The Sexual Freedom League Takes On UT: 1966

Queer History Before Stonewall

By Gary Chason
May 1991; pages 6, 18; Volume 2, No. 6

This is a reprint from The Rag (Aug. 17, 1966), a UT student alternative paper that published from the mid 60s to 1977.


The Sexual Freedom League is dead.

That group - properly Texas Student League for Responsible Sexual Freedom - has dropped its proceedings against the University for reinstatement. Both the Texas Civil Liberties Union and the University consider the case closed since the League co-chairman and scheduled plaintiff, Thomas Maddux, has withdrawn.

However, the full story behind the League's struggle and the ensuing furor on campus has not been told.

For instance, Maddux, who was to have been a teaching assistant in the Spanish Department this fall, was denied his assistantship - coincidental with the Board of Regents' receipt of a letter from Tom and myself requesting a hearing to review the League's dismissal; Tom's name was later withdrawn from the letter, but no reinstatement as a TA was forthcoming. Further, the Admissions office mysteriously failed to notify Tom's draft board that he was in school, which precipitated his being temporarily classified 1-A. Needless to say, Tom Maddux is no longer in Austin.

The purpose of the Sexual Freedom League was to stimulate discussion of the various taboos and archaic laws involving sexual activity. The general policy of the League was that any consensual sex act between adults which did not involve force or physical harm should not be illegal. In the controversial handbill distributed by the League, this policy was outlined as it applied to fornication, sodomy, miscegenation, adultery, and statutory rape.

Dean of Student Life, Edwin Price, censored toe literature initially on the grounds that it was not in good taste. A curious decision when one considers the usual run of posters for Varsity Carnival which yearly escape the snipping scissors of this taste conscious censor. Price's decision was appealed to the Committee on General Student Organizations. The four Faculty-Administration members of the committee held sway over the three student members and the ban was upheld.

Members of the League, however, continued to disseminate their handbills "out of a certain outrage at having our freedom of speech removed." (Texan, Mr. 16, 1966) It was this "tactical blunder" which muddled the legal issue.

Chancellor Ransom, wishing to protect all universities from being "turned into doormats for irresponsible propaganda and willful breach of clearly stated policy" (Texan, Mr. 16, 1966) promptly removed University approval of the 16-day old club in an unprecedented move.

Coincidentally, since coincidences seem to be in order, the Chancellor's maneuver closely followed State Senator Grady Hazlewood's livid condemnation of League members as a "bunch of queer-minded social misfits," and his threat, as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to cut University allocations unless the League was stripped of its Administration approval.

To compound the coincidences, League faculty sponsors Dr. Irwin Spear of the Botany Department and Dr. Robert Montgomery of the English Department announced their disassociation from the group shortly after a telephone campaign to get these two men fired was started by parents of UT students in West Austin.

All Students Need Free Speech

From this turmoil emerged the Texas Students for Free Speech. In open defiance of the Administration, the group demonstrated on campus carrying signs urging ''End Censorship" and "Bring the Constitution to the Campus" and distributed the censored handbills.

By this time, stories on the League had appeared nationally in Time and Cavalcade magazines and in practically every daily newspaper in the state.

Dr. John Silber of the Philosophy Department styled himself the chief defender of the University's policy by publishing an article in a new magazine Salt. When Silber finished his invective, in which he called the League's handbill "profoundly ignorant" and opined that its framers were possessed of "intellectual irresponsibility," he pointed out that the University has the right to deprive students of their freedom of speech if their use of that freedom belies ignorance, as he maintained it did in this case. Perhaps the Chairman of the Philosophy Department was proposing that we amend the Constitution to read "or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, except that of the ignorant and/or stupid." Silber further argued that the University has the right to impose restrictions on grade point averages and college board scores. Thus he implied that the right to censorship follows logically. Dr. Silber might be reminded that the Constitution makes no allowances for the right to flunk, but is quite explicit concerning freedom of speech.

Following the above incidents, the Texas Civil Liberties Union bemoaned the fact that the League had not exhausted all administrative channels in order to secure a good test case. League members maintained, on the other hand, that their freedom of expression was a Constitutional right and not a privilege handed down by the Administration; that to request the right of free speech from the Administration was to recognize the University's right to censorship.

As a result of the League's confrontation with the Administration and other events of last spring, the avenues toward Constitutional rights for students are now more clearly defined. Probably the administrators will be progressively less restrictive, knowing the seriousness with which students intend to pursue those rights. But if they are not, the students are increasingly ready to confront established power structures.