Fred Richter, a former Georgia Southern professor of 32 years, has had a rich and sometimes adversarial history with Statesboro. As an openly gay professor, he was influential in Georgia Southern’s decision to include sexual orientation to the University’s non-discrimination policy.
Employed by Southern as an English professor in 1969, Richter chose to be open with his homosexuality, a decision that was not always easy at times.
“Sixty years ago, it was a sickness, it was a sin, and it was a crime when I was a boy, and I survived. I’m thrilled now that we have what we call gay-straight alliances. A generation ago, that was not likely. It’s changing dramatically fast. From my point of view, it’s been a revolution,” Richter said.
During his time at Southern, Richter was responsible for being the sponsor of the first gay student organization on campus, originally called the Triangle Club, and currently known as the Gay-Straight Alliance. Nowadays, GSA boasts a membership of almost 300, according to MyInvolvement.
Richter also volunteered for the opportunity to inform and talk to students enrolled in Georgia Southern’s psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and English classes, about homosexuality and other sexual orientation-related questions.
“I actually, for a brief while, created some gay studies courses. I gathered several different faculty members from several different departments, anthropology, theology, art, English, music, and each one had two weeks in the term to expose students with what they knew about sexual identity in the world. It was an eye-opener,” Richter said.
Richter shared his experience with some of the bigotry he faced in Statesboro during his career at Southern.
“I’ve had many hostile encounters, nothing ever official. Although I never had any trouble from the administration, I endured a lot of difficult things like standing up in front of an audience and having Christians stand up with their bibles and accuse, sometimes aggressively, sometimes gently. I’ve had calls in the middle of the night. Some of them dreadfully painful and sad. Some of them threatening.”
Despite the obstacles he was faced with, Richter continued teaching English, receiving three professor of the year awards on the way, until 1998, when he became the assistant dean of undergraduate studies and the founding director of the University Honors Program. After a successful and rewarding career mentoring and guiding students, Richter eventually retired in 2001.
“Being in the classroom, that’s where my joy was. It was really great, good fun to walk into a classroom with brand new freshmen and talk about anything from under the sun. I don’t think I enjoyed anything more than those conversations with my students,” Richter said. “I had a wonderful life, I didn’t plan it, I didn’t dream of being a teacher, but the first time I entered a classroom I thought ‘wow, I like this.’ and that was the beginning.”
Even now, Richter is still actively involved with Statesboro, having substituted teaching with community work, volunteering his time in various ways. On some days, he’s a yoga instructor at Trinity Episcopal Church, a position he held for 10 years. On others, he’s a greeter for the soup kitchen, Rebecca’s Café, making sure people feel welcomed and loved as they get the free meal they need. He can even be occasionally seen volunteering his labor at the Botanical Gardens, building new gates.
Richter’s days have recently been focused on The Boys and Girls Club, an organization committed to improving the care of young boys and girls by offering club programs within a safe place to grow. Richter recently joined the board of the Boys and Girls Club in Statesboro, and has diligently worked to promote and muster political support to lift it up in the community.
“The Boys and Girls Club is the best way I know to tackle poverty with the young people, to bring them programs in this community, we need better facilities, we need more public support. I think the boys and girls club should be state of the art in a place like Statesboro. We’re a very prosperous community, we should be able to afford a world class girls and boys club,” Richter said.
Richter expressed gratitude for the support of his partner, support that has fueled him with bravery, strength, and fortitude, throughout the many years
“What has given me courage through the years was Bobby. When you know love is love then all doubts are erased. If you don’t get shot, you just keep standing up and walking forward. My courage stems directly from my good fortune in a good relationship,” Richter said.