U-M has a history of activism surrounding LGBTQ rights, which includes the founding of the Spectrum Center in 1971. Then known as the Office of Human Sexuality, it was the first university office in the U.S. staffed by queer students. To this day, the center works toward enhancing the campus climate and support services for the LGBTQ community at U-M.
Following in those footsteps, a group of alumni formed a committee in 2016 to establish the U-M LGBTQ Alumni Association (U-M LGBTQ) to advocate for and represent U-M’s alumni, faculty, students, staff, friends, and allies of all gender identities and sexual orientations.
Having established its vision, infrastructure, and Ann Arbor presence, the affiliate was eager to focus on expanding and connecting with other U-M clubs at the start of 2020. Then, the pandemic hit. However, Aaquil Rowe, ’16, who was elected board chair in June 2020, says the affiliate remains “committed to fostering diversity and inclusion in every space our alumni occupy.”
Regardless of COVID-19, the goal for 2021 and 2022 remains the same: start an initiative to broaden the membership nationwide. U-M LGBTQ plans to partner with a dozen regional Alumni Association clubs for virtual and, eventually, in-person events from coast to coast.
The benefits are apparent, says Rowe. “The U-M Club of Seattle hosted an LGBTQ-inclusive event, and it caught the interest of more than 30 alum who had never interacted with the club before.”
Past and future examples of programming include virtual cocktail-making classes, panel discussions with medical professionals, and open-mic storytelling sessions in the style of “The Moth Radio Hour.” In 2020, U-M LGBTQ launched its first flash sale, offering merchandise such as hoodies, T-shirts, and face masks. The affiliate group will continue to offer flash sales so more students and alumni can proudly wear U-M apparel that celebrates the LGBTQ community, no matter where they live.
Currently, U-M LGBTQ is encouraging fellow Wolverines to get involved through the Alumni Volunteer platform. Launched in January, Alumni Volunteer provides a central location for all volunteer opportunities offered through the University. It allows users to create a profile, tailor preferences, and strategically pick roles that fit their interests and skills. U-M LGBTQ was the first affiliate to work directly with Alumni Volunteer. Six months into the partnership, it is already seeing results.
“Since the launch, we’ve worked with more than 15 volunteers through the platform, ” says Rowe. As the U.S. continues to open up, the group plans to connect even more with the broader LGBTQ community and its allies through Alumni Volunteer.
U-M LGBTQ also is accepting contributions to its operational fund and is raising funds for two scholarships that will support LGBTQ student leaders at U-M. In addition, the affiliate will be part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the U-M Spectrum Center, which will take place over the course of the 2021-22 academic year.
“Being involved with us, ” Rowe says, “enables alumni to bring their full selves to the alumni experience. Getting involved offers a chance to elevate the voice of the community by shedding light and attention on the successes we — as a community — experience and leading by example when it comes to representation in all sectors.”