Last week “Inside Higher Ed” published an article that starts with the sentence “The number of gay college presidents has increased rapidly in the past seven years.” What a revelation this is! Even though I have spent my entire career in academia, I have never given much thought to the life of the presidents of these institutions .. they seem so far removed from the day to day activities of teaching classes, advising students, working on research projects, planning curriculum. And, the image of most college administrators, as in virtually all other corporate or institutional administrative circles, is laden with heterosexual messages … mostly men photographed with their wives at their side.
Of course I know that “we are everywhere” but somehow it came as a bit of a surprise to see this announcement. The seven-year “increase” could simply be a function of the wave of “coming out” that has happened in our community across the board, but I suspect that it is also a real increase due in part to a greater acceptance, by those who influence the selection of folks in these positions, to someone who does not fit the heterosexual mold. The organized group, LGBTQ Presidents in Higher Education, has grown from 7 in 2010, to a current membership of 48! The nine presidents who formed the group included 4 women and 5 men .. a proportion of women college presidents that would be hard to find in most circles!
But the most exciting news is that this group of college presidents is hosting a conference next summer for LGBTQ academics who are interested in becoming college administrators! The conference theme will be “LGBTQ Leaders in Higher Education: Shaping Our Futures.” It will coincide with the Chicago gay pride weekend June 25-28, 2015.
I suspect that most readers of this blog do not see themselves as prospective members of this group, or even as potential attendees in the conference. But the fact that this group exists, and that fact of this conference planned for next summer, is to something major for our community! We all benefit from the presence of these trailblazers, particularly in a field that has so great an influence in the lives of young people who are completing their education! Even reading through the current list of members, and their affiliations, is an inspiring experience! So here’s to yet another breakthrough for LGBTQ visibility, and influence!
Imagine my surprise…..
Hey Peggy! 8)
How very interesting — thanks for sharing this! I’m going to start saving my pennies for next June’s conference. I’m not a college/university president but I am an administrator – and an out lesbian.
I was out at my institution since I began there as a faculty member in 2001 and I received an administrative appointment in 2010. I found that my colleagues, most of whom are straight and married (or divorced) with kids, seemed extraordinarily enthused when I went from being single to coupled recently. Yes, I’m sure many were happy to see me happy but I was also thrilled to be single. I suspect their relief was due in no small part to the fact that they could relate to an attached lesbian much better than they could relate to a single lesbian.
In other words, my life with a partner assumes a heteronormative appearance that is familiar to my straight colleagues while when I was single, well, who knew WHAT I was doing WHEN and WITH WHOM?
I think that the same may be true for Americans in general, which is why we’re seeing even conservative governors support, or at least fail to resist, their states’ legalizations of same sex marriage. SSM is inevitable so why bother fighting it? If queers want to marry and be just like everyone else then great – break out the sparkling cider!
So, when you express surprise in your post above that folks who “don’t fit the heterosexual mold” are making it in the world of higher ed admin then my response is: but they do fit the heterosexual mold – many are married, they have kids, and they seem much more heteronormative in their daily existences then are single, childless lesbians and gays.
If I ever got married, I’m convinced that my straight colleagues would burst like ripe tomatoes from sheer joy. But the source of their joy would be at least partially due to my perceived transformation – from someone to whom they could not relate to a person who was quite similar to themselves.
My question to you and your readers is this: if LGBTQ folks need to be perceived as “just like everyone else” in order to be treated equally then is what we gain really worth what we lose in the process?
What a fabulous response, Wendy! You have raised the most difficult conundrum that we face! For my whole life before this, and still now, I object the the concept of marriage for everyone, but since society in general is not ready to accept that perspective, and since marriage as it exists in our society (totally constructed by patriarchal, heteronormative forces) is a human right, I support it for all. As a friend of mine related that an African American activist said to her “We did not protest to eat at the 5 & 10 lunch counter because the food was good!” So yes, there are ways in which we compromise in certain ways, but in so doing we also gain possibilities for being fully who we are in ways that we may not realize if we remain distanced and separate from the mainstream. Having said this .. my view is that we folks who do both … some folks who stand and fight with and within the mainstream, and folks who stand steadfast in standing for values outside the mainstream. As a person who walks this line very very tentatively, I fully appreciate and support both .. while at the same time really admiring folks who are fully positioned in one side or the other of this contradiction!!