Gerry Lowrey, Pioneer of Emory Gay History
Asking our 2017 Alum of the Year, Gerry Lowrey, to recount the founding of GALA in 2003, I was stunned that he began his narrative in 1976.
After graduating from Auburn University in 1969, and completing graduate work at West Georgia College, and then teaching, Gerry arrived at Emory in 1976 seeking his PhD.
Gerry soon discovered and became part of a fledgling group of gay men and women called COGE (Committee on Gay Education). This group, founded by students in 1975, supported each other, provided speakers for Emory classes, socialized with one another, and reached out to other gay groups on Georgia campuses. Gerry became the president of COGE in 1977 and served for two years. During this time, under Gerry’s leadership, COGE sought official recognition on the Emory campus.
Recognition was difficult. The main stumbling block was the requirement that they had to have six people, graduate or undergraduate students, who were willing to have their names published as members of this openly gay group. In the repressive atmosphere of the 1970’s, this was almost impossible. However, in 1978, six brave souls were found, application was made, and on the second try COGE became a recognized group on the Emory campus.
Recognition was a big deal. COGE then qualified for funding (a small amount), but they were able to reserve space at the student center, sponsor educational events, and officially organize with other student groups on the Emory campus. Social events were always on the calendar as well.
Over the years, COGE prospered, changed its name a few times, but continued to be a growing presence at Emory. Meanwhile, Gerry held numerous faculty and administrative positions, becoming an Associate Dean of Campus Life in 1986.
By 1990, Gerry moved on to Columbia University in New York as Deputy Vice President and Associate Provost. Returning to Emory in 1997, Gerry became an Assistant Director of the Alumni Association, and stayed at the Emory Alumni Association until 2007 when he was Senior Director.
When Gerry returned to Emory In 1997, great progress had been made in the area of LGBT rights. There was an Office of LGBT Life, Emory Pride, and Gay acceptance was paramount on campus.
Also, CEBA (Caucus of Emory Black Alumni) was the only alumni affinity group. According to Gerry, the prevailing sentiment at EAA was that CEBA was special and all other alumni should all just be one big happy family. However, CEBA’s presence prompted Gerry and others to boldly suggest that a Gay alumni group would benefit EAA.
This idea was met with much resistance. But Gerry and others at EAA persevered. Over the next few years, other groups were granted recognition. Eventually, there was a women’s alumni group, a Latino group, an Asian group.
By 2003, Gerry was part of a group of Gay alumni who finally prevailed. Allison Dykes, Vice President of Alumni Affairs, gave her blessing, and GALA was given recognition as the official Emory Gay alumni affinity group.
Gerry was given the responsibility of getting the group up and running. Gerry tells how the small group sat around a table trying to come up with a name. He said they finally decided on GALA because it sounded happy and inviting, like a party. Sharon Simmons and Elliott Mackle were the first Co-Chairs. And, of course, the rest is history!
Ever active in Gay life at Emory, in 2016 Gerry offered his Atlanta home and lake house for the leaders of the graduate Gay groups on campus to hold a retreat for the purpose of building greater cooperation among their groups. In March Gerry received the Alumnus of the Year Award at the Pride Awards reception.
- Gerry was interviewed by Robert Malmborg, Communications Committee Chair of GALA, for this article.