After hearing his friends talking about their university’s LGBTQ+ alumni groups, Will Thomas wondered why his alma mater, The University of Alabama, did not have one
So, he decided to change that.
Thomas, a UA alumnus currently living in Washington, D.C., began working with fellow UA alumnus Chase Sanders to create a group for LGBTQ+ alumni by sending out surveys to other University graduates across the country in June. They received over 200 responses.
“We’re so excited about it,” Thomas said. “We’ve had a phenomenal response so far. We’re really proud of what we’re doing.”
The new LGBTQ Alumni Association began its membership drive on Sept. 14 and has already gained attention of alumni interested in becoming members.
Thomas said the University has been very helpful in the process of starting the new alumni association, and he hopes this will help make LGBTQ+ alumni feel recognized by their alma mater and provide a network where current LGBTQ+ students can voice their concerns to alumni who can advocate on their behalf.
“I think a lot of LGBTQ+ people have a complicated relationship with Alabama the state and also the University itself,” Thomas said. “I think the need for our community is to kind of build bridges, build networks and connections across us internally and between the LGBTQ+ community and our allies. But it’ll also push the University and our alumni to make it known that we’re here and we’re one big Alabama family.”
Chris Bryant, assistant director of media relations, said in an email, alumni groups “provide a professional and educational network and offer support for students, alumni, faculty and staff,” and that the University wants “all of our alumni to have a positive relationship with the University in ways they find beneficial.”
Building a strong relationship between the University and its LGBTQ+ alumni is a vital part of what the group is seeking to accomplish, Thomas said.
“Alma mater in Latin means nourishing mother, and I would say if you surveyed most queer people while they’re at Alabama or also in retrospect, they probably wouldn’t say that they felt nourished or encouraged about that part of their life and experience,” Thomas said. “So we really want to provide some of those resources and push UA to be more of a place that’s really welcoming to everybody.”
Walt James, chairman of the Tuscaloosa chapter of the LGBTQ+ Alumni Association, said seeing the group form is something he would have never thought possible during his time at the University in the late 1970s and early ‘80s.
“It was all completely hidden when I was a student,” James said. “There was nobody that I knew that was anywhere near out. It was just a different world back then.”
James said he is excited to see what the group is able to provide for students in the future and that having groups specifically for LGBTQ+ students and alumni is an important part in making their presence on campus known and having their voices heard.
“I think it will help give awareness that we are a part of the population,” James said. “Most every school has an LGBTQ+ chapter, and we don’t want to appear as the racist, homophobic state that many people have in their minds.”
Kendell Wilson, president of Spectrum, the University’s LGBTQ+ student organization, said it is necessary to have a community of alumni to advocate for current students in ways that they cannot do themselves.
“Students don’t have the ability to bargain and work with the administration,” Wilson said. “The alumni association will be able to have those conversations and convey what students need, hopefully leading to positive change on campus.”
Individual memberships cost $25 and provide membership from Sept. 1, 2018 to Aug. 31, 2019. There is also a founding member option where an additional payment of $25 will be split between UA Safe Zone, UA’s LGBTQ+ resource center and a scholarship endowment. Founding members will receive a certificate of appreciation from both the LGBTQ+ Alumni Association and the National Alumni Association. Membership is open to all LGBTQ+ identifying persons as well as their allies.
Those interested in joining should visit the following link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2018-2019-membership-dues-registration-50250947938