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To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the University of Michigan's Spectrum Center, the first glbtq support office at an American university, former University of Michigan student government president Chris Armstrong and his family have established a scholarship for students who have been bullied. Armstrong, who made national headlines in 2010 when he was stalked and bullied by an assistant attorney general, said that the University of Michigan community rallied to support him during a difficult time.
Armstrong made the announcement of the new scholarship in an "It Gets Better" YouTube video in which he refers to the ordeal he faced as the first openly gay student government president. Andrew Shirvell, then an assistant state attorney general, established a blog called "Chris Armstrong Watch" in which he relentlessly attacked Armstrong for his "radical homosexual agenda," calling him "nazi like," a recruiter for "the cult that is homosexuality," and a proponent of a "racist, anti-Christian agenda."
Shirvell, a University of Michigan alumnus, also showed up at public meetings to denounce Armstrong and was seen photographing Armstrong's home in the wee hours of the morning. In addition, he called the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with whom Armstrong served an internship, to slander him.
In the face of these attacks in September 2010, Armstrong told a student government meeting that "I will not back down. I will not flinch. I will not falter. I will not succumb to any unwarranted attacks. What I will do is I will carry on with the utmost pride and vindication."
The controversy made national headlines when Shirvell was interviewed by Anderson Cooper on AC 360. The reaction to that interview sparked a national outcry against Shirvell and calls that he be fired from his job as Assistant Attorney General of the state of Michigan.
At first, conservative Attorney General Mike Cox defended his employee, who had worked on his campaign, saying that he was exercising his right of free speech; but as demands for action increased, he announced an investigation into Shirvell's activities. On November 8, 2010, he fired Shirvell for having "repeatedly violated office policies, engaged in borderline stalking behavior, and [having] inappropriately used state resources."
Cox said that Shirvell lied to investigators "on several occasions during his disciplinary hearing." Although Shirvell was not charged with stalking, the Attorney General's report said that Shirvell behaved in a way that "was harassing, uninvited and showed a pattern that was, in the everyday sense, stalking."
Armstrong has filed suit against Shirvell for defamation and has also lodged a complaint against him with the Michigan Bar Association. The suit and the complaint are still pending.
In announcing the new scholarship, Armstrong said that he and his parents want to make sure that other young people who have been bullied because of their sexual orientation can attend the University of Michigan.
The scholarship is endowed with an initial donation of $100,000, and is intended for incoming freshmen.
Armstrong's father, Steve Armstrong, an attorney in Connecticut, said that the University community helped the entire family cope with the difficulties caused by the bullying Chris endured. He added that the scholarship will allow the Armstrong family to continue to show its gratitude.
"[We] endured the events of the past year only because of the strength and courage of our son, but we soon came to realize from where that strength and courage was coming," Steve Armstrong said. "We saw the University respond with one powerful, resounding and unified voice to shameful attacks on Chris."
Chris Armstrong has described the Spectrum Center as "truly a place where out LGBT leaders can grow and develop. It connects students to the many resources that are around them and shows them the larger community they are a part of. If I had not found Spectrum my first week on campus, I would not have succeeded on campus the way I did."
The Spectrum Center dates its history to 1971, when, in response to pressure, including from student members of the Gay Liberation Front, the University of Michigan established the Human Sexuality Office and funded two quarter-time staff positions to be filled by a lesbian and a gay male, who were known as "Advocates." This was the first staff office for queer students in an institution of higher learning in the United States.
The name was subsequently changed to the Lesbian and Gay Male Programming Office, then the terms Bisexual and Transgender were added to the name, and in 2008, it was renamed the Spectrum Center.
Chris Armstrong announces the establishment of an anti-bullying scholarship at the University of Michigan in this YouTube video: