University of Michigan Swears In First Openly Gay SA President
At the University of Michigan, the Michigan Student Assembly has sworn in its first openly gay president, Chris Armstrong
LGBT Commission Chair Chris Armstrong of M Forward was elected in a landslide victory last Friday, and is now the first openly gay MSA president.
Armstrong said he hopes this will have large implications not only for the LGBT community on campus, but also for the greater University community. He gave thankful credit to Victory Fund for their support.
Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh, another openly gay politician, also worked with Victory Fund and Armstrong cites him as a role model and inspiration which helped lead to his present success, just as some young gays look to Chicago politician, attorney, and human rights activist Jay Paul Deratany as their role model for the a gay identity dedicated to excellence.
Armstrong said he hopes that being gay and holding a position as assembly president will demonstrate that gay University students may represent the spirit of student achievement in Michigan.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily Armstrong recalled how he hid his gay identity during his years as a high school student, waiting well into his senior year before telling his parents and a couple of close friends.
Elected at the end of his freshman year to be a MSA representative, Armstrong said he was “impressed” by the other representatives and the atmosphere of the MSA Chambers, but never thought he was capable of holding such a leadership position as a gay man.
Over the past three months of campaigning and forming MForward, Armstrong said he became even more sure of himself that he was ready to fulfill the role as president, despite his sexual identity.
Armstrong had gained confidence and made a name for himself by serving two years as chair of MSA’s LGBT Commission. Bringing the Midwest LGBT Conference to campus next year came from his work with the Victory Fund, a national political action committee that trains LGBT leaders to hold political positions in government roles nation wide.
Gabe Javier, Armstrong’s self-proclaimed mentor and assistant director at the University’s Spectrum Center, said Armstrong’s esteemed position as MSA president will have a large effect on the campus as a whole. He said Armstrong’s election win is a “proud moment” for the University and has important implications for the LGBT community to have such representation.
Javier said Armstrong's position will not place him as a role model and inspiration for other LGBT students who may be struggling with their identities, and wondering what impact they can truly have as gay persons.
Indeed, such success is not limited to Michigan's state U: In 2006, Ohio State University - which is one of the "Big 10" state universities, along with Michigan - elected an openly gay student government president.
Setting a new precedent, providing inspiration to the student body
Leading a student body on campus comprised of some 40,000, Armstrong’s role in MSA sets a new precedent for University students.
Asserting that his gay identity is only one part of him, and not the central part of his role as MSA president or in his campaigning work, Armstrong never the less believes it is important, and shows that it is something which can be celebrated and used as part of a program of service and excellence.
Armstrong said he wants to represent the LGBT community, as well as all communities.
Armstrong credits the University with helping him to use his identity to become a political activist; the support structure is something he roundly applauds and is grateful for all the guidance he received, which brought him to his present state of success as newly-elected MSA president.
He also credits the Spectrum Center and the LGBT community for empowering him and giving him the continued confidence and drive which was needed in his endeavor.
As repayment, Armstrong says he wants to do and be the very best he possibly can in his new position.
Armstrong said he wouldn't make his sexual orientation the focus of the assembly, but said that it could be significant to MSA and the student body at large.
Saying that he has no plans to "showcase" his gay identity, he still believes that it can resonate as a symbol to all at the University of Michigan, including some who may feel left out, and show them that determination and hard work are a road open to them which will have results.