The courage to be himself

Becky Bowman

Many high school seniors dread college interviews because they understand the importance of making a good first impression. But at Vincent McCoy’s Northwestern interview, even the interviewer got uncomfortable.

“I’m not even sure what we were talking about, maybe dorm life,” said McCoy, Music ’75. “He just said, ‘You’re probably gay, right?'”

It was the first time McCoy’s sexuality had ever been discussed out loud, and he burst into tears.

“I cried not because it wasn’t true, but because it was the first time anyone had ever spoken about it,” McCoy said. “I don’t know what possessed him to share this information.”

Later, the interviewer called McCoy to announce his acceptance to NU and even to detail his financial aid package over the phone, all before McCoy received his acceptance letter.

McCoy points out, however, that the interviewer took a big risk in asking the question so casually. McCoy could have filed formal complaints.

“It turned out to be a good thing, because it kind of put the cards out on the table,” McCoy said. “When I did get to school, I could be comfortable with it.”

Although he was still in the closet when he started his freshman year, McCoy grew more comfortable with being gay during his time at NU.

McCoy even became the president of the Gay Liberation Front, the group now known as the Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Alliance. To his knowledge, he is the only black president the group has ever had.

McCoy is now employed as a technical support consultant at University Library, where he held a work-study job during college and has worked ever since.

The first GLF meeting McCoy attended was an informal gathering in an apartment, where he met about a dozen gay men. Since homosexuality was not as openly discussed during the 1970s as it is now, McCoy said going to GLF meetings helped lift a weight from his shoulders.

“Gay people who are still in the closet think they’re the only one,” he said. “We didn’t have as much exposure to it. The Daily wasn’t writing articles about it.”

During his time at NU, McCoy had things other than his sexuality to worry about, including a fear of the draft and the tensions of being both black and gay.

While speaking on a television call-in show during his college years, McCoy received a call from a black female student who said he should spend more time with the NU black community.

But McCoy said he shouldn’t need to make a choice — he just wanted to be with people who wanted to be with him.

“There were black gay men on campus who were scared to death of me, because I never shut up about (being gay),” McCoy said. “I was out and about. I couldn’t be out and gay to be with them.”