Guest Blogger

Gay Campus Advocacy Has Changed Over the Years

Filed By Guest Blogger | February 02, 2011 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: LGBT, resumes

Editors' note: John D'Emilio teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago. A pioneer in the field of gay and lesbian history and author or editor of half a dozen books, he was also the founding director of the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

john-demilio.jpgThis past week I attended a high-spirited party at work. Our university's Gender & Sexuality Center, the office that advocates for GLBT issues on campus and provides services and support for students, faculty, and staff, was welcoming a new director. I had been on the committee that conducted the search, evaluated the applications, and made recommendations, so the party was an especially sweet occasion for me.

Ten years earlier, I had participated in the search for the previous director. I remember being both excited and worried at the applicant pool then. There were certainly lots of folks who wanted the job. Some had connections to the field of education; others were involved in GLBT community organizations, either as staff or board leaders; many had succeeded in other kinds of work that gave them skills that one would want in a director.

But would they adapt well to a campus work setting? Would their skills and experience be transferable? In this earlier search, we ended up hiring someone who was a high school teacher who had come out, had then become an adviser to his school's GSA, and had some administrative experience as well. He proved to be a good choice. He stayed with us for almost a decade, and the center expanded and had a higher profile under his direction.

The search last fall was a whole other kettle of fish. Again, we had a large pool of applicants who wanted the job. But the content of their resumes? Wow! So many of them had gone to graduate school with the intention of doing this kind of work. They were trained to provide services for and advocate on GLBT issues in higher education. Many were already doing this work, either as staff or directors of centers on other campuses. In just ten years, a whole new occupational category had been created, premised on the assumption that queer folks and their issues were an integral part of higher education.

In the grand scheme of things, this probably falls under the category of "small changes." But small changes can also tell us a lot. I can remember when pursuing GLBT research, other than to demonstrate that we were all sick, was an on-the-edge thing to be doing. I can remember when no one had ever heard of a gay studies course. I can remember when student groups fought simply for recognition as a legitimate campus organization. Now, meeting the needs of the campus queer constituency is a career that the current generation can pursue.

Okay, so maybe it means we're all not as far out there as gay and queer once was. But reading those resumes made me very happy.

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That's interesting to hear about. It seems that there are more and more people going into GLBT advocacy with the specific intent to make a career out of it. I don't know if that's positive or negative, probably a mixed bag, but the end result is more qualified people for specific jobs that were already there.

This transformation is why so many Stonewall-era activists like me ended up unemployable in today's world. We were good for being in the front lines, but not good enough to get paid for our work.

john demilio | February 4, 2011 10:23 AM

Alex - it's both positive and negative - or, "contradictory" as some of us like to say. it's good to have GLBT issues and advocacy institutionalized, so that students and others don't have to fight the same fight over and over. But, institutionalization also creates boxes that lead to the kind of thing that Les mentioned in his comment. Movements often get created through the energy and commitment of "volunteer" activists who do it out of their passion for justice. and the institutionalization that follows can leave many folks out in the cold.

Thank you for this post John. I am an LGBT Studies certificate student as well as a student staff member of the LGBT Campus Center here at the University of Wisconsin, so your post is extremely relevant to me.

The director of our center has a lot of responsibility on her shoulders and I know has learned so much from the position not just as an LGBT activist, but has come to realize that a successful center also addresses racism, classism, sexism, and ableism in its programming and social spaces. It's a HUGE job, the kind that for whoever takes it, it can't be just about the money, the passion has to be there.