Photo contributed by Will Thomas
After realizing that the University of Alabama did not have an alumni group that represented the LGBTQ+ community, UA alumni Will Thomas and Chase Sanders vowed to make one.
In September 2018, Thomas and Sanders officially created the LGBTQ+ Alumni Association. Since the association was founded, Thomas and Sanders have started to raise money for an endowment fund, which was approved on July 12.
Today I got to sign papers establishing an endowment fund for the @BamaLGBTQAlums scholarship. Majorly proud, supremely humbled. pic.twitter.com/DqU57pqYWr
— Will Thomas (@WillCThomas) July 12, 2019
“We have just under $5,100 for this endowment fund from our 150 Founding Members and other generous donors from 23 states and abroad,” Thomas said.
THE FIGHT FOR CHANGE
The 1983 Endowment Fund was formed by the UA LGBTQ Alumni Association to invest “in the future of LGBTQ leadership on campus,” Thomas said.
The fund is named after the year that the first Gay Student Union formed on campus, which only happened after years of advocacy, Thomas noted.
Amid avid resistance from the UA chapter of Young Americans for Freedom as well as fellow students and faculty, student founders made a series of attempts to get GSU off the ground in the spring semester of 1983. Seeing the need for more support, former English professor and faculty sponsor David Miller issued a call to fellow faculty to sign up as co-sponsors. A memo sent from Miller to UA faculty on behalf of GSU is memorialized in University Libraries’ “Empowering Voices” collection, which brings light to LGBTQ+ history on campus.
“The Gay Students’ Union will make formal application for recognition as a campus-affiliated organization early next week,” Miller wrote to UA faculty on April 13 that year. “…Nobody is asking for a commitment of time. It’s your good name we want to drag through the mud.”
According to University Libraries, it wasn’t until about six months later, after threats of ACLU intervention, that the UA Student Government Association recognized GSU as an official student organization. This victory would pave the way for other LGBTQ+ affirming groups to rise up on campus, and it’s in that spirit that Thomas and Sanders hope to garner more support for queer students who still face challenges at the University.
“The LGBTQ+ community at The University is significant, and we want to ensure that it thrives and that we are at the table when it comes to any decisions made by the University,” Sanders said. “Students that will directly benefit from this financial investment will be the future LGBTQIA+ leaders that we need to keep the community at the table. With this first endowment fund, we hope LGBTQIA+ students, faculty, and alumni see the power in investing in our university and the LGBTQ+ community.”
The money that is being donated to the association will be distributed into a scholarship fund for supporting and active LGBTQ+ students. Thomas has high hopes for the endowment fund and its scholarship outlook.
“My ultimate hope is that this fund someday provides full rides to LGBTQIA+ students who might not otherwise get the opportunity to attend college at all,” he said.
Not only do the association’s founders hope to raise enough money for scholarships, but they also want to promote the idea that LGBTQ+ students can succeed at the University of Alabama.
“As far as our group is concerned, I hope we help make LGBTQIA+ students feel supported and resources on campus and provide opportunities for them once they graduate,” Thomas said.
While student groups such as GSU have made strides since the early 80s, national statistics show that LGBTQ+ students still face obstacles in several aspects of their educational careers.
According to a 2016 study by the Postsecondary National Policy Institute, “13.4% of LGBTQ students who experienced frequent verbal harassment didn’t plan to attend college after high school.” Some LGBTQ+ students who come out in college also risk being cut off financially from family members who may not support their sexual orientation or how they identify.
“We want to help show the rest of the country and the world that LGBTQ people can exist and thrive at Alabama, both on campus and wherever they end up after their time at The Capstone (be that in Alabama or elsewhere),” Thomas said.
Sanders noted that the fund is only the beginning of efforts to support local LGBTQ+ students and community members, and he hopes the association can set a standard across the state of Alabama.
“We represent such a diverse community with unique experiences and voices that we hope to advocate for and enrich the experience of being a student at the University of Alabama,” Sanders said. “I think this fund is a fantastic first step in achieving these goals and investing in the future of our community at the University.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Chase Sanders’ first name. It has been corrected.