Bonnie Johnson headshot

Hi Volunteer family,

Happy October! Whether it’s getting into the Big Orange spirit at Homecoming or enjoying all things creepy with Halloween approaching, there is certainly something for all this fall. For our LGBTQ+ community on campus, we have been celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month over the last four weeks through a wide variety of programming and events.

Started in 1994 by Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school history teacher, LGBTQ+ History Month is observed every October in the United States in honor of National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11 annually) and the first-ever march for gay rights in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 14, 1979.

It joins other cultural heritage months throughout the calendar year as a time for education, awareness, remembrance and celebration of underrepresented and marginalized identities and communities.

The history, contributions and accomplishments of the LGBTQ+ community are often erased and suppressed. I encourage you to explore opportunities that resurface and amplify our queer and trans elders and their activism, advocacy and struggles for the rights we have today.

We each make a little bit of history every day as we go about our lives, particularly when we are living as our most authentic selves. We may not realize that our actions now can and will ripple into the future, potentially paving a new route for others to follow and take up the torch of change and hope.

Did you know LGBTQ+ student activism and advocacy has at least 50 years of history at our own university? From 1971 to 1974, the Gay Liberation Front (later renamed the Gay People’s Alliance) appealed, protested and legally challenged the university to recognize the group as a registered student organization and provide equal funding and facility access.

After the Student Government Association, then in charge of student funding and space usage, expressed its support for the Gay Liberation Front, it was dissolved and replaced with the Student Senate that did not have the same funding and

administrative abilities.

Were these student activists aware at the time that they were blazing a new trail for their fellow Volunteers and forever changing what university support for the LGBTQ+ community meant?

I think they knew that they were making a difference for themselves and the community in that moment, but I do not think they could have ever imagined the legacy they created that carries through to our time half a century later.

In the spirit of the month, we must remember that it is our duty to learn from their lives and experiences to continue the fight for a more just and equitable society for all people.

Even as we close out LGBTQ+ History Month, I hope that you can tap into the rich history around us not only on campus but in our local Knoxville community. If you would like to learn more about local LGBTQ+ history, I highly recommend checking out the East Tennessee LGBTQ+ History Project housed in our very own UT Archives. It contains oral histories, old newspapers and newsletters, organization histories and more.

As we enter the final part of the semester, I hope to see you at any of our upcoming events, like our annual Friendsgiving Community Dinner cohosted with Multicultural Student Life and the International House on Nov. 16 or our Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigil on Nov. 17. Find more details on our website or social media.

Have a great week and go Vols!

With pride,

Bonnie Johnson

Pronouns: she/they

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