GALA’s Mission Statement includes two important goals: “support and advocate for a diverse and non-discriminatory working, living and learning experience at Emory” and “advocate for issues of importance to the larger LGBT community.” As an Emory Alumni Association Affinity Group, the GALA Steering Committee has taken on several issues of advocating for current and future students at Emory. To date, the issues which GALA has advocated for have all had positive, meaningful outcomes for the campus environment.
Starting in 2011, students and alumni began a discussion on the values of Chick-fil-A and its owner Dan Cathy and what it meant to be home of the oldest campus Chick-fil-A. Over the course of the next year, our community and allies came together to make a stand. GALA wrote a letter to President Jim Wagner in August of 2012, urging the university to sever ties with a corporation who actively supported LGBT discrimination. Members of the Steering Committee also attended a protest outside Cox Hall.
During the same month, GALA also wrote to Dean Lawrence Benveniste of Goizueta Business School urging them to change the location of a mandatory student retreat held at WinShape Foundation. WinShape was founded by Truett Cathy and assisted Chick-fil-A’s harmful campaigns against LGBT people. During the Spring of 2013, the University announced that Chick-fil-A would no longer be a part of Emory’s food court in the next academic year. And starting in 2013-14 academic year, Goizueta no longer used WinShape’s campus for mandatory student retreats.
However, the raising up of homophobic values did not stop with the removal of Chick-fil-A. In the fall of 2013, the Candler School of Theology awarded the “2013 Distinguished Alumni Award for Service to the Church” to Eddie Fox. Fox is known for his anti-gay views, which he has preached for nearly half a century. GALA Steering Committee passed a motion and wrote a letter to Dean Jan Love to rescind the award, make a public statement of Candler’s values, and rewrite the award criteria. Dean Love responded with a declaration of support for LGBT people and initiated the process to change the selection criteria. However, the award was still given to Eddie Fox, in absentia. This prompted students and alumni from several of Emory’s schools to rally in protest at the awards ceremony.
The spring semester of 2015 has been very busy for Emory Students and GALA alike. Fire Chief Kevin Cochran was fired from his position by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in January due to his publishing of an anti-gay book. Citing the safety of Atlanta employees and citizens, Reed indicated Cochran’s book caused doubt that he would treat LGBT people indiscriminately. While there is still a case pending in federal court, GALA quickly wrote a letter of support to Mayor Reed for upholding the City’s commitment to non discrimination.
In February, GALA again wrote to President Wagner in support of a student initiative. This time, displaying the qualities of allyship, GALA signed on to Freedom at Emory’s call for public disclosure of admissions and financial support for undocumented students at Emory. With support from over 80 professors, several Alumni groups, and numerous students, Freedom at Emory secured scholarships for incoming undocumented students. The initiative working to ensure the University changes its policies to clarify that Emory accepts and will support undocumented students.
As the battle moves forward to allow acts of exclusion and discrimination justified by religious beliefs, the co-chairs of GALA penned in March an informative article, which was published in the Emory Wheel to raise awareness of the issue. While the bill is currently static, it will still be passable starting in January, when the second half of the biannual Georgia General Assembly reconvenes.
GALA will continue to take an active role fighting for the rights and acceptance of LGBT students at Emory and in Georgia. To date, each action that GALA has supported has made positive progress and we will utilize this momentum to continue the good fight.