Through their bravery, Miami alumni have done their part to fight for LGBTQIA+ rights at Miami and around the world

By Jesús F. Jiménez, assistant director of digital content

During her time at Miami, Monifa Porter ’96 participated in conversation panels where peers could ask anything to students in the LGBTQ+ spectrum.

“Do you want to have children?” Monifa remembers one student asking.

“Yes,” she responded. “Yes, I do.”

The student followed up with several aggressive questions.

“How dare you?” she remembers hearing. “You’re already Black, you’re already gay. Why would you want to bring children into this world?”

“I was maybe 19 years old, but it was very much an assault on my humanity, my right to be in the world, my right to have kids and live a life,” Monifa said. “Again, this was the ’90s.”

The world has come a long way since the ’90s, but the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights continues.

Monifa is one of the co-founders of Miami’s 1809 LGBTQ+ Alumni Group, one of several initiatives at Miami that support LGBTQIA+ students, alumni and employees.

Monifa and other Miamians reflect on their experience at Miami and their role in the ongoing fight for LGBTQIA+ rights.

Contributions to the 1809 LGBTQ+ Student Scholarship can be made at any time or as part of #MoveInMiami, the university’s annual day of giving traditionally held each year during move-in day. This year’s #MoveInMiami is Aug. 19 with a goal of 2,025 gifts in 20 hours and 25 minutes in honor of the Class of 2025.

‘Internalized homophobia’

When the Miami University Gay Lesbian Alliance was in its infancy, Andy Zeisler ’88, M.Ed. ’00 found support through his position as a resident assistant and Miami’s club volleyball team.

“We had Miami warm-ups with Miami Volleyball written on them, and during my senior year, the team captain comes up to me and says, ‘It’s kind of been reported that you’re wearing your jacket into gay bars in Cincinnati, and we would like for you not to do that,’” said Andy, who is gay.

“I was kind of mortified because I didn’t think anybody knew on the team.”

After graduating, Andy remained engaged with Miami and played recreational volleyball and softball.

It was through his involvement with the Gay Games in places such as Australia, Amsterdam and Vancouver that Andy found the strength to be himself.

“The culture in Amsterdam was a wake-up call because they were a very progressive society,” he said. “We were in our softball gear, people knew why we were there and they would come up and talk to us.

“I realized the internalized homophobia that we put on ourselves.”

Andy has served as a member of the 1809 LGBT Alumni Board and 10 years ago established a scholarship for students through the GLBTQ Services.

“I know college is not always easy for a lot of students for a lot of reasons, but for LGBT students, they don’t always have the support of their family,” he said. “If they’re struggling for reasons related to their sexual orientation or identity, my hope is that my scholarship will make it easier to afford college and allow for one less thing to worry about.”

A discreet origin story

Through her involvement with the GLBA, Monifa was able to come out as lesbian.

As she neared graduation, she and Leif Mitchell ’96 started exploring ways to remain connected with the university and with each other. Now known as the 1809 LGBTQ+ Alumni Group, the club has a discreet origin story.

“We were just talking about, we’ve been spending so much time on GLBA as students, what are we going to do when we graduate?” Monifa said. “We looked around and there wasn’t (an LGBT alumni organization), so we decided to create one.”

There were several obstacles to overcome. Miami did not have a directory for alumni in the spectrum, and there was no easy way to find them.

“We sent physical postal letters to anyone we had contact information for, and we invited them to join what we called the 1809 Lambda Alumni Club. We called it that because at that time, people were pretty closeted,” Monifa said. “The idea of just sending paper mail to anybody that said GLBA on the outside of the envelope seemed like a bad move. We didn’t know those people, we didn’t know their lives and we didn’t know what kind of situations they were in, so we were just wanting to be discreet as one was trying to do in the 1990s.”

The group operated independently for some time before being recognized by the alumni association.

Lavender Graduation marks progress

Earlier this year, Miami celebrated a milestone with its 20th Lavender Graduation, an annual ceremony that honors lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer+ and ally students and recognizes their achievements and contributions to the university.

Originally celebrated in 1995 at the University of Michigan, the event was brought to Miami by Debbie Bazarsky ’97, M.S. ’99, who served on the 1809 LGBTQ+ Alumni Board for over a decade and is currently dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design.

“The Lavender Graduation, at the time, was celebrating that you survived – not only at Miami, but at institutions all around the country,” she said. “Today, there’s an element of that still, but I also see that many more people are out, and it’s much more of a community celebration and being in community. The messaging and tone of Lavender Graduation have shifted over the years.”

Derrick Booker ’01 was one of the first seven Lavender graduates. He came into his own at Miami, he said, thanks in big part, to Debbie and the support he found at Miami.

“At the end of the day, you go to the university to learn, grow and adapt for the next stage of your life, and I think the Lavender Graduation captured two parts of that: your growth in academics as well as your growth as a person and the acceptance that it takes to grow as a person as part of the LGBTQ community,” he said. “That, to me, was one of the most powerful things about the Lavender Graduation is what it represented and the transition into your life.”

#MoveInMiami is a fun, fast-paced fundraising event on move-in day to welcome the incoming first-year class to Oxford. On Aug. 19, 2021, follow us throughout the day with live and pre-recorded content around campus and Uptown. Our goal is to raise 2,025 gifts in 20 hours and 25 minutes in honor of the Class of 2025 – no gift is too small! Learn about the projects you can support and donate now at MoveInMiami.org. Because sometimes the smallest act makes the biggest impact.