Armstrong unveils new scholarship on campus

McKenzie Berezin/Daily
Former Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong speaks at the Spectrum Center Pink Carpet Gala Event on Friday, Nov. 18. Buy this photo

By Haley Goldberg, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 20, 2011

With his parents standing proudly behind him on stage, Chris Armstrong, the first openly gay Michigan Student Assembly president, announced the Chris Armstrong Scholarship Fund on Friday at the Spectrum Center’s 40th anniversary Pink Carpet Gala Event.

The scholarship — which has an initial endowment of $100,000 — is intended for incoming freshmen, Armstrong told The Michigan Daily last night. In his speech to the crowd of students, alumni, members of the LGBT community and allies at Rackham Auditorium, Armstrong said the scholarship — which is funded by his parent — is meant to give students who have been bullied because of their sexual orientation the opportunity to attend the University and to help foster a supportive community.

“My parents and I decided to start a scholarship for students who’ve been bullied, to come to the University of Michigan … and show students how it gets better,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said that while at the University, he gained a lot of support through the Spectrum Center, the LGBT community and the student government. He said he hopes other students can have a similar experience through the scholarship.

“We’re all lucky to have this community,” Armstrong said to the crowd. “We’re all lucky to be here and find who we are here, and we know not everyone is lucky enough to have Michigan and not everyone is able to be in such an amazing community as Ann Arbor.”

In a YouTube video Armstrong released on Wednesday to announce his scholarship, he detailed his own experience of being bullied last year by former Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell.

Shirvell was fired last November after criticizing Armstrong in public protests and on a blog titled “Chris Armstrong Watch,” on which he claimed Armstrong was promoting a “radical homosexual agenda.”

Armstrong’s father Steve, an attorney in Connecticut, said in a speech at the gala on Friday that the University community helped Armstrong and his family to cope with the difficulties his family faced. He added that the scholarship will allow the Armstrong family to continue to show its gratitude.

“(We) endured the events of the past year only because of the strength and courage of our son, but we soon came to realize from where that strength and courage was coming,” Steve said. “We saw the University respond with one powerful, resounding and unified voice to shameful attacks on Chris.”

In response to Armstrong’s YouTube video, Shirvell said in an interview with The Michigan Daily on Friday that Armstrong’s statements in the video falsely accuse Shirvell of “stalking and bullying,” which Shirvell claims did not occur.

“There was no bullying, no stalking, and now, Mr. Armstrong has opened himself up to further liability by accusing me of committing a criminal offense, which is stalking,” Shirvell said.

Shirvell added that he will amend the complaint in his countersuit against Armstrong to seek damages for these new comments in the YouTube video. He said he also sent Armstrong’s lawyer, Deborah Gordon, a request to retract Armstrong’s statements.

According to Gordon, Shirvell’s claim that the YouTube video is “defamation” is meaningless.

“We are suing him under the civil stalking,” Gordon said. “So it’s Chris’s opinion that he stalked him, and I think any reasonable person could find evidence of that.”

Gordon said Shirvell’s perception of defamation is skewed, as Shirvell claims his blog against Armstrong was not slander.

“(Shirvell) thinks he can write a 100-page blog about my client saying the most outrageous, ridiculous things about him, and he says that’s not defamation …” Gordon said. “But the minute you say anything about (Shirvell), it’s defamation.”

Shirvell filed a new motion on Thursday to disqualify Gordon as Armstrong’s lawyer due to a conflict of interest. Shirvell said he believes Gordon had contact with the attorney general investigator on his case, Mike Ondejko, during the investigation before Shirvell was fired. Shirvell said the lawsuit he filed against Gordon on Oct. 28 is based on this claim.

“She’s putting her interests in her own lawsuit ahead of her duty to Chris Armstrong, her client,” Shirvell said. “If the attorney is being sued separately, the appearance of impropriety is there because there’s obviously a conflict of interest if she has to represent herself in that lawsuit … and her client.”

Shirvell’s most recent motion is without legal merit, said Gordon, who said she never talked to Ondejko about Shirvell, and there is no conflict of interest.

“First of all, why he cares whether I represent Chris is unknown to me,” Gordon said. “Secondly, he says I have a conflict with Chris, but if you read his papers, it’s nonsensical. There’s no conflict, and what he says is false.”

Gordon said Armstrong’s new scholarship is “wonderful.”

“I think it’s great that something positive can come out of something so hateful,” Gordon said. “There can be some positive result to all of the craziness that my client and others had to go through and put up with and deal with.”

In the email interview last night, Armstrong wrote that the scholarship is accepting donations and he hopes it will grow in the future.

"We are hoping (the scholarship) will grow for years to come," Armstrong wrote.

Shirvell refused to comment on the purpose of Armstrong’s scholarship to support a student who has faced bullying, claiming he doesn’t understand “the real reason” for the fund.