For 30 years, University students have watched panelists from
the gay community, often with indifference and questions about how
panelists’ stories relate to their lives. But now, students
are focusing their energy as much on challenging budget shortfalls
as on challenging students opinions.

The panel, called the Speakers Bureau and administered by the
Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs, has
bridged differences between diverse groups and worked to establish
common bonds. Though most talks concern issues of coming out,
issues range from current affairs to sexual identity.

But the program is in a precarious position. Potential cuts to
the LGBT Office could change its administrative structure.
Education and Training Coordinator Holly Ferrise will not be
rehired after June 30, since the administration could not afford to
make her position full-time, University spokeswoman Julie Peterson
said. The office has seen declines in its budget over the past few
years, law student and staff member Pierce Beckham said in a
previous meeting.

“We’re definitely feeling the constraints.
We’re concerned about what the repercussions of the budget
limitations may be,” Administrative Affairs Coordinator Molly
Bain Frounfelter said.

Part of this anxiety exists because budgets have not been
solidified yet.

Staff members in the office attribute the significant growth of
the Speakers Bureau to Ferrise.

Students have used Ferrise’s unemployment as a rallying
point against the Division of Student Affairs. But the
administration contends that some claims are exaggerated and cuts
to the office’s budget are not aimed at the Speakers Bureau,
but are an unfortunate byproduct of University-wide budget
shortfalls.

Ferrise, who has been with the office for six years, had been
consistently hired on a temporary, part-time basis. Her contract
was subject to evaluation annually.

In the past, the administration has employed staffers part-time
for long periods of time. When James Toy began working at the
Lesbian and Gay Male Program Office in 1971, he was hired on a
quarter-time basis, along with a lesbian co-coordinator. Six years
later, both coordinators were offered part-time status. Sixteen
years after the office began, Toy and his co-coordinator were hired
full-time. Both were employed on a year-to-year contract.

Toy, who worked with the office from its creation in 1971 until
1994, recalls the program’s great successes over the years,
most notably its ability to reach out and change minds.

“We engaged the students in self-exploration of their own
experiences to provide them with their own empathetic connection to
the concerns of the panel,” he said.

In the mid-’70s, the office created the Speakers Bureau to
“provide education to students in particular as well as the
faculty and staff about sexual orientation concerns.,” Toy
said.

Today, the bureau primarily visits classrooms to talk with
students at the University’s Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses,
along with Eastern Michigan University. Professors — and
sometimes residence hall directors — request speakers to
discuss issues of coming out and sexual identity with students.

Transgender individuals were once not formally incorporated into
the program, but under Ferrise’s direction, the Speakers
Bureau has become more inclusive and comprehensive, now discussing
these issues.

“As it exists now, it is Holly’s creation. And she
really did fight for transgender inclusion,” Bain-Frounfelter
said. “She’s really made it stronger, made it so that
it encompassed more issues.”

Ferrise’s integral role in the bureau has concerned
students that her departure might weaken the program in the
future.

LSA freshman Michael Wright, who works as a panelist, said that
people ask the most questions about current political issues, and
some stay after class for more information.

“The experience has been overwhelmingly positive. It
really helps students get in touch with current issues in the LGBT
community.”

As students listen to testimonials from panel members, folded
arms relax as students open up, Wright said. “You definitely
see a change in how receptive they are to LGBT issues,” he
said.

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