The University’s Spectrum Center launched a year-long celebration in honor of its 40th anniversary last night.
About 100 people attended the event, titled “Doin’ it for 40 Years,” that was held at the University of Michigan Museum of Art and featured live music, speakers and artwork that honored four decades of LGBT activism.
The Spectrum Center — which provides education, outreach, advocacy and support for LGBT students and allies at the University — was developed by Jim Toy in 1971 and originally called the Human Sexuality Office. Toy, who became the first person in Michigan to publicly announce his gay identity, is a long-time advocate of gay rights in the state. He is also the co-author of the city of Ann Arbor’s LGBT non-discrimination policy.
At the event, Toy said he thinks it’s “unbelievable” that it has been 40 years since the office first opened its doors. He said he’s appreciative that the University supported the establishment of what was a controversial office at the time.
“The University took an enormous risk in creating the office and sustaining it, and I’m grateful,” Toy said.
The Spectrum Center’s staff, volunteers and allies have strived to stay strong over the years, Toy said, despite hardships they have faced from inequality and discrimination that have plagued LGBT students at the University.
“We are connected,” he said. “We are family.”
Royster Harper, the University’s vice president for student affairs, said at the event that the Spectrum Center has played a pivotal role at the University for helping students gain a better sense of self and increasing tolerance for the LGBT community.
“(The center) has helped us discover who we are and what’s inside us,” Harper said. “Our differences are as important in making us human as our similarities.”
Jackie Simpson, director of the Spectrum Center, said that in light of recent character assaults against LGBT students like Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong, it’s particularly important to have organizations like the Spectrum Center encourage open discussion and tolerance.
Armstrong was the target of former Michigan assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell, who created a blog about Armstrong which claimed he was promoting a “radical homosexual agenda.”
“If you look at the events of the past year, like the harassment of Chris Armstrong and the suicides on college campuses around the country, I feel it’s important to have a place of acceptance and a place that says we care,” Simpson said.
Simpson said as the center reaches its 40th anniversary, she hopes it will continue to establish itself as an important institution on campus that helps generate thoughts about LGBT issues among students.
Social Work graduate student Timothy Corvidae, a staff member at the Spectrum Center, said that students who enter the office “walk out with a much bigger vision.”
“The fact that there is a need for (support) is what brings us together,” Corvidae said. “We’re not a single-identity community, so we can’t be a single-issue organization.”
LSA freshman Heather Cooper, who attended the anniversary event, said the Spectrum Center is a crucial part of campus because it provides a “safe” place where LGBT students can feel comfortable discussing issues they are facing.
The Spectrum Center’s celebration will continue throughout the year with a monthly film series, a health panel series, speakers and various entertainers.
According to the Spectrum Center’s website, one of the main events occurring this year is the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference (MBLGTACC). This is the first year the University has been chosen to host the conference, which will run from Feb. 25 through Feb. 27.
MBLGTACC is the largest national student-led LGBT conference. This year, it will feature speakers like Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, and Mandy Carter, founder of the National Black Justice Coalition. It will also feature performances, workshops and presentations by groups like the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and InterGroup Dialogues.
Gabe Javier, assistant director of the Spectrum Center, said the conference will benefit the University because it provides a forum to discuss prevalent LGBT issues.
“(It’s) going to be a great point of energy for our campus as a whole,” Javier said. “It’s not just a celebration for Spectrum Center, but it’s for the University.”