus. Yet as Lenton’s visibility increased, his career prospects at VCU diminished. VCU leaders rescinded a promotion, refused to incorporate LGBTQ advocacy into his job description, canceled his popular program, removed him from supervising other student affairs professionals, moved him to a worse office, and lowered his salary increases. These hostilities led Lenton to resign from VCU and leave the student affairs profession. Lenton continued to press VCU to eliminate homophobia as a private citizen, contributing to improved campus climates for LGBTQ people. The years that frame this study represent the beginning of a gradual shift within the student affairs profession from oppressing LGBTQ people to supporting their development, yet this history remains largely untold. Indeed, this article may be the first history centered on a student affairs professional who publicly advocated for LGBTQ rights and openly identified as gay.


This article was published with support from the Open Access Publishing Fund administered through the University of Arkansas Libraries.