Through persistent dedication by many LGBTA advocates to the expansion of LGBTA rights and inclusion on the University of Michigan campus, the Office of LGBT Affairs has been transformed over the years to become the office that it is today. Initially, on March 17, 1970, following the creation of the Detroit Gay Liberation Movement a few weeks earlier, both students and members of the larger community came together to initiate the U of M chapter of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), seeking to battle stereotypes of gay people, fighting homophobic prejudice, and invalidating the mental illness model of homosexuality. Soon after the founding of the UM-GLF chapter, the Regents of U of M invited a leader and eventual founder of the office, Jim Toy, to speak about what the GLF hoped to achieve. While attending his second meeting, Jim responded, “We want justice!”
During the same year, the GLF and the Radical Lesbians, a group that had branched off from the GLF, was formally recognized by the Student Government Council as a student organization. Soon after, the GLF requested the use of university space for a statewide conference. However, the UM President at the time denied the request, stating that homosexual activity was illegal, that a conference would necessitate the presence of the police and that the conference was not educationally-oriented enough to use university space. Luckily, a closeted gay man, who was a vice-president of the campus student government council, gave Jim Toy the keys to the Student Activities Building so that he might hold the conference. Thus the statewide conference was held. [According to Jim Toy, the university commissioned a spy at the time, to attend the conference and report back to the administration. It was discovered afterwards that the spy had reported falsely that the conference was low-key, that few people attended and that if the administration merely ignored the group it would dry up and go away. The question still remains whether the spy was sincere or if he was an ally trying to get the administration off their backs.] After this difficult ordeal of trying to gain permission to hold the conference, Jim believed that having an office might put them in the position to have more cooperation from others.
After increased pressure from both the GLF and U of M students, the University established a one-room office in September of 1971, provided funding for 2 quarter-time positions to be filled by a lesbian and gay male and a small budget, to deal with gay and lesbian issues on campus. Jim Toy and Cindy Gair, a leader of the Radical Lesbians, were hired to fill the available positions, titled Human Sexuality Advocates, at the University of Michigan’s “Human Sexuality Office” (HSO). This achievement was monumental, in that it was officially the first staff office for queer students in an institution of higher learning in the United States.
As the Human Sexuality Advocates of the U of M office, Jim and Cindy set out to find a framework of justice, have community concerns added to the curriculum, and establish training for counselors and to fight for civil rights. One such fight was to amend the bylaws of the University to include “sexual orientation” as a category protected from discrimination in employment, educational programs and activities, and admissions. This campaign was continued by Jim Toy for 21 years, until in 1991, a Study Committee on the status of Lesbians and Gay Men published the Lavender Report, which recommended to the University, that sexual orientation be implemented in the University bylaws. Thus the Regents finally voted 8 to 1 in favor of the amendment in 1993, adding “sexual orientation” to the bylaws.
Following the establishment of the office, Jim and Cindy set up a system of peer-advisors to speak with the counseling office and aid in training them how to best counsel lesbian and gay individuals. By early 1973, the office had formed its first speakers bureau, which consisted of gay male and lesbian students and members from the community, and worked with other student groups, in order to educate U of M students concerning gay and lesbian issues. During the mid-1970’s, the office developed speakers’ bureau “raps” in classes and with residence hall personnel. By 1972, the office had made one class presentation; today we provide eighty or more workshops to classes and seminars each year.
In January of 1977, the advocacy positions were upgraded to half-time positions and then again in 1987, when they received full-time appointments; both changes were primarily the result of advocacy for the office by students, staff, faculty members, and religious leaders from the campus and Ann Arbor communities. During the 1980’s, the University of Michigan administration finally agreed to allow identity terms in the office name and the Office of Human Sexuality became the UofM Lesbian Gay Male Programs Office. In addition, the 1980’s brought about increased outreach and services to bisexual people and people of color in support of their concerns.
In 1994, the U-M administration reduced the two positions to one position, with positions for support staff being added over the years. During this time, Jim Toy stepped down and Ronnie Sanlo was hired as Interim Director. When she was hired for this position, she maintained that her primary goals for the office were to increase education and to begin approaching LGBT identity with a more positive outlook, rather than just providing counseling for people’s negative feelings concerning their LGBT identity. Within a month, Ronnie conducted the CAS assessment for the office, which provides criteria for assessing the positive attributes of an office and the areas where one may want to make improvements. As a vision for the office was being developed, the office added bisexuality to the title to acknowledge inclusion of more sexual minorities at the University, thus becoming the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual Programs Office. In 1995, the office began to learn more about transgender issues and began to include these issues in office education programs. In addition, the office expanded the speakers bureau to include allies, founded Lavender Graduation, (a separate ceremony to celebrate the graduation of LGBT students) and expanded the title of the office to include transgender, becoming the UM Office of Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Affairs.
In 1997, Frederic MacDonald-Dennis became Interim Director; the central goals for the office were to increase transgender inclusion and education concerning transgender issues, increase education on campus in general, making the education coordinator position a full-time job and increased inclusion for students of color. During the period of time that Mr. MacDonald-Dennis held the Interim Director position, various programs were being developed or expanded upon. For instance, the Division of Student Life created a gender-identity working group that focused on gaps in services for transgender individuals and made recommendations for inclusion that led to the creation of the Provost Taskforce to examine the current climate on campus for TBLG people. In addition, Transforum was established by students as a group for alumni, students, & faculty of the University of Michigan that provides discussion, support, and resources and is committed to advancing the equal rights, health care access, and safety of transgender people. During this time, there was an increase in the number of participants, speaking engagements and training in the speakers bureau, as well as the development of Color Splash, an event for LGBT people of color and a Coming-Out Group.
In 2005, the office developed the Ally Training Program, which educates people how to be better allies to the LGBT community. In the fall of that year, Jackie Simpson took over as office Director. Since that time, the office has collaborated with University Housing to help them develop a gender-neutral housing policy. In addition, the office is supporting efforts by students for increased inclusion of gender-identity and an amendment to include “gender identity” and “gender expression” in the University bylaws. The office continues to focus on concerns for civil rights, addressing concerns and the inclusion of students on campus and looks forward to continued progress and transformation of the office towards the betterment of the LGBT student’s college and life experience.
Compiled by Nick Burris