In the ’80s, Craig Dean was pretty reserved about his sexuality. But by the beginning of the ’90s, Dean was one of the faces of gay activism in the United States.

Dean shocked the nation during the ’80s when he became the first homosexual to sue the U.S. government when he and his partner were denied the right to be married.

“When we took control and took back our lives and stepped out of that court house and said, ‘We’re here, we’re queer — get used to it,’ no one could hurt us anymore,” Dean said.

Dean, a world-renowned gay rights activist, spoke to about 50 students in Miller Hall on Monday night about his efforts in the LGBT movement.

Dean gave the audience an account of his struggle, which began when he and his former partner, Patrick Gill, sued the District of Columbia. He and Gill gained media attention after their court case. They were constantly followed by cameras and newscasts and made appearances on the “Oprah Winfrey Show.”

“The conclusion we came to is that we had no honorable alternative,” Dean said. “We would be agreeing with a notion that now we think as dysfunctional: that somehow gay and lesbian couples were less worthy, less valid and didn’t deserve the same treatment, benefits, rights or responsibility as any other committing couple.”

They argued that the D.C. Human Rights Commission sided with them, saying the marriage bureau violated city law by discriminating based on sexual orientation. The court ruled against them.

Queer Nation, Act Out, and other gay pride groups reached out to Dean and Gill in hopes of getting their message out there.

During a Saint Patrick’s Day parade in New York City, the groups passed out condoms to the audience and threw pig’s blood at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, saying that the church was essentially killing people with their ignorance toward protection.

Now more than a decade later, Dean’s speech comes just three days after

the passing of a bill to protect LGBT employees. This is only the third time a pro-LGBT piece of legislation has been passed in Virginia’s history.

The bill, which passed with a bipartisan vote of 24-16, will ban discrimination against state employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Junior kinesiology major Fred Carranza was inspired by Dean’s speech, which he said motivated him to become more outspoken against intolerance.

“It taught me to speak up for what’s important and, no matter what, stick to what I believe is the absolute truth,” Carranza said. “A lot of people in the past have sacrificed their safety in search for the greater truth, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., and look where it’s brought us.”

Madison Equality, which hosted this event, advocates for the acceptance of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders at JMU. Shelby Wiltz, a junior social justice major and educational coordinator for Madison Equality, believes that there’s a lot of work to do in terms of LGBT acceptance on campus.

“As a whole, JMU students are tolerant, “ Wiltz said. “I wouldn’t describe it as accepting but definitely tolerant. We try to do a lot of work to make this issue one that people can talk about and make conversations because it’s very hush. Everyone at JMU should have an outlook that embraces everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Raychel Whyte, president of Madison Equality and junior health sciences major, was grateful that someone who had such a profound part on gay activism spoke at JMU.

“I’m hoping eventually one day, especially when I want to actually settle down and get married that I’ll be able to do it here in Virginia,” Whyte said. “That’s just a hope, but definitely something I want to see.”

Contact Kristine Clifford at cliffokb@dukes.jmu.edu.