Between the Lines: March-April 2008

April 1, 2008

One of this issue's stories explores gay life on campus. There's a story behind that story: a national campaign that began at Duke.

It's a campaign originating, five years ago, in a dinner conversation among ten friends, gay and straight. They pondered Duke's designation by The Princeton Review as the most gay-unfriendly school in America. The label, they worried, would discourage gay students from considering Duke—thereby creating a reality from a perception (or misperception). They countered that concern with entrepreneurial energy and marketing savvy, deciding on a T-shirt giveaway and the "Gay? Fine By Me" slogan.

After only one day, the students had secured enough money to order 500 shirts. Those were quickly snatched up. More fundraising ensued, and soon they had distributed another 1,500 shirts, some to prospective freshmen visiting campus. Through a nonprofit organization, the idea would travel to other campuses.

Fine By Me has reached into 300 communities (not just campuses) with 90,000 T-shirts. One of the organizers of the Duke giveaway and the nonprofit's founding executive director, Lucas Schaefer '04, a former Duke Magazine intern, says the ultimate aim "isn't to have everyone in America in one of these T-shirts, but to create a country where we don't need the shirts in the first place."

A few years ago, Fine By Me was featured in a local newspaper. The article mentioned Messiah College in Pennsylvania, "whose 'community covenant' lumps homosexual behavior with drunkenness and occult worship as 'sinful practices.' " Messiah's T-shirt drive was organized by a student who saw such language as antithetical to his religious beliefs.

The project has been most successful where organizers have used it as "a jumping-off point" for conversation, Schaefer says. In his view, Fine By Me should be part of the campus fabric, whether or not it's a message imprinted on T-shirts.