LGBTQIA+ Advocacy at GVSU

While the LGBT Resource Center is fairly new to campus, there is a lot of history behind how we got here!
There is record of a student LGBT organization at GVSU in 1971, called the Gay Alliance. Grand Valley Gay Alliance hold public pit session featuring real life homosexual [noted in Lanthorn, 05/26/71, p. 4]. In the early 90s the student organization was called Ten Percent of You. 10% of U, new group for gay and lesbian students, forms at GVSU [noted in Network News newsletter 03/90]. In 1997 Ten Percent reformed as Out N About which exists today as Out N About, GVSUs Gay/Straight Alliance. Out N About sponsors an annual calendar of LGBT events including National Coming Out Day in October, Transgender Day of Remembrance in November, and National Day of Silence in April to name a few. From the early 90s Allies & Advocates has been an LGBT faculty and staff organization to train faculty and staff how to better support and provide safe space for LGBT students at GVSU. Beginning in 06-07, A&A offers three training session a year, and the organization has a visible campus presence through signs on members doors and through representation at campus-wide events. In the 90s the Dean of Students Office created the position of Liaison to the Dean of Students Office for GLBT Issues. In 2004 there were the first Liaison hours, and in 2006 the Liaison position became a half-time position in the Division of Student Affairs with responsibility for providing student services for LGBT students. In the winter of 05-06 an advisory group composed of students, faculty, staff, and area representatives developed a Strategic Plan for the LGBT Resource Center to open in The Kirkhof Center is May, 08. Housing supports an student allies and advocates program called Safe Harbor to inform students about the challenges of LGBT experience at GVSU and to provide safe space for them in the living areas. For two years housing has sponsored a drag show which has become a favorite LGBT event of campus fostering understanding of gender diversity on campus. An informal group of faculty and staff called The Fun List emerged sometime in the 90s to provide social contact for lesbian and gay faculty and staff. In the 90s President Lubbers established an advisory committee to advise him on LGBT matters. Domestic partner benefits became the focus of this committee. A sub-group of the Fun Group informally organized as a Faculty and Staff Association to speak to the benefits issues with a uniform voice during the second presidential look at the issue under President Murray. The GVSU LGBT Scholarship was developed as a positive response to the negative decision concerning Domestic Partner Benefits. That scholarship grants two to three scholarships each year. It is now joined by the AWARE LGBT Scholarship funded by West Shore Aware, a non-profit, philanthropic, LGBT organization in Saugatuck/ Douglas. The GVSU LGBT Faculty and Staff Association became a formal GVSU organization in the summer of 2006 for the purpose of making GVSU a welcoming environment for LGBT faculty and staff primarily, but there is an natural extension of that mission to include students. In the spring of 2007 GVSU held its first Lavender Graduation, which was planned to honor LGBT students who had completed their study for a Grand Valley degree, but it also turned out to be a celebration of what the LGBT community here has accomplished. GVSU now has a family of organizations, each playing key roles in the continuing development of a healthy campus environment for LGBT students, faculty and staff and the whole community. Through these collective efforts, an LGBT culture of events, community, and contribution is now a part of the world of GVSU.

Compiled by Milt Ford, 9-6-07

If you have any additional information about the history of LGBT advocacy at Grand Valley, please contact us: lgbtcenter@gvsu.edu.

Milt Ford

Founding Director - Dr. Milton E. Ford

Beloved professor Milt Ford served as Founding Director of the LGBT Resource Center. His vision and dedication was instrumental in the formation of the Center. In April 2010, Milt returned to his full-time faculty position in Liberal Studies where he has served for nearly forty years.

Naming Ceremony

Click to view the Naming Ceremony booklet to learn more about the history of the center.

Allies & Advocates

History of Allies & Advocates

What follows is the history of Allies & Advocates at Grand Valley State University. While the authors have attempted to be as inclusive as possible, we are very open to addressing omissions, edits, or corrections. Those can be sent to the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center at lgbtrc@gvsu.edu.

In the early 1970’s, Grand Valley State Colleges was comprised of four independent colleges: The College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), College IV, Thomas Jefferson, and William James. CAS represented the more traditional college experience, College IV was organized around small, bite-sized “learning modules” designed for working adults and non-traditional students, William James was a more problem-focused, career-oriented college, with a very dynamic and often changing curriculum, and Thomas Jefferson was designed as a “freely structured experimental program offering unusual opportunities for interdisciplinary approaches to learning.”

The 70’s were a time of intense social and political change. The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, as was the Women’s Movement and the Sexual Revolution. The Vietnam War was coming to a climax, and a President was being impeached. GVS very much reflected all of these trends. Lesbian faculty were out and active, especially in the alternative colleges, whereas the presence of out gay men was almost non-existent. There is a record of a student GLBT organization at GVS in 1971 called the Gay Alliance, which held a public bull session featuring “a real life homosexual.” (Lanthorn, 5/26/71, p. 4). This person spoke from behind a screen so as to protect his or her anonymity. Such was the climate here in the early 70’s.

The end of the 70’s saw the closure of William James, Thomas Jefferson, and College IV. A particularly hard and long economic recession took hold in the early 80’s, and the very viability of GVS was at stake. In 1982 GVS reorganized the various divisions into one college, and in 1987, GVS became GVSU, and by 1990, we had 10,000 students enrolled.

1991-92: Allies & Advocates was founded under the leadership of Gloria Tate, an African-American graduate student. Initially, the organization was conceived to establish a sense of presence and visibility so that GLB (as we were then known) students would feel safer and more supported. The membership was not public. A group of concerned staff and faculty from various departments at GVSU, including Allies & Advocates, travelled to Alma College to attend a conference on providing service and support to GLBT students. The conference provided GVSU staff with a wealth of ideas and training materials, out of which Allies & Advocates developed their signature training for staff and faculty, as well as the now ubiquitous Allies & Advocates door placard. Concurrently, Susan Mendoza conceived of a program called “Safe Harbor,” a training and sensitivity program for all students to address what was a hostile climate for GLB students living in the dorms. This program was carried out by Housing staff, beginning in November of 2001.

2001: Led by Gary Van Harn, members of Allies & Advocates established the GVSU LGBT Scholarship fund, as a positive response to the negative decision regarding Domestic Partner Benefits. Many staff and faculty had suspended their regular annual giving to the University as a result of this decision, and when the Scholarship was finally signed and approved, donations poured in to the fund, making it the single fastest growing scholarship at GVSU without a major donor or corporate sponsor. This scholarship also represented the first time the acronym “LGBT” ever showed up in print in an official University publication. The Household Program, as it is now known, which extended insurance benefits to the same-sex partners of GVSU faculty and staff, went into effect in September of 2008.

2006/2007: Chief Equity Officer Patricia Oldt made an outside consulting firm available to Allies & Advocates, which is reorganized and revitalized. The membership of Allies & Advocates becomes public information and is published on the web. The iconic Allies & Advocates door placard is redesigned, and a new mission statement is published: “Allies & Advocates works to foster a campus climate that is safe, supportive, respectful, affirming and empowering for the LGBT community by maintaining a visible network of trained and informed faculty and staff.” Allies & Advocates is still an all-volunteer organization with no budget. Core training group members often baked their own cookies and brownies to take to a training for the participants. Student Life, Housing, and the Bookstores were frequent supporters of Allies & Advocates, supplying food and drink and printed materials. Basic operating funds were provided to the organization by the Office of Inclusion and Equity for the last two years of its tenure.

2006: Allies & Advocates training is certified for COT (clerical/office/technical) development credit. A&A offers three training sessions per year, and the membership doubles in size to over 200.

2010: At the request of some fraternities and sororities, a specific Allies & Advocates training was created. Greek A&A was rolled out for the first time in January of 2010, and 419 students were trained in the following years. The program has now been tailored for all students, and training is ongoing.

2011: Sponsored by The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Allies & Advocates, Professor Laurel Westbrook led a Queer Theory seminar which was attended by almost two dozen faculty and staff. This gave rise to a study of Michael Foucault’s book, “The History of Sexuality.”

2013: Discussions are held about transferring the training function of Allies & Advocates to the Office of Inclusion & Equity. Training was assigned to the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center, beginning in the fall of 2015.

2015: The three resource centers were reorganized under the umbrella of Inclusion & Equity. The Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center took over all training functions.

Core Training Group Members, 2006-2015

Jacqui Hill

Milton Ford

MJ Thiel

Mary Sharp

Gary Van Harn

Monica Johnstone

Leijhi Koval

Rhonda Le Mieux

Jessica Berndt

Diana Pace

Emily Nisely

Carrie Simmons

Colette Seguin Beighley

A People's History of the LGBTQ Community in Grand Rapids

Visit the Grand Rapids LGBTQ People's History Project website to view the feature-length documentary as well as archival material collected for this project.

View the GVSU specific portion of the film here.



Page last modified March 30, 2017