“It was like seeing the bat signal,” said Kulik, who quickly alerted his college roommate Tom Penna, FCRH ’93.
For three years Kulik and Penna were roommates at Rose Hill, and neither told the other they were gay. It wasn’t until a few years later that they came out to each other.
“It was a difficult time; I was very scared of AIDS,” said Penna. “It was a different world back then.”
Kulik and Penna’s not-coming-out story was a familiar one to most of the alumni gathered, even recent grads from the Class of 2013, and certainly to those from 50 years ago.
Jim Gifford, FCRH ’68, and Tom Reilly, FCRH ’68, shared a room at Fordham for several years. But just like Kulik and Penna, neither knew the other was gay until a few years after graduation.
“It was all very closeted,” said Gifford. “We had our suspicions, but we never mentioned it.”
Before coming to his Golden Jubilee this year, Reilly said he contacted the organizers in the Office of Alumni Relations to see if there was would be an LGBTQ gathering and was happy to find out there would be.
“It occurred to me that that there might be gay people on campus and there’d be an organization, so I sent an email and someone responded and said, ‘Yeah, we’ll be here!’”
It was a far cry from the late 1960s when coming out of the closet wasn’t really an option.
“The atmosphere was very different, all men wearing suit jackets to classes—we were very stiff upper lip,” recalled Gifford. “So, coming back here and seeing that there’s a gay alliance, I thought of course there is! It’s quite a change that makes me see Fordham in a new light.”
Most agreed that Pope Francis has created a more spiritually sensitive environment for Catholics generally.
“When I heard Pope Francis say, ‘Who am I to judge?’ it was a wonderful moment,” said Gifford. “I thought, ‘How wonderful,’ but being that he was a Jesuit, I knew we were in for new times.”
For outgoing Rainbow Rams President Stephen Erdman, seeing LGBTQ Golden and Silver Rams celebrating with his Class of 2013 was a bittersweet culmination of his brief tenure at the two-year-old group. He said that finding out that friends were gay after you leave campus is still a common occurrence.
“It still happens, which is why I think it’s important that we have these groups, because there are still people who feel that they can’t come out on campus,” said Erdman. “But college is an important time to meet each other and be true to ourselves.”
From the Vietnam War through the AIDS crisis, many said the bucolic Rose Hill campus often acted as a buffer and respite from the harsh realities of the day.
“It was very much a tale of two cities, New York was great place to be a young gay kid, but then you come to campus and it was almost like you were living a different life,” said Kulik.
But he was quick to add that not coming out at Fordham was his choice. He recalled that as early as the late 1980s there was a lesbian and gay alliance. Still, he didn’t feel the campus culture was accepting.
“I don’t think Fordham was ready for that yet,” he said.
He added that being gay was only part of his identity. He “had a blast” on campus and was very involved as member of FUEMS and The Ram.
“I love Fordham, I was like Mr. Fordham for a while, but I didn’t feel coming out was an option back then—but this,” he said, gesturing to the crowd, “This is fantastic!”