Emory Report
December 5, 2005
Volume 58, Number 13


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December 5 , 2005
GALA seeks to connect LGBT grads

BY eric rangus

Cox Hall was one of Elliott Mackle’s frequent haunts when he was a graduate student in the Institute for Liberal Arts (ILA) in the 1970s. His lunch companions included several other ILA grad students, both men and women. Three of them—one man, one woman and Mackle himself—were gay. Everyone at the table knew it, too.

“But nobody ever brought it up,” said Mackle, who earned his Ph.D. in American studies in 1977. The former dining critic for The Atlanta-Journal Constitution is now a fiction writer, currently at work on his third mystery novel.

“It was never mentioned, not once,” Mackle continued. “Even though everyone knew I had a partner, whom I still have.”

Emory’s campus has become much more open in the nearly 30 years since Mackle graduated, but that doesn’t mean the University’s LGBT community has it easy. Forging connections still has many challenges, but a group of Emory alumni is working hard to overcome these challenges.

Created earlier this year with support of the Association of Emory Alumni (AEA), GALA (Gay and Lesbian Alumni) is a new alumni affinity group focusing on the University’s LGBT graduates.

“The goal is to connect alumni to each other as well as to current students, faculty and staff who are either members of the LGBT community or allies,” said Terry Sartor, who graduated in 1993 with a double-major in business and English, and serves as GALA’s marketing/public relations chair.

Mackle learned of GALA in May when he attended a “Blue Jean Brunch” held during Emory Weekend that attracted several dozen LGBT alumni, faculty, staff and students. Mackle had independently contacted AEA to inquire about options for supporting LGBT students, while the alumni group that eventually grew into GALA came together at about the same time. Mackle was impressed enough that he volunteered to serve as GALA’s co-chair.

The GALA steering committee now meets once a month at the Miller-Ward Alumni House, and buzz about the group is getting louder. An Oct. 1 reception at Red Door Tavern in Midtown was even better attended than the Blue Jean Brunch—now scheduled to be an annual event.

“The group is very energetic,” said Jennifer Crabb, director of alumni services and leadership development. She serves as AEA’s liaison to GALA and attends each steering committee meeting. Other AEA staff who helped in the creation of the group include Senior Director of Campus Relations Gerry Lowrey and Director of Services and Leadership Sarah Cook.

“I’ve grown a lot as a person working with them,” Crabb said. “I’ve never seen an organization come together as quickly as they have.”

The GALA listserv boasts about 100 members, a lot considering alums must opt-in to join, and about 20–25 are active participants in GALA planning and events. That number is growing steadily despite hurdles inherent to the LGBT community.

“We are not like other communities within the University,” said Sharon Semmens, ’80C, ’80G, GALA’s other co-chair. “You don’t always know who other members are. This is a way of building bridges, and GALA provides a vehicle for us to get to know each other.”

Crabb said AEA has to work twice as hard to connect GALA members as they do with the association’s two other affinity groups (which serve African American and Muslim students, who are more easily identified). “We do a lot of peer-to-peer work both with AEA and with GALA members to bring more alums in.”

Informing constituents about GALA requires creative communication. Some GALA members connect through facebook.com, an online social network that is popular on campus. Many facebook profiles include sexual orientation. If someone identifies as LGBT and an Emory alumnus, they may receive an e-mail from a GALA member inviting them to join.

The next marquee event is a fund-raiser at Mackle’s home scheduled for Jan. 20, 2006.
The proceeds will benefit the March 2 Emory Pride banquet, and monies left over will fund future GALA endeavors. Those being discussed include possible scholarships or textbook subsidies for LGBT students.

Semmens said that one of GALA’s main goals is to financially (and otherwise) support Emory’s Office of LGBT Life, which came into being more than a decade after she graduated. “That office would have made a big difference when I was in school,” she said.