Celebrating LGBT History

UM-Dearborn to host series of events to raise awareness, pride

by Jessica Carreras

The University of Michigan-Dearborn Gender and Sexuality Alliance wants to give its school's students a little history lesson. But these teachings on times gone by aren't anything that can be found in a class: it's the history of LGBT America.

While many college and high school LGBT student groups use October to focus only on National Coming Out Day, UM-Dearborn GSA President Benjamin Jenkins - who, not surprisingly, is a history major - decided to use the whole month to raise awareness, both about gay students on campus and the history of the gay civil rights movement.

"The main purpose of history month, to me, is to learn, but also to be able to show that we are as much a part of America as anybody else," Jenkins says of the series of events, which began Oct. 5 with a showing of "The Times of Harvey Milk."

He adds, "It's mostly a sensitivity thing so people can realize (LGBT students) are on campus and we have a history and it's important to learn about it and understand it. You can learn a lot from our history."

The GSA, in collaboration with several other student groups and university offices, intends to showcase that in a variety of ways: talks with Oakland County Commission candidate Craig Covey and historian Tim Retzloff. Several films and discussions to follow. A performance by avante garde entertainer Holly Hughes. A luncheon with UM-Dearborn Provost Kate Davy, author of "Lady Dicks and Lesbian Brothers," which chronicles the history of Manhattan playhouse the Women's One World Cafe Theatre.

"We really wanted to have a lot of different kinds of events," Jenkins explains. "We have luncheons, we have speakers and we have a performance piece, so we tried to get a lot of different ways of reaching people."

And in the middle of all of it, the GSA is celebrating National Coming Out Day, too, with a picnic and a chance for the group's members to proudly showcase their identities on T-shirts emblazoned with words like "gay," "bi" or however they see themselves.

"We thought doing something more loud and obnoxious and fun, rather than a solemn march, it would look more powerful," Jenkins said of the decision to host a picnic instead of a political event. "Coming Out Day is supposed to be more of a relaxed opportunity for us to do something that's not exactly so history-based, but that's more of an opportunity for us to gain more momentum for the rest of the month as well."

The message behind the event, however, is quite serious, especially in light of both the numerous suicides last month by gay teenagers and the nationally followed harassment of Chris Armstrong, the student body president at UM-Dearborn's sister campus in Ann Arbor.

For Jenkins and the GSA, celebrating LGBT History Month provides a chance to show that their campus is supportive and appreciative of LGBT students, too. "We're not very vocal at UM-Dearborn about (LGBT issues)," he admits. "I think UM-Ann Arbor is a little more prideful, which is something we're hoping to change."

And not just to show support for Armstrong, but for the LGBT students that attend classes at UM-Dearborn every day so that tragedies similar to the two college students who took their lives will never happen at Jenkins' campus.

"Sometimes the easiest way to recognize and understand a people is to recognize their trials and struggles," Jenkins says. "Through these (LGBT History Month) events and through events like Coming Out Day, I think we can send a message that at this university, we're trying our best to make the atmosphere something that's more comfortable, where people feel like they don't have to take that option (of suicide)."

"I think it's incredibly important."

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