Lisa Gunterman: "UofL has made strides over the years, not due to one individual or office, but thanks to collective efforts of hundreds of students, faculty, staff and administrators who work hard each and every day to ensure that the University of Louisville is a welcoming, affirming and inclusive community."

October is LGBTQ+ History Month in the United States. Here at the University of Louisville, it is also when we come together to celebrate Pride Month.

Lisa Gunterman, director of the UofL LGBT Center on Belknap Campus, took some time away from planning Pride Month events to discuss her longtime commitment social justice, the new Cultural and Equity Center and how she never imagined she’d be working with Brian Buford.

UofLNews: The nationwide celebration of Pride Month falls in June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Uprising. UofL recognizes Pride Month in October, can you explain how this came about?

Gunterman: In the earlier days of the LGBT Center, we hosted “Pride Week” at the end of September. Thanks to the support from divisions and units across campus who were interested in hosting Pride-themed programs, the event blossomed into “Pride Month.” There are not as many students on campus in June as in October, so we moved Pride to October, in conjunction with LGBTQ+ history month. 

UofLNews: You have long been involved in the LGBTQ movement. Would you provide us a brief history about your efforts in Louisville?

Gunterman: In the late 1980s, I became heavily involved in Louisville’s social justice community. As a teenager and young adult, I volunteered for voter registration drives with the Kentucky Rainbow Coalition and started going to marches and events led by the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research, the Louisville Justice Resource Center and Kentucky Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression. I joined St. William Catholic Church and within a couple of years was elected as co-chair of their Peace and Justice Committee. It was through that work that I learned more about the Sanctuary Movement in Central and South America.

As a young person, I never had positive LGBTQ+ role models—much less peers my age—so I also volunteered for 10 years as a mentor for the Louisville Youth Group. At one point, I felt like I was attending social justice meetings and events almost nightly, but none of them were focused on LGBTQ+ rights.

During one particular event, an elder in the movement pulled me aside and said, ‘You know, it’s OK to take up for yourself, too.’ Their words inspired me to get involved in the March for Justice, a LGBTQ+ rights organization. Through those connections, I joined with a group of nine other Louisvillians, and together we co-founded the Fairness Campaign, which was launched on the steps of what is now Metro Hall during the 1991 March for Justice. This work is collective, and I owe a great deal to movement leaders and mentors—people like Mattie Jones, Bob Cunningham, Anne Braden, Rev. Louis Coleman, Bette Payne, Rev George and Jean Edwards, Carla Wallace, and so many others— who made room for me, shared their wisdom, and became like family to me. We didn’t have the word ‘intersectionality’ then, but they also taught me about the interconnectedness of all forms of oppression, which influences my approach to the work today.

UofLNews: What fuels your passion for this work?

Gunterman: This may sound cheesy, but I honestly believe what Dr. King taught: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ It allows me to keep going, especially during difficult times, and it fuels my belief in the possibility of creating lasting, systemic change.

Elders always remind me that this work is a race, not a marathon, and while it can be frustrating—and even depressing—at times, I have also been fortunate to witness change in my lifetime that I never imagined possible. For example: passing laws like the Fairness Ordinance; gaining legal rights for my children; working at the UofL LGBT Center; and experiencing shifts in interpersonal relationships, where once- perceived opponents became not only advocates, but friends.

UofLNews: How did you begin working at UofL and then move into your current role?

Gunterman: My connection to UofL began in the late ’80s, attending protests on campus, encouraging leadership to divest UofL interests from South Africa. In the ’90s, when I worked for the Fairness Campaign, Brian Buford (now UofL’s executive director of university culture and employee success), who was in HR at the time, invited me to join him for campus speaking engagements on LGBTQ+ topics. In 2007, Brian launched the UofL LGBT Center—the first of its kind in the state!—and in 2011, I was hired as the senior program coordinator. Later, I was promoted to the position of assistant director, and, in 2016 to director.

Brian and I often joked that if we could travel back in time and tell ourselves ‘not only does UofL have an LGBT Center, but you’ll be colleagues!’, we would have laughed hysterically. While UofL still has room to grow, it has been incredible to witness the progress that taken place over the past 30 years.

UofLNews: Tell us about this year’s keynote speakers and what we can expect to learn.

Gunterman: We are fortunate to benefit from the leadership and support of the Student Activities Board (SAB), which is sponsoring Sherry Cola, from the hit HBO MAX show ‘Good Trouble’ as the Belknap Campus Pride Keynote this year. This virtual and in-person event will be Oct. 14, 7 p.m.

The keynote will be virtual but an in-person event is also being planned. The theme will explore the intersections of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) and LGBTQ+ identities and was requested by students in the wake of increased hate crimes against AAPI communities. The event will be moderated by Jaison Gardner, from the nationally recognized podcast ‘Strange Fruit’ that he cohosts with UofL’s Dr. Kaila Story. Cola is in production and will join us virtually due to COVID-19, but the SAB is creating an in-person opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to enjoy the keynote and build community.

The LGBT Center on the Health Science Center (HSC) will welcome Chance Krempasky, APRN (he/him/his), as the 2021 Pride Keynote a week later. The topic, ‘Thriving Not Surviving: Transgender and Nonbinary Healthcare, Today and the Future,’ is also part of the LGBTQ+ Affirming Healthcare Series. The event takes place noon to 1 p.m. virtually. Register here

Events are being added daily, so check this website frequently.

UofLNews: What other events are you really excited about this year?

Gunterman: One of the things I am most excited about has already happened … the opening of the new Cultural and Equity Center, which is where the LGBT Center is now located. A ribbon-cutting to dedicate the space on Belknap Campus is scheduled for Oct. 21, but we have already moved in!

To see the students’ vision come to fruition, with the backing of the campus community, and to have the privilege of sharing space with the Cultural Center, Diversity Education and Inclusive Excellence, Muhammad Ali Institute and Women’s Center is an honor. I am so fortunate to work with incredible colleagues who are student-centered and dedicated to empowering them to reach their full potential. The space is welcoming, inviting and allows for groups to not only collaborate on projects and events, but build friendships along the way. I can’t wait to see how the center will continue to enhance our campus community!

UofLNews: Anything else you’d like to share?

Gunterman: People often credit the LGBT Center for the LGBTQ+ affirming awards and recognitions UofL receives, and we appreciate the compliments, but it is important to recognize and celebrate that this is a campus wide achievement. UofL has made strides over the years, not due to one individual or office, but thanks to collective efforts of hundreds of students, faculty, staff and administrators who work hard each and every day to ensure that the University of Louisville is a welcoming, affirming and inclusive community.

Julie Heflin with the Office of Communications and Marketing contributed to this story.