History of the Center
After many years of advocacy and campus organizing by students, faculty, and staff, the LGBT Resource Center opened its doors in the Kirkhof Center in 2008 under the direction of Dr. Milton E. Ford. The Center was created as a unit in the Division of Student Services. The opening was celebrated with a campus-wide event, “Three Centers: One Vision,” acknowledging the partnerships with the Women’s Center (now Center for Women and Gender Equity) and the Office of Multicultural Affairs. At the beginning of 2010, Dr. Ford returned to his full-time faculty status and then assistant director, Colette Seguin-Beighley, was promoted to director.
In October 2015, under the leadership of Vice President for Inclusion and Equity, Dr. Jesse Bernal, the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center joined the Division of Inclusion and Equity.
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. A Lanthorn article from 1971 featured the headline, "Grand Valley Gay Alliance holds public pit session featuring real life homosexual" (5/26/71, p. 4).
- In the early 90s, the student organization was called Ten Percent of You or 10% of U (noted in Network News newsletter 03/90).
- In 1997, Ten Percent reformed as Out N About, which existed through the end of the 2017 academic year. Out 'N' About sponsored 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.
- In the early 90s, Allies & Advocates formed as an LGBT faculty and staff organization that offered training to other faculty and staff about how to better support and provide safe spaces for LGBT students at GVSU. Beginning in 2006, A&A offered three training sessions a year, and the organization developed a visible campus presence through door placards and 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, the office hosted the first Liaison hours, and in 2006 the Liaison position became half-time in the Division of Student Affairs with responsibility for providing services and support to LGBT students.
- In the winter of 2005-2006, an advisory group composed of students, faculty, staff, and area representatives developed a Strategic Plan for an LGBT Resource Center to open in Kirkhof Center in May 2008.
- Housing supported a student version of Allies & Advocates called Safe Harbor to inform students about the challenges of LGBT experience at GVSU and to provide safe space in the living areas. Housing also began sponsoring a drag show, which has become a favorite LGBT event 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 advocate for domestic partner benefits 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 continues to grant two to three scholarships each year and is now joined by the West Shore Aware LGBT Scholarship (funded by West Shore Aware, a non-profit, philanthropic, LGBT organization in Saugatuck/ Douglas) and the Hamlin Scholarship.
- 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.
- In the spring of 2007, GVSU held its first Lavender Graduation, a cultural celebration that honors the achievements of LGBT students.
- GVSU now has a family of organizations, each playing key roles in the continuing development of a healthy campus environment for LGBT students, faculty, 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: [email protected].
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.
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 [email protected]
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 nontraditional 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 living centers. 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:
- Carrie Simmons
- Colette Seguin Beighley
- Diana Pace
- Emily Nisely
- Gary Van Harn
- Jacqui Hill
- Jessica Berndt
- Leijhi Koval
- Mary Sharp
- Milton Ford
- MJ Thiel
- Monica Johnstone
- Rhonda Le Mieux
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.