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Posted on Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 6:03 a.m.

University of Michigan's first openly gay student body president ready to get to work

By James Dickson

Chris Armstrong never thought he'd see the day.

Armstrong, the newly-elected student body president at the University of Michigan, thought his MForward party had campaigned hard, and effectively, when the student government election began in earnest after spring break.

Chris Armstrong.jpg 2.jpg

Chris Armstrong is ready to lead.

Melanie Maxwell |

"You try to put your best foot forward," Armstrong said, "but it wasn't until the returns started coming back that we thought, 'Hey, it looks like our work paid off.'"

Not only did MForward send all 17 of its candidates to office, it ushered in a new era in U-M history. Armstrong is the first openly gay student body president the university has known.

The rising senior, a native of Ridgefield, Conn., got involved in the campus gay and lesbian community after arriving in Ann Arbor three years ago. He was a two-year chair of the student government's LGBT Commission before running for the presidency of the Michigan Student Assembly.

Gabe Javier, head of the Spectrum Center at the U-M, became a mentor to Armstrong after the two met at a Spectrum icebreaker when Armstrong was a freshman. Javier said he's expecting big things from Armstrong as president. Armstrong was sworn-in in late March.

"Chris is going to represent the entire student body, not just the LGBT community," Javier said. "What this will show students at U-M is that they can be 'out' and still be embraced by the larger community."

Armstrong said he hopes his victory will show prospective students or incoming freshmen that anyone, from any background, can embody the Michigan spirit.

The MForward party was a coalition of campus politicos, various volunteer groups, and the LGBT community. Even the fraternities and student athletes played a part in the victory.

Armstrong understands what the milestone means for the gay and lesbian community, but said he'll ultimately be judged by what he does for students in the here-and-now.

Armstrong cited two major goals: To establish plans for Saturday night meals at residence halls, and a gender-neutral option in university housing.

"Every incoming president says they'll make student government relevant again," Armstrong said, "but the only way is to do things that actually affect students."

Saturday night meals, Armstrong said, might make weekends less costly for young students who don't have other dining options. Armstrong said he'll also lobby for a Good Samaritan Law in Michigan that will allow underage drinkers to call an ambulance for incapacitated friends without legal penalty.

And the time has come for gender-neutral housing, Armstrong said.

Jeffrey Chang, a Rutgers Law School student who co-chairs the National Student Genderblind Campaign, said the gender-neutral housing movement has national momentum.

"At first it was only the small liberal arts colleges that had it," Chang said, "but now we're seeing it at research universities - the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, many others."

Chang said only a small percentage of students who are offered gender-neutral housing actually take advantage of it, but students should have the option to live with whomever they prefer.

Peter Logan, a spokesman for the U-M Housing Information Office, said the push for gender-neutral housing began long before 2010. U-M's gender-neutral housing is only available to transgender students, and even then, only on request.

"We started that long before 2010," Logan said, "but it'll certainly be something we discuss more." 

Logan said students have largely led the effort. Recently, the U-M Residence Halls Association sent a survey on gender-neutral housing to the student body. A total of 67 percent of students supported gender-neutral housing, in principle. 

Caitlin Sadler, president of the Residence Halls Association, said full-blown gender neutral housing would take time to achieve but she expected progress over the next year.

The university assigns transgender students based on their birth gender. "A transgender student must wait until surgery is complete before seeking a room reassignment," the university housing page explains.

That, Armstrong said, is the problem: Students shouldn't be required to disclose their sexuality or sexual identity to the university. Better to allow students to choose for themselves what living arrangement works best.

"We're all mature adults," Armstrong said. "And the university should treat us that way."

James David Dickson can be reached at



Thu, May 27, 2010 : 8:19 a.m.

I understand what people are saying, that this shouldn't be "news" that Chris Armstrong is gay...but I also understand that the story was put into print simply because it was unprecedented. And the fact that he's got some pretty good ideas that will benefit all students, and the gay and lesbian community as well. He wants to make changes for the day that labels and all that really doesn't matter...because if this story came into print, because it hadn't happened before, obviously we're not there yet. It all depends on how you look at it. And unless you're in the gay community and/or really understand all that entails, you do not know. So go head' Mr. Armstrong!! I hope you make some changes, and go down in history as the first openly gay student president at U of M!!! All a part of the slowwwww progression of this country.


Thu, Apr 8, 2010 : 8:17 a.m.

so Johnny, motive for a vote doesn't matter? a lot of people that voted for O feel duped and wouldn't vote for him again. my proof? The 2012 election when he doesn't get reelected. only 10 % of the student body voted. All that means is all the LGBT's showed up. That is not a mandate. That doesn't mean he was overwhelmingly the choice. That means 90% of people had better things to do like feed their cats or watch paint dry.

Sandra Samons

Thu, Apr 8, 2010 : 6:06 a.m.

Congratulations, Chris! Now, please see what can be done about the UM policy of assigning housing to transgender students based on birth gender. In view of the fact that the WPATH standards of care require trans people to live in the gender role with which they identify for at least a year before becoming eligible for genital reconstruction surgery, this policy is insensitive, ignorant and punitive.


Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 6:03 p.m.

Your religious beliefs don't matter, but in describing somebody you do mention something historic. If a woman was elected president of the United States do you think it is not part of who she is? Being gay IS part of who Chris Armstrong is. If the UM students don;t want his agenda, they have the freedom to vote for somebody else (funny how that works). Instead, they made the decision to choose him. It is the same as all the morons saying they don;t want the Obama agenda. Well a large majority of the population DID. They voted for him. Congratulations Chris, fight the good fight on what is right.


Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 3:53 p.m.

Nothing is crammed down our throats! We can all choose not to read certain articles. The only reason I read it was a curiosity as to when his actual issues would be discussed. It was over two thirds of the way through the article and I found humor that they were the same as my freshman year back in '67 - food and coed dorms (now rooms).


Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 3:19 p.m.

well we have established that the media crams it down our throat first of all. secondly, looking at, Mr. Armstrong's party platform seems to be all about the LGBT agenda. So there is little wonder why this media outlet wrote an article about a seemingly useless story about an otherwise non-newsworthy event.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 3:05 p.m.

Why is it being crammed down your throat? Who would do such a thing?


Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 2:53 p.m.

My religious beliefs say his sexuality is not acceptable. Stop cramming it down my throat. I have religious freedom in this country and do not have to approve. I also have the freedom to say that until the rest of the Constitution is disolved.


Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 1:59 p.m.

My personal/religious feelings aside, discrimination is wrong. I would even say evil. I am not saying you can't describe yourself as gay. My point all along is why is his sexual preference newsworthy? I truly don't care if Rusty or Chris is gay. I really don't. And if you aren't, so be it. I truly don't care. i haven't thrown out my morality or whether or not we should legislate against gays having the same rights as others. I am a straight Christian white male(i know big surprise) who believes homosexuality is a choice, however, i am saying why does his sexual preference matter. Doesn't matter to me. It's America. I believe he has the right to make that choice. Just because i don't believe it's genetic/psychological doesn't mean i am afraid of Rusty or Chris or that i want to discrminate against them. Chip on my shoulder? maybe. And it's due to my own stupidity for coming to my local news source every day. The chip is there because of the stupdity and incompetence of Not anyones beliefs. Good Lord.


Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 1:40 p.m.

It seems to me, that if the National culture o the United States hadn't made a big deal out of same sex orientation and relationships, and been discriminating, condemning and isolating, people would never feel the need to make an outward statement in Response. How many people did Not grow up surrounded by adults in church setting school, etc that made it a direct point to insist that same sex relationships were intrinsically bad, anti God, etc.


Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 1:23 p.m.

Mac, that is an excellent point. Sensationalism starts with the media. They have their descriptive protocols. First, it's race, gender, ethnicity, then seemingly sexual preference. But my question remains. Does Chris want to be a great president, or merely the first gay president? They can be exclusive of each other. SInce he agreed to the article, i think he doesn't want them to be. Otherwise, why is it newsworhy to begin with outside of the U's campus?

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 1:17 p.m.

I'm certain Armstrong doesn't walk around introducing himself: "Hi, I'm Chris, and I'm gay, deal with it" to strangers. He just doesn't take steps to hide it, and the reporter chooses to make that the story. Same as Tony Dungy being the first black head coach to win the Super Bowl. So don't confuse news sources thinking something is notable because of identity politics with anything about a person's character. Blame the news source instead. We all have something that makes us stand out (or at least most of us do).


Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 11:24 a.m.

Okay so he's gay. That's really not supposed to make a difference, his policies are what should be reported on. Which leads me to wonder, does every new student body president get front page news? We really need to get away from this kind of reporting, if every one is truly going to be judged equally on the quality of their leadership


Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 10:05 a.m.

This is what happens when apathy is rampant.

Jamie Weeder

Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 9:36 a.m.



Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 9:10 a.m.

"First openly gay student.... " Great that's nice but, isn't the content of his character and where he stands on issues to those he represents more important? People need to get off this notion about gays. His sexuality is not an issue and has nothing to do with his job.


Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 8:53 a.m.

I'm still waiting for the day when this won't be news. At least, over two-thirds of the way through the article, the writer got into what Chris stands for and what he hopes to accomplish.

Richard Nye

Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 6 a.m.

Congratulations Chris!