By Gregory Varnum
This month the LGBT movement lost an inspirational leader. His passing will not be marked by a Presidential Proclamation nor will any great monuments be erected commemorating his achievements, but his impact on the individual lives of many in our movement is no less profound than that of Frank Kameny or Barbara Gittings. Professor Michael McGuire was a courageous LGBT pioneer in his own right, and one of our movement’s many unsung heroes.
Before it was the popular thing for a public university to do, Prof. McGuire was among a small group of professionals working for Eastern Michigan University who recognized the university’s LGBT students needed something more than just an ally in the Dean of Students office. Working with his colleagues, he helped EMU found a campus LGBT resource center which has been a leader in Michigan’s higher education community ever since.
His accomplishments in his beloved field of music therapy were monumental; earning him the Lifetime Achievement Award from his colleagues and culminating in the creation of the Music Therapy Center at EMU, which is used for teaching and demonstrating music therapy clinical practice. In much the same way he became a leader in the field of music therapy, serving in many leadership roles within the National Association for Music Therapy and the American Music Therapy Association, he remained a prominent figure in EMU’s LGBT community. He helped create the Stonewall Scholarship, which provides financial aid to LGBT student leaders on campus. Like a proud parent, he served on the LGBT resource center’s advisory board, and advised student leaders working towards true equality among EMU’s student body.
In the early 2000’s, I was fortunate enough to be one of those student leaders, and the course he helped me plot towards being an advocate of those in need, is one I proudly remain on today. I will never forget his glowing smile as he bragged to others about the accomplishments of his students. His subtle and kind words when things like the inclusion of gender identity and expression in university policies seemed more like a dream than a soon to be realized reality. Perhaps most importantly, his forgiveness of mistakes and relentless support even after the title of “student” had faded. He went out of his way to send thoughts and donations, of encouragement as my work took me far away from EMU’s campus.
Michael left us far too early, and I will always regret not sharing with him sooner how much of an impact his support had on me. He is one of the many unsung heroes in our movement whose work and support, sometimes subtle and sometimes profound, empowered those around them to go after our dreams, never lose hope and never lose sight of the impact our actions can have on others. While we cannot erect the monuments or amass the proclamations these pillars in our movement deserve, we can and should take more opportunities to recognize and praise them. Do not make the same mistake I did and wait too long, reach out now and share with the unsung heroes in your life how much they mean and how much they are cherished.
Michael: You were a truly amazing man, a wonderful role model, a relentless supporter, and a catalyst for positive change. Thank you.
Michael McGuire died at the age of 63 on July 16 in a hospice after mounting a gallant war on Stage 4 terminal lung cancer. At the time of his passing he was nearing 30 years as director of music therapy for EMU in Ypsilanti. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Michael G. McGuire Endowed Scholarship Fund at the EMU Foundation, 1349 S. Huron, Ypsilanti, MI 48197. Please note on the check that the donation is for the Michael McGuire fund.