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by Jessica Carreras
Benjamin Jenkins is gearing up to begin running the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s Gender & Sexuality Alliance. The 20-year-old college junior and Garden City resident hopes to carry the relatively new student organization forward with a revamped name and plenty of upcoming events as the fall semester gets underway.
1 How did you get involved with UM-Dearborn’s Gay-Straight Alliance?
We actually just recently renamed the organization UM-Dearborn’s Gender & Sexuality Alliance. It was a decision we made together to sort of change our focus as well allow the name of our organization actually express the organization itself. We are an organization for not just straight people and gay people, but for everyone, be they lesbian, bisexual, asexual, gay, transgender, gender neutral, queer – anyone. It’s a much more all-encompassing name that allows more discussion of identity. Luckily the initials remain the same, so we sometimes refer to it as the “GSA formerly known as the GSA.”
I got involved a little over a year ago. Thomas Wesley was president at the time and we had talked on campus and through Facebook, and I finally had the opportunity to step in the office. I talked a bit with a couple of members and everyone seemed really friendly. About a month later, Tom asked me if I would be interested in running for one of the co-president positions, as he was graduating.
I can honestly say that I have never been much involved in student organizations, and with only a month’s experience with the GSA, I was more than hesitant. However, between the great support of the current executive board and Tom, I was convinced. You’d be surprised how quickly you pick up the leadership skills and understanding of a university’s bureaucracy.
2 Have you always seen yourself as a leader in LGBT issues?
Honestly, not at all. When I first came to the GSA meetings, I had no intention of getting this involved. I was out about my sexuality to everyone, and I always followed LGBT issues in the news, but this was something I never expected. It is kind of funny to think about how I spent my free time a year ago and how I spend it now. I’m always e-mailing students, trying to co-sponsor events with other organizations, or planning social outings for members. So while I hadn’t seen myself in this kind of a position prior, I definitely enjoy every minute of it now.
3 What are your hopes for growing the organization?
With every incoming wave of freshmen, we hope to grow a sizable amount. Participation from students sometimes is difficult to retain at Dearborn’s campus, as we are commuter. It’s a lot easier to stay uninvolved when you aren’t staying on campus the entire semester, so one goal is to work on including new members while retaining our others.
Another goal is to successfully create a plan for transition. Students organizations will always have to struggle with keeping an organization running smoothly, because generally speaking the executive board consists of juniors and seniors, about ready to graduate and get out of here. We as an organization are making it a goal to prepare our younger members to take the reins when the time comes.
Lastly, this year we are hoping to make more ties with other organizations, both on and off our campus. It would be great to see more connections between LGBTQ related organizations at Ann Arbor, EMU, Wayne State, etc.
4 What events do you have coming up soon?
We have a lot of very exciting programming coming up this year. October is often known for an LGBTQ History Month at some universities. This year the GSA and the LGBTQ History Month Planning Committee are working together to create six or seven events for students, faculty and members of the community.
We have guest speakers coming such as Tim Retzloff (a local LGBTQ scholar focused on the history of Detroit), Holly Hughes (a U of M professor) as well as our very own LGBTQ Provost, Catherine Davy, who has just recently published her newest book, “Lady Dicks and Lesbian Brothers: Staging the Unimaginable at the WOW Cafe Theatre.”
We’ll also be showing a screening of “The Times of Harvey Milk” followed by a discussion led by myself, and a screening of “Screaming Queens” followed by a panel of local LGBTQ citizens of the metro Detroit area. Last but not least mayor of Ferndale, Craig Covey, will be coming down to speak as well. It’s definitely one of the largest student-run series of events the university has seen in a very long time.
We also plan to be hosting Free HIV/AIDS Testing on Dec. 1 and 2, and have been discussing a few other events, such as a safe sex awareness week, and something for Coming Out Day. It’s a busy year!
5 How do you hope to continue your work on LGBT issues after you graduate?
I’m not entirely sure. Come the end of fall I will have completed the requirements for my history degree, but I am looking into journalism and writing as well. The only cure I can think of for ignorance and intolerance is education. I’d like to think that eventually, after a few years of graduate school, I will be able to pair my fondness for history with my passion for LGBTQ equality and begin to research and publish American LGBTQ history.
Are you a new LGBTQA student at UM-Dearborn? Get involved with the GSA by visiting http://gsa.umd.umich.edu.