Atlanta's Emory University hosts its 20th Emory Pride celebration tonight, honoring students, faculty and staff who helped make the school a national leader for LGBT equality.

Tonight's event marks two decades since the first Emory Pride celebration, which was held in March 1993 to commemorate the anniversary of student protests that spurred the university to greater commitment and inclusion for LGBT people.

Emory University celebrates 20 years of LGBT activism, inclusion

The 20th annual Pride Awards, held at the Emory Law School, is expected to draw more than 250 attendees, according to Dr. Michael Shutt, director of Emory’s Office of LGBT Life. It features presentation of several awards, including honoring 20 “Change Agents” who helped shape the university’s climate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.

“During the first 20 years, much energy had to be used to change policies and procedures to ensure some sense of inclusion and equality,” Shutt said. “We are now at a point where we can envision the future in a way that is not about survival, but about empowerment and liberation.

“While there is still work to do on policies, procedures, education and visibility, we are now in a position to be more thoughtful and proactive in the work we do. … For this reason, we MUST celebrate and honor those who have worked so hard to bring us to this point,” he said.

Several of the Change Agent honorees were involved in the protest that inspired the very first Emory Pride event.

The 1992 protest came after two Emory freshmen, Michael Norris and Alfred Hildebrand, were jeered by a group of students after they were seen kissing in a dormitory common area. Students upset by the university’s handling of the incident staged a march through campus and sit-in in the university president’s office.

Their activism fueled the formation of campus commissions to examine and advance LGBT inclusion, and led to multiple advancements including the hiring of a full-time director for Emory’s Office of LGBT Life and Emory offering domestic-partner benefits to employees.

Now, “I would say we are leaders nationally,” Shutt noted. “As the Co-Chair of the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals, Emory is seen as a leader in higher education because of its history, progress towards full equity and inclusion, and intentional programming.”

Shutt listed these “clear indicators” of Emory’s leadership on LGBT issues:

  • Emory University was the first to offer support services for LGBT students in the southeast (10th in the country).
  • It is one of 25 universities to offer comprehensive student health insurance for transgender students (mental health care, hormonal therapies, and surgery). 
  • It is one of 25 universities to offer comprehensive student health insurance for transgender students (mental health care, hormonal therapies, and surgery).
  • Emory offers gender neutral housing
  • Emory has a nondiscrimination and equal opportunity policies that include gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation
  • Emory has domestic partner benefits for same sex employees
  • Emory has nine LGBT student organizations, a faculty/staff group, and a thriving alumni group
  • Emory was given a 5 star rating (out of 5 stars) on the LGBT Friendly Campus Climate Index in 2011, the only university in the southeast to receive this ranking
  • We proudly hosted the biennial conference of the World Professional Organization of Transgender Health in 2011. At this conference, the new Standards of Care were unveiled to the world.
  • Emory’s first queer student organization was founded in 1972 (Gay Liberation Committee)
  • Emory’s president made an “It Gets Better” video in 2011 to clearly articulate Emory’s values
  • Emory Healthcare achieved 6 out of 7 indicators of equality on the Healthcare Equality Index
  • Emory GALA (Emory’s LGBT alumni group) has supported the creation of four funds that support LGBT students. This includes a scholarship, the J. Michael Aycock Leadership Development Fund, Dr. Daniel D. Adame Leadership Fund and the Office of LGBT Life Fund. By the end of this academic year, these funds will make up a $300,000 endowment in the Office of LGBT Life.

The 20 Change Agents to be honored are a diverse group of alumni, faculty and staff. Many have multiple accomplishments; a few are summarized here.

  • Michael Norris and Alfred Hildebrand, the students whose kiss sparked the campus protests;
  • Christopher Hightower, an Emory staff member who fought to have his commitment ceremony in a campus chapel;
  • Donna Narducci, an Emory staff member who served as interim administrator of Emory’s Office of LGBT Life before a full-time director was hired, and went on to serve as executive director of Atlanta Pride;
  • Gerry Lowrey, an Emory alumnus and staffer whose accomplishments include serving, from 1977-78, as president of Emory’s first LGB student group;
  • Emory alumnae Emily Saliers and Amy Ray, who as the folk-rock duo Indigo Girls have brought increased visibility for LGBT and other social justice issues around the world;
  • Emory alumni Barry Baker and Michael Aycock, whose many achievements include serving on the Emory Vaccine Center advisory board and organizing fundraisers for the Office of LGBT Life;
  • Sharon Semmens and Elliott Mackle, who founded Emory’s Gay And Lesbian Alumni (GALA) group in 2005;
  • Ed Stansell, Emory staff member and alumnus who was a longtime activist in Atlanta’s LGBT community, and supported LGBT student groups before the founding of the Office of LGBT Life;
  • Jason Schneider, an Emory faculty member and former president of the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association;
  • Cindy Patton, who was hired as the first Lesbian/Gay Studies professor at Emory;
  • Bill Fox, the Emory Dean of Campus Life who helped found the Office of LGBT Life in 1991;
  • Donna Smith & Michael Wyatt, founding graduate student coordinators of the Office of LGBT Life;
  • Laura Douglas-Brown (That’s me, thanks Emory!), Emory alumnae involved in the 1992 protests and served on later commissions to advance LGBT rights on campus, and went on to cover LGBT Atlanta as editor of Southern Voice, then editor and co-founder of GA Voice;
  • Susan Henry-Crowe, Dean of the Chapel and Religious Life at Emory who played a critical role in negotiating a policy allowing same-sex couples to marry in campus chapels;
  • Rudolph Byrd, a late Emory faculty member who was the first out gay black man to direct an African-American Studies department, studied how the civil rights movement intersects with today’s black LGBT civil rights movement, and founded the James Weldon Johnson Institute for Race & Difference;
  • Sara Luce Look, an Emory alumnae who as a student was instrumental in forming the Office of LGBT Life, served on committees after the 1992 protest, and now is co-owner of Charis Books & More, the South’s oldest feminist bookstore;
  • Anson Koch-Rein, founder of TransForming Emory, the first campus group for trans/genderqueer/gender nonconforming people;
  • Randy New, an Emory graduate and adjunct faculty who offered a matching gift that led to the endowment of the GALA Leadership Award, and has served on many LGBt nonprofit boards;
  • Daniel D. Adame, an Emory faculty member who was a pioneer in discussing LGBT issues, safer sex and HIV in Emory health coursework;
  • Scott Turner Schofield, an Emory alumnus who helped open the door for transgender students at Emory and was the first openly trans artist to be commissioned by the National Performance Network;
  • Saralyn Chesnut and Michael Shutt, the founding and second directors of the Office of LGBT Life, whose many accomplishments have made the office a vital part of the Emory community.