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Gay Billionaire & Spelman Create First Queer Studies Chair at an HBCU

Audre Lorde and Jon Stryker
Audre Lorde and Jon Stryker

A $2 million gift from Jon Stryker is helping the historically Black college for women make LGBTQ history with a chair named for Audre Lorde.


Spelman College is once again at the vanguard of LGBTQ inclusion.

The country's oldest historically Black college for women has created a queer studies chair -- the first-ever chair of its kind at a historically Black college or university. It is named after Audre Lorde, the acclaimed lesbian writer, feminist, and activist who often spoke at Spelman and whose papers are housed at the Spelman Archives.

In support of the endowment, Spelman has launched a $2 million fundraising campaign, an amount that will be matched by a gift from Jon Stryker. The gay billionaire, philanthropist, and president of the Arcus Foundation previously provided a grant in 2009 to provide for the display of the Audre Lorde Papers.

"Spelman College has long been at the forefront of LGBTQ inclusion and education among HBCUs," Stryker said in a statement. "By supporting this chair, the goal is to engage and empower the next generation of LGBTQ advocates to create a better world."

Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D., president of Spelman, said the chair, which will be attached to the college's Women's Research and Resource Center, would contribute to the "educational inclusiveness" of the Atlanta-based school founded in 1881.

"Spelman's Women's Center has been and continues to be a pioneering leader in advancing scholarship in the area of Queer Studies," Campbell said in a statement. "Jon Stryker's generous contribution to further his commitment to LGBTQ inclusion and education will allow Spelman students to deepen their understanding around the study of sexuality and gender. We are honored to name the chair after the literary luminary and fierce activist, Audre Lorde."

The Audre Lorde Chair of Queer Studies has the stamp of approval from Lorde's children, Jonathan Rollins and Beth Lorde Rollins, who called Spelman the "ideal home" for it. The scholar of black female identity and queer issues had several speaking engagements at the college before willing her papers to the institution.

"Our mother was deeply committed to LGBTQ youth and believed passionately in the power of scholarship, which to her meant learning plus excellence. She knew Spelman is a place where that magic happens, which is why she wanted her papers there, and she would be thrilled at this gift," they said.

Spelman College has made several notable strides toward LGBTQ inclusion in recent years. In 2017, Spelman became the second historically Black women's college, after Bennett College, to admit transgender women.

In May 2018, before the new admissions policy took effect, messages of anti-trans hate began appearing around campus. In response, Campbell herself wrote an open letter in which she addressed "the perpetrator."

"Here's a message for the perpetrator: You are not Spelman College," wrote Campbell. "Spelman abhors your behavior. Spelman will continue to open its arms to embrace all of our Spelman students whatever their gender identity, sexual orientation or gender expression. Spelman is love, justice and respect. You, the perpetrator, are not Spelman."

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Daniel Reynolds

Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.
Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.