Stanford’s Old Firehouse

Stanford’s Old Fire Truck House became a hub for LGBTQ students and community members alike – one of the first campus organizations of its kind nationally. 

Built in 1904, the aptly named structure transitioned in the 1970s from housing fire trucks to community meetings for those who were queer, questioning or allies to connect and politically organize. Despite a history of name changes – from the original Gay People’s Union to today’s QSpot – students have walked up the Firehouse’s steep outdoor steps to find a community of their own on the second floor. 

Stanford has a piecemeal history with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people, dating back to the first documented relationship in 1911. 

However, organization started coming to a head in the 1960s, when folks began creating forums and discussion groups dedicated to the exploration of sexual rights, including civil rights for homosexuals. By November 1970, a Stanford Gay Students Union was formed off-campus by students and community members.

This idea stuck. The Gay People’s Union officially began in December 1971 with a desk in the Old Union Clubhouse. Founded by Maud Hanson Nerman and Fred Oakford, the movement started with the intent to be accessible to the entire Palo Alto community. 

Its members began efforts to provide personal outreach, mentorship, mental health counseling and support groups geared to gay students, especially through smaller groups like the Women’s Collective and the Gay and Lesbian Speakers Bureau. 

This was risky business at a time when students and faculty feared facing retribution for being gay from Stanford, including expulsion or termination. Non-campus locations were originally considered for safety concerns. 

The Gay People’s Union found a permanent home in the Old Firehouse in the fall of 1974, growing from a small office to claiming the entire second floor of the building along Santa Teresa Street. 

Within its early years, GPU’s work catalyzed the formation of state-funded mental health programs for the Bay Area gay community, the first gay and lesbian awareness week held on campus, hiring of openly gay faculty and an unsuccessful campaign to exclude discriminatory employers from Stanford’s Career Planning and Placement Center.

Four members carried a GPU banner within the first National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights by October 1979.

Despite growing recognition of the LGBTQ community in the Bay Area and beyond, progress wasn’t entirely met with open arms. Notably, the campus’ “Gay Liberation” statues were repeatedly vandalized with hammers and spray paint. 

As tensions heightened in the 1980s during the AIDS crisis, the Firehouse’s community worked to provide practical and emotional supporters for people with AIDS, increase visibility with Gay Family Days and simply educate others that queer people spanned the entire campus, including students living in dorms, teachers and entertainers.

Known as the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Community Center by 1989, students continued political activism throughout the 1990s, planning “Queer Be-Ins” at local coffee houses, establishing student orientation celebrations and hosting queer graduation events. 

Despite the Old Firehouse’s consistent, decades-long presence, all of its opportunities and events were solely student-driven and supported by staff because it remained unrecognized as an official community center by Stanford. 

Stanford eventually provided a full-time director for the LGBCC in 1999, after student requests and task force studies, which allowed for increased access to resources and targeted programming. 

The organization was renamed the LGBT Community Resources Center in 2001 to increase transgender representation, and later morphed into the Queer Student Resource Center, or QSpot, by 2017. 

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