K.C. Potter was born in 1939 at Fallsburg, Kentucky. In high school, K.C. wrote sport stories for the local newspaper, and participated in speech tournaments at Morehead State University and the University of Kentucky. He attended Berea College, a liberal arts college founded in 1855 on the principle of racial and gender inclusion, majoring in history, political science and English. From Berea, K.C. attended Vanderbilt Law School, graduating in 1964.
After working for a year as a law clerk to a Tennessee Supreme Court justice, K.C. got a call from Vanderbilt, and in 1965, he returned to his alma mater as its Assistant Dean of Men. He would stay at ‘Vandy’ until his retirement some 36 years later.
Known to many as the Harvard of the South, Vanderbilt in that era was deeply conservative, and very hostile to any hint of gay activity, especially as AIDS emerged and crested in the 1980s. Against this backdrop, in 1987, K.C. took the first steps to create safe places for gay students on campus. Change did not happen overnight, or easily. When Vanderbilt’s fledgling gay rights group began organizing in support of a formal university nondiscrimination policy, K.C. advocated for congressional-style hearings to develop a policy. Running into resistance from then-Chancellor Joe B. Wyatt, K.C. brought a number of gay and lesbian students before the Board of Trustees to testify about their campus experiences. The students won the Board over – and Chancellor Wyatt was forced to give in.
During his entire tenure at Vanderbilt, K.C. Potter could not come out himself as a gay man. Everything changed after his retirement in 1998. Six months later, K.C. met his partner Richard Patrick online, and began his first long-term relationship.
Today, K.C. and Richard live together on a farm in Hickman County, Tennessee. For the past ten years, they have hosted an October Fall Fest on their farm, with 75 to 100 attendees including neighbors, friends, and Vanderbilt people. K.C. writes, “Being a partner to this man keeps me very active!”
Although we yearned to visit K.C.’s farm, for practical reasons, it made more sense to record K.C.’s OUTWORDS interview in another beautiful location: the K.C. Potter Center on the Vanderbilt campus, which houses the university’s office of LGBTQI Life. The stately building is a fitting, vibrant tribute to this unassuming man who, time and time again, put his career on the line for young queer students with no one to turn to – except Dean Potter.