Gay billionaire gives $2M for Spelman’s new Queer Studies chair

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As an heir to a medical supply fortune, fulltime philanthropist Jon Striker gives and gives. As an out gay man, he often does so with LGBTQ causes in the spotlight. Enter Spelman College.

Among trusts created by Stryker, 63, the Arcus Foundation specifically targets underfunded LGBTQ causes among its gifts. In 2019, the foundation provided $400,000 in seed money to start a capital campaign for a queer studies chair at the historically black women’s college in Atlanta.

The chair will operate within Spelman’s Comparative Women’s Study program. It’s the first such chair at any HBCU, according to the school.

This month, Spelman’s campaign reached the $2 million matching threshold to receive the remaining $1.6 million of Stryker’s total gift. The endowment officially establishes the Audre Lorde Queer Studies chair, according to a press release.

Lorde was a black lesbian poet and activist who donated her personal papers to the college before her death. Stryker personally chose her as the namesake of the chair.

“In just a year’s time, the stellar team at Spelman has raised millions of dollars to support this important chair,” Stryker said in the announcement. “Spelman continues to lead on LGBTQ inclusion among HBCUs.”

“By supporting this chair, the goal is to engage and empower the next generation of LGBTQ advocates to create a better world,” he said in October 2020 during the endowment campaign.

Ongoing leadership and partnership

The Lorde chair is far from Stryker’s first dance with the college and its LGBTQ initiatives. Arcus funded a 2011 summit at Spelman that examined gender and sexual diversity at HBCUs. In 2009, the foundation granted funds to process and display Lorde’s papers at Spelman’s Women’s Research and Resource Center.

“Jon Stryker’s consistent support of Spelman’s mission has enabled Spelman to take a leadership role in Queer Studies at HBCUs,” Mary Schmidt Campbell, president of Spelman, said in the announcement.

“We are grateful for his generous support that continues to elevate the importance of this work in the academic environment,” she added.

A faculty committee now gets to work selecting the first occupant of the Queer Studies chair. In addition to Comparative Women’s Department heads, the advisory group will include two Queer Studies pioneers.

The chair continues Spelman’s connection to LGBTQ inclusion. It awards two LGBTQ scholarships each year, hosts an annual lecture series on race, gender and sexuality and officially affirms and welcomes transgender students.

In 2018, Campbell admonished perpetrators of a homophobic and transphobic string of incidents: “You are not Spelman,” she wrote.

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