Spectrum Center: 50 and Fabulous
In 1971, U-M opened the first center for the lesbian and gay community on a college campus. With sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as its framework, the Spectrum Center staff strives for an inclusive campus community where social justice inspires engagement and equity. (All photos courtesy of the Spectrum Center.)
Love does win
On Sept. 25, The Michigan Marching Band marked the 50th anniversary of the Spectrum Center’s founding with an uplifting halftime program during the Rutgers game. They opened the show with Diana Ross’ 1980 disco classic, “I’m Coming Out.”
Contemporary students are able to celebrate “Pride Outside” because of Spectrum Center founder Jim Toy. In 1972, Toy co-authored the “Lesbian-Gay Pride Week Proclamation,” making the Ann Arbor City Council the first governing body of its kind in the nation to officially recognize Gay Pride.
Initially, on March 17, 1970, following the creation of the Detroit Gay Liberation Movement a few weeks earlier, both students and members of the larger community came together to initiate the U-M chapter of the Gay Liberation Front. This image was typical of the time, as LGBTQ+ students found their collective voice on campus.
Pictured here is former Spectrum Center director Ronnie Sanlo (far right) with three students. “I discovered early on that students needed somebody to listen to them without judgment,” Sanlo says. “I wanted them to know they always had a safe place and a safe person with whom they could talk.” Early staffers were called human sexuality advocates. This achievement was monumental, in that it was officially the first staff office for queer students in an institution of higher learning in the United States.
By early 1973, the office had formed its first speakers bureau, which consisted of gay male and lesbian students and members from the community. They worked with other student groups to educate U-M students concerning gay and lesbian issues. These students did their part and let their signs do the talking.
Spectrum Center founder Jim Toy and Ryan Bradley cut the ribbon at the Jim Toy Library. The JTL holds more than 1,500 titles, including books, videos, and magazines. Books are organized by genres such as “Coming out,” “LGBTQ History,” and “Transgender.”
The annual Lavender Graduation, also referred to as LavGrad, is a celebration to honor LGBTQ+ graduates. Established by Ronni Sanlo in 1995, U-M’s LavGrad was the first commemorative event of its kind celebrated at an institution of higher learning.
The Spectrum Center launched the University of Michigan LGBTQ+ Oral History Project in fall 2021. Jess Jackson, MBA/M.ED, a multimedia designer, community architect, educator, and healing practitioner, contributed her story to the project. Through the oral histories, creators hope to establish a queer sense of intergenerational connection, while elevating LGBTQ+ voices and experiences.
Activism at its bestU-M student activists Xochi Sánchez, Parker Kehrig, and Lio Riley attended the MBLGTACC annual conference in Madison Wisconsin in October to promote the University of Michigan LGBTQ+ Oral History Project. With Spectrum Center as their home base, these youthful activists continue the important work begun by Jim Toy and his early collaborators.