Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Ben Rafoth, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Lynne Alvine, Ed.D.

Third Advisor

Jean Nienkamp, Ph.D.


This dissertation investigates how a gay literacy worker's coming out helped change the campus discourse surrounding sexuality. Through an ethnographic examination of this English instructor and the community college where he taught composition and literature for nearly thirty years, the study illustrates a rhetorical situation where a gap in understanding about homosexuality existed. In this rhetorical situation, discourses of homophobia and heterosexism contest against an instructor's pro-gay discourse for rhetorical territory. As the instructor makes gains in rhetorical territory, change occurs in thinking about homosexuality across the campus. The study's focal participant belongs to the first generation of college instructors to come out as gay to their students, colleagues, and administrators. The study looks at the ways in which the campus responded to his disclosure and how those responses changed over time. Additionally, the study chronicles the changes the instructor went through as his disclosure evolved in response to changing campus conditions. Data was collected through observations, interviews, archival material, and institutional documents. The research makes clear the importance of coming out by instructors as a means for change. The research suggests that an instructor who associates coming out with teaching pedagogy will have greater rhetorical success influencing the campus discourse. Similarly, an instructor who is highly social, devotes himself to the campus and to his teaching, and presents himself in a conservative manner has greater likelihood of being successful. At the same time, the research illustrates the importance of the campus discursive history in fostering success, as well as the presence of other openly gay and lesbian faculty members as a support system. Heterosexual allies are necessary for success, too. National controversies over gay and lesbian issues contribute to the local discourse and assist in changing thinking at the local level. Taken together, all of these factors create a rhetorical situation where a gay faculty member was able to thrive and bring about change.