Peter Robertson recalls LGBTQ history on Fresno State campus over the years


Diego Vargas/The Collegian

Peter Robertson hosts the second Bregelman LGBTQ Book Talk Series on March 16 in the Fresno State Library.

By Jiselle Cardenas, News Editor

The year was 1987, and Peter Robertson, one of the students who helped found the Gay Lesbian Student Alliance at Fresno State, led a rally to protest the vandalism of his club’s booth in the Free Speech Area.

Following the graffiti tagging, burning and removal of their booth, Robertson had met Fred Bregnelman, a late Fresno State professor who taught for 50 years and passed away in 2019. They were both speaking at a rally.

It wasn’t until last summer that an old friend recounted his speech at that rally, but Robertson didn’t recall ever speaking. He couldn’t remember doing that.

Robertson speaks at rally protesting the vandalism of the GLSA booth where he met professor Fred Brengelman on Dec. 2, 1987. (Courtesy of Peter Robertson)

“I was talking to one of my colleagues on campus, Dr. Kris Clarke, and I’m sharing this with her over a Manhattan [drink] at the Annex Kitchen. I’m crying into my Manhattan [saying,] ‘I don’t know why I don’t remember this story.’ She said because it was traumatic, and I blocked it out,” Robertson said recounting the memory.

The Special Collections Research Center currently has the Brengelman LGBTQ Collection on display at the fourth floor, south wing of the Fresno State Library.

The collection consists of 107 books and is a tribute to Brengelman, who helped found the Department of Linguistics in 1968, and who was an advocate for LGBTQ rights. Most of the books were previously owned by Brengelman as part of his personal collection and were donated to the research center by his family in 2019.

Robertson hosted the second talk of the series on March 16, speaking about his connection to Brengelman and the collection.

“Dr. Brengelman was the first and only openly gay professor on campus, who I knew for several years. Reflecting back 35 years ago, I’ve now come to realize how important he was for other students and me. We were able to see a reflection of ourselves in a professor,” Robertson said.

He said how important it is that this history was documented, and how now he can show people these traumatic events years later in the book series.

A Daily Collegian article is published on Dec. 3, 1987, reporting on the protest for the GLSA booth on Fresno State campus the day before. (Courtesy of Peter Robertson)

Robertson is a Colombian immigrant who came to the United States in the summer of 1969 and began attending Fresno State in the fall of 1987.

He is the current director of alumni connections for the Fresno State Alumni Association. Robertson is also a prominent figure for LGBTQ history at Fresno State, establishing GLSA in 1987, the Fresno Reel Pride gay and lesbian film festival in 1990 and the Rainbow Alumnx and Allies Club in 2015.

Tammy Lau, head of the Special Collections Research Center, welcomed the group and introduced Robertson at the beginning of the event.

“Anything you see on display here is available for research or just to look at,” Lau said. “It’ll be up all semester. Feel free to let us know if you want to actually look at something. We don’t want these to be inaccessible during the semester.”

She also announced that The Source LGBT+ Center, located in Visalia, donated several hundred books to the collection, including the Tiana Arruda book collection and the Sinister Wisdom journal.

“The Source is honored to donate this important collection to Fresno State. Our hope is that the Tiana Arruda Collection will add to the collective queer and feminist knowledge,” said Nick Vargas, co-founder and director of development and strategy for The Source.

After introductions, Robertson highlighted 10 books from the collection that had a personal meaning to him.

One of the books highlighted was “The Misadventures of Tim McPick” by Daniel Curzon, who was also a special guest in attendance via Zoom and taught at Fresno State in the 1970s.

Curzon is the author of 40 books and the playwright of 40 plays. Curzon’s work has been showcased in the San Francisco Public Library, the James C. Hormel LGBTIA Center and Archives.

The audience had an opportunity to talk to Curzon as well and ask questions.

“I offered a gay literature class in 1975, which was almost unheard of. We couldn’t get 10 people at first to enroll because they didn’t want to have their name associated with gay literature,” Curzon said when asked about living in Fresno and teaching at Fresno State in the 1970s. “Finally, we just squeaked by with 10 students. Ten brave souls.”

He said he faced hardships regularly for the implementation of the course, with print shops refusing to print flyers for the course’s advertisement.

“At that time, to be gay was so horrible you couldn’t talk about it with anybody,” Curzon said.

After the Q&A with Curzon ended, Robertson announced that five copies of Curzon’s books would be donated to the collection on his behalf.

“I am glad I came to this event. My main takeaway is that there was a lot of literature published here at Fresno State that’s queer, especially in modern times. That was almost 50 years ago,” said Alex Guiterrez, a second-year biology major.

Guiterrez is a part of the United Student Pride club, which is the predecessor of GLSA, and Queer Talks on campus. Next year, he will be vice president of the club.

Other books highlighted from the series included “Seven Carnal Songs” by Dirk Hannam, “Dancer From the Dance” by Andrew Holleran and “The Best Little Boy in the World” by John Reid. The authors of these books used pseudonyms to avoid backlash for writing LGBTQ literature.

“You’ll see all these people using pseudonyms because back then you would not use your real name from [the] fear of retribution from your family, from religion, from church, from work,” Robertson said.

Lillian Faderman, professor emeritus of English, taught at Fresno State for 30 years. Her work is also in the collection as she is also known as “the mother of lesbian history.” Her books “Odd Girls,” “Twilight Lovers” and “Surpassing the Love of Men” can be read in the collection.

Faderman will be giving a lecture on Wednesday, March 22, at 7 p.m. at the university library. She will also be hosting “An evening with Lillian Faderman,” a private dinner event that requires the purchase of a ticket, on Thursday, March 23, at 6 p.m.

“I didn’t really know that a lot of the literature was actually published from here, and I live around here.” said Daisey Morales, a biology student who commutes from Hanford. “It’s nice to see that even back then, people were brave enough to publish stuff that wasn’t seen as OK.”

During the book talks, Robertson also announced that the Bulldog Pride Fund is awarding a total of $30,000 to 10 students, $3,000 each.

“I think that the discussion today helps put in perspective what it was like and honors the past. It also makes me feel confident about the present, but also dream about the future. It just shows a timeline of where we are, where we are and where we hope to be,” Robertson said in an interview with The Collegian.

He said a lot of diversity, equity and inclusion work can be done at the university and around the nation, mentioning Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas where “all doesn’t mean all.”

“The biggest challenge for all of us, including myself, is when you say ‘We welcome all,’ that all means all. I think people struggle. We see it in the news. We see it in the media… I think that’s the biggest bridge to cross for us as a community, as a society and for us as a people,” Robertson said.

Two more lectures will be held for the book series. Katherine Fobear will host the next talk on Wednesday, April 19, and Julie Rene Moore will host on May 3. Both events will be from 2-3 p.m. on the fourth floor, south wing of University Library.