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Michigan Student Assembly's first openly gay president sworn in

Samantha Trauben/Daily
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Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 30, 2010

“Work hard, be true, go blue,” said former Michigan Student Assembly President Abhishek Mahanti last night in the Assembly Chambers, before yielding his position leading campus's leading student governing body to LSA junior Chris Armstrong. Business School junior Jason Raymond, Armstrong’s running mate, was also sworn in as MSA vice president.

Elected in a landslide victory last Friday, LGBT Commission Chair Chris Armstrong of MForward is now the first openly gay MSA president — a fact he said he hopes will have large implications not only for the LGBT community on campus, but also for the greater University community.

Armstrong said he hopes that being gay and holding a position as assembly president will demonstrate that any University student can represent the “spirit of Michigan.”

In an interview with The Michigan Daily yesterday, Armstrong recalled how he did not expect to ever be elected MSA president, after hiding his identity throughout high school and staying out of the public eye. He admitted that he only came out to a few friends and his parents by the end of his senior year in high school.

Elected at the end of his freshman year to be a MSA representative, Armstrong said he was “impressed” by the other representatives and the atmosphere of the MSA Chambers, but never thought he was capable of holding such a leadership position as a gay man.

Over the past three months of campaigning and forming MForward, Armstrong said he became even more sure of himself that he was ready to fulfill the role as president, despite his sexual identity.

“I think that slowly over the course of the campaign that broke down,” he said. “It shows that MSA can do anything.”

After serving two years as chair of MSA’s LGBT Commission, Armstrong has made a name for himself within the community.

His work in bringing the Midwest LGBT Conference to campus next year came from his work with the Victory Fund — a national political action committee that trains LGBT leaders to hold political positions in the government and across the country. Victory Fund also helped Armstrong — who interned with the committee last summer — in his MSA campaign, he said.

Armstrong cited that Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh, another openly gay politician, also worked with Victory Fund. Armstrong said Pugh's political success inspired him and proved that he could lead a similar role.

Gabe Javier, Armstrong’s self-proclaimed mentor and assistant director at the University’s Spectrum Center, said Armstrong’s esteemed position as MSA president will have a large effect on the campus as a whole. He said Armstrong’s election win is a “proud moment” for the University and has important implications for the LGBT community to have such representation.

“I have high confidence that Chris is going to represent the interests of all students,” Javier said. “This is an important time for Michigan.”

Javier said Armstrong is a great role model for every student who is struggling to find his or her identity.

“It’s really great to have a role model like Chris out there who can show that it’s possible to be a student leader and be out and be successful as a gay person,” he said.

Javier said the University isn’t the first university in the Big Ten to have an openly gay student government president. In 2006, Ohio State University elected an openly gay student to serve as the school’s student government president.

Armstrong said his new position has been an amazing feat for the LGBT community.

“I think that personally, it’s a big accomplishment for the LGBT community on campus,” Armstrong said, adding that his willingness to express his identity motivated him to run in the election.