Assistant professor thanks peers

Tim Larrabee

This is an open thank you letter to the faculty, staff and administration of Oakland University. 

The University Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Ally Employee Resource Group (LGBTQA ERG) came into existence in the winter of 2004-2005 when the director of university diversity and Compliance, Joi Cunningham, initiated the creation of the ERG “to increase the level of awareness pertaining to diversity and inclusiveness in the exchange of distinct ideas and values that in turn creates enthusiasm across the university about diversity.”

Members of the LGBTQA ERG were very grateful to Joi for taking the progressive steps to create the ERG. As a result of its creation, much has been accomplished. Foremost, is the realization of broad support for the LGBTQ community on this campus, which is a haven from the decidedly hostile political environment across the state as evidenced by the passage of a constitutional amendment barring the state’s recognition of same-sex partners for any purpose, the lack of protections for LGBTQ people from housing and job discrimination, the refusal of the state Senate to pass anti-bullying legislation that is prohibits harassment of students based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, and the 133 percent increase in reported LGBT hate crimes in 2007, among other individual and state-sanctioned acts of homonegativity.

The ability of LGBTQ faculty and staff, and their allies, to identify and network through our university-sponsored ERG has led to some remarkable accomplishments. In the winter of 2006 we participated in the display of the Love Makes a Family Photo-Text Exhibit that traveled around the state. In fall of 2006, with the ardent support of our AAUP representatives, the university granted same-sex partners tuition waivers as well as leave time for partners’ illness or bereavement. In the winter 2007, the ERG hosted a community reception with other ERGs and LGBTQA organizations in the surrounding community. This past fall, the Gender and Sexuality Center hosted the first ever LGBTQA Welcome Reception. In fall 2009, we will start fundraising for the newly created LGBTQA Community Advocacy Scholarship for students.

Our efforts over the last two years have been focused on informing the university community about the consequences of the constitutional amendment barring state recognition of same-sex partnerships. As a result of our outreach, we have found amazing allies who are initiating their own conversations supporting the equal and equitable treatment of all university faculty and staff. Due to the efforts of our members and allies, more people across the university are aware of the social inequalities that exist, and they have expressed greater understanding and support for our efforts to eliminate them. Representatives from every bargaining unit on campus signed petitions urging the university to find ways to continue benefits for same-sex partners. Faculty, deans and the provost have publicly expressed support for OU’s LGBTQ faculty and staff because it is in the best interests of the university to attract and retain the best, brightest and most creative people they can find, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. In a recent AAUP survey, the majority of participating faculty indicated that the continuation of benefits was the top priority in upcoming contract negotiations. The AAUP leadership and bargaining team have been exceptionally hard at work finding ways to make this happen in an environment of ever-changing social policy and law

All this is to say that we know in the context of our contentious political environment many of you have publicly and privately expressed support for the equal and equitable treatment of all members of the university’s faculty, staff and administration. We want you to know that we do not take for granted, for even a moment, each and every one of our allies who are able to and opt to voice support for LGBTQ community on campus. For those acts of courage, we offer our sincerest gratitude. Thank you.