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50 Years After Stonewall, ISU Advocate Sees Unfinished Business

Barb Dallinger
Charlie Schlenker
ISU Associate Director for Event Services and Catering Barb Dallinger recounts bigotry towards LGBTQ+ students from 1970s to now.

Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and local LGBTQ+ rights advocate Barb Dallinger says there's still a long way to go.

Dallinger is an Illinois State University alum. In addition to her day job as ISU's associate director for event services and catering, Dallinger has worked hard to establish a support network for LGBTQ+ students on campus and serves on the LGBTQ+ Student Support Fund board.

“These are students that have come out to their parents, and they have literally cut them off, and said, 'You’re getting nothing from me, I never want to see you again.’ And on top of losing that relationship, they’re also losing their livelihood. All of a sudden, they have no place to go,” said Dallinger.

This year alone ISU saw four requests from LGBTQ+ students for emergency aid because their parents had disowned them.

Dallinger had her own traumatic experience as a student at ISU in the late 1970s.

“I literally came home from class one afternoon, and six of the girls on the floor jumped me and took me to my room. And they tied me to the to my desk chair in the center of the room, and gagged me, so I couldn't get anybody's attention or anything, and left me in there. And then they locked the door. They tied my doorknob to the doorknob across the hall. And I don't know if the students still do it. And they ‘pennyed’ me in just to make sure, and then they put a sign on the door, saying, ‘Only one of her gay friends would come and let her out,’” said Dallinger.

(The act of “pennying” is putting pennies in a door so the doorknob is useless, thus rendering the door “locked.”)

Dallinger explained after she had been outed in 1978, students would throw food at her and mail her packages full of trash. 

After graduation, Dallinger moved in with her girlfriend in St. Louis and got a job as a kindergarten teacher. She came out to her supervisor in private, who then fired her, and Dallinger was banned from teaching anywhere in St. Louis or walking on school grounds. Her teaching license was revoked.

ISU was the first place after this incident to offer Dallinger a job. Since then, Dallinger has worked to make ISU's campus safer for LGBTQ+ students. She also helped found ISU's LGBTQA Alumni Network.

“My mission is going to be to make sure what happened to me does not happen to the Redbirds of today. The transfers need to be able to know where they’re supposed to go, the gay kids need somebody to call,” said Dallinger.

Despite the Stonewall Riots, the legalization of gay marriage, and ISU’s efforts to support LGBTQ+ students, LGBTQ+ students can still face discrimination both on and off campus. Dallinger advises LGBTQ+ students to be careful and take precautions when going to off-campus areas in Bloomington-Normal.

“I think that we really need to conciously work at turning some of the things around,” said Dallinger.

Listen to Dallinger's full interview with WGLT's Charlie Schlenker:

You can also listen to the full interview:

WGLT's interview with Dallinger.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
Katie Seelinger is an intern in the GLT newsroom.