In June 1969, the “Stonewall Riots” in Greenwich Village, Manhattan sparked the “Gay Liberation Movement” in the United States, following the lead of such vocal activists as Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny. The following spring, the Ann Arbor community built upon the legacy of the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation Movements by founding the Ann Arbor Gay Liberation Front.
Like its predecessors, the Gay Liberation Movement faced many challenges. But when GLF struggled to obtain campus space for a statewide gay conference, a University of Michigan secretary offered a suggestion: Request that the University create an office to address issues related to sexual orientation. With the support of Women’s Liberation and Students for a Democratic Society, GLF did just that.
In 1971, the University took the great risk of establishing such an office, providing funding for two quarter-time positions to be filled by a lesbian and a gay man, as per GLF’s request that the office be staffed with gender parity. Cynthia Gair and I were hired as the office’s co-coordinators — the “Lesbian and Gay Male Advocates.” Thus was created the “Human Sexuality Office,” the first office in the United States — and likely the world — to address the concerns of queer students, faculty and staff in an institution of higher learning.
In 1977, the co-coordinators’ salaries were increased from quarter-time to half-time at the urging of local religious and spiritual leaders. A decade later, the positions were made full-time. In 1994, the University administration reduced the two positions to one, but positions for support staff and office space have expanded over the years.
Progress gradually continued in the 1980s as the office belatedly began supporting the concerns of bisexual people and the University administration agreed to rename it the “Lesbian-Gay Male Bisexual Programs Office.”
In 1984, University President Harold Shapiro issued a “presidential policy” forbidding discrimination at the University on the basis of sexual orientation. And in 1993, the University Board of Regents followed Shapiro’s example by amending its non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation, responding to the 21-year community campaign for this change. The next year the regents voted to provide domestic-partner benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of University employees and to open campus housing to same-sex student couples.
In 1997, the title and purview of the Lesbian Gay Male Bisexual Programs Office were expanded again to include transgender concerns, and it became “the Office of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Affairs.”
Last year, 36 years after the University established the “Human Sexuality Office,” the regents formally added gender identity and gender expression to the non-discrimination statement in the University bylaws. And in March, the office changed its name to the “Spectrum Center.”
Since 1971, the University counseling and medical services have become increasingly supportive of our concerns. Courses addressing issues of gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation have been added to the academic curriculum.
But now it’s time for Michigan and the rest of the nation to catch up. State and federal non-discrimination policies and “hate crime” legislation must be amended to include gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. An anti-bullying policy must be adopted and enforced in our public schools. And same-sex marriage and adoption rights must be supported by state and federal legislation.
We must all come to understand the connections among targets of discrimination, whether they’re oppressed based on sex and gender, race, economic class, ability, religion or political belief.
I have been privileged to serve the University community in our struggle for liberation since 1970. I am grateful for the support of so many students, staff, faculty, administrators and community members. Together, we are moving into the sun.
Jim Toy is the co-founder of the University’s Lesbian Gay Male Bisexual Programs Office, now called The Spectrum Center. He recently retired from his position as Diversity Coordinator at the University’s Office of Institutional Equity.