Going Beyond Tolerance

University honors LGBTQ activists

Morgan Krug, Dorothy Fillmore and Donna Coghill, three women who work tirelessly to promote equality for the LGBTQ community at Virginia Commonwealth University, were honored last week at the sixth annual Burnside Watstein LGBT Awards, which honor individuals who enrich the community in and around VCU and make a significant difference in the lives of LGBT faculty, staff and students.

"I've got to tell you, I think this event is important because it really, in so many ways, emphasizes the importance of the LGBTQ community, and how important it is to our campus' identity, our climate and certainly our culture," said President Michael Rao, Ph.D., who presented the awards. "We proudly say on a regular basis that VCU is the most diverse university in the commonwealth of Virginia. And that is wonderful and I really appreciate it. But I have to tell you that we have a long way to go. We could be much more diverse."

Rao said that diversity and equality goes far beyond merely tolerating others.

"Sometimes I'm a little put off by the term 'toleration,'” he said. "I really think that human beings should just embrace other human beings — period. So I'm not inclined to say 'tolerate' but instead to 'embrace.' Because, really, isn't life too short for us not to embrace each other? And to want to learn from each other?"

It takes continued leadership and efforts to make continued improvement, said Jeff Wing, director of the National Scholarship Office and co-chair of the university's LGBT subcommittee.

"We're also excited to recognize new people each year," Wing said. "And we have a lot of people here who contribute in various ways and we would love to see that continue and a flood of new nominees in the future."

Morgan Krug was this year's student awardee.

"Morgan highly values the building of coalitions across common causes," said Elizabeth Canfield, assistant professor in the Department of Gender, Sexuality & Women's Studies, who introduced Krug, describing her as unapologetic. "Morgan is very good at pulling very different groups of people together to have critical, productive dialogues about issues that affect us all."

Krug said she was just one of many students involved in queer activism at VCU.

"It was with their love and support that I was able to be here today," she said. "I also couldn’t have contributed to building and supporting the queer community without the help and support here of the faculty and staff here at VCU who have shared goals and visions of a safer queer space that goes beyond simply tolerance."

Dorothy Fillmore, associate director of academic operations in the Psychology Department, was the second awardee.

"Dorothy has worked steadily and consistently to advance the rights and needs of LGBTQ members of the VCU community and she is also a warm and caring person and has been a real positive force on the VCU campus," said Jan Altman, staff psychologist with University Counseling.

"I'm so honored to receive [this] award … and to receive an award the same year as Donna Coghill and Morgan Krug," Fillmore said. "None of us can do this work alone. All of us are really working to make a difference. Let's continue to be tenacious and do the work."

Provost emeritus and university professor Stephen D. Gottfredson, Ph.D., presented the last award of the ceremony to Donna Coghill, first-year student programs librarian.

"For the university, for its libraries and for its community, Donna has long been a vital and active voice for equality for diversity and for change. She's been key to the development and implementation of our diversity plans," Gottfredson said. "We heard a moment ago that my friend Dorothy is one of those people who will stay on task and gently nudge you toward progress. I'm here to tell you that my friend Donna is not like that. If you stand in the road, she will run over you. She is one of those special people who really is just not afraid to speak truth to power."

Coghill considers herself lucky to be able to work for the equality of others.

"I am lucky first off that my parents taught me from the beginning that all people are alike," she said. "Human beings are human beings period. … I am lucky that as an adult, I get to work in a place that is so incredibly open and supportive.

"I am also incredibly lucky that I have co-workers that support everything that I have done in terms of my diversity efforts. I would consider myself luckier if all of the above were true for everyone. I do not understand why it's not. And maybe it's unrealistic, but I refuse to give up and I refuse to give in."

The LGBT Subcommittee of VCU's Equity and Diversity Committee presents the Burnside Watstein LGBT Awards annually. The award honors Chris Burnside, a former dance professor, choreographer and performer, and Sarah Watstein, former associate university librarian.

"Much of what we do here in support of our LGBTQ students, colleagues, faculty, staff, alumni, community and so forth wouldn't be possible but for the amazing work that Chris and Sarah did many, many years ago when it wasn't as safe or as supportive to take on these kinds of issues," Wing said. "We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude that we will never be able to fully repay, but we celebrate their commitment to this every year when we recognize another group of Burnside Watstein award recipients."