Emory's Michael Shutt tapped to help lead Atlanta Pride parade

By Laura Douglas-Brown | Emory Report | Oct. 6, 2014

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Emory's Michael Shutt is being honored as an Atlanta Pride grand marshal for his years of work with the Office of LGBT Life and other organizations helping 'future generations of LGBTQ individuals find their voice.' Emory Photo/Video.

When the annual Atlanta Pride parade takes to the streets Oct. 12, Emory's Michael Shutt will be among the leaders. The Atlanta Pride Committee, organizer of the massive festival, selected Shutt to serve as a 2014 parade grand marshal — among the highest honors in the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

"When our committee met to review the nominations, there was a lot of discussion about Michael's work in higher education and the impact of that work," said Buck Cooke, executive director of the nonprofit Atlanta Pride Committee.

"From being the first director of the LGBT Resource Center at the University of Georgia to his role as assistant dean for Campus Life and director of the Office of LGBT Life at Emory University, Michael has helped future generations of LGBTQ individuals find their voice and prepare themselves for the future," Cooke continued.

Cooke also praised how Shutt's role as a co-chair of the national "Creating Change" LGBT rights conference when it was held in Atlanta in 2013 and his work with the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals, including a term as co-chair, "demonstrate his desire to see those changes spread beyond the campuses where he works."

Shutt joined Emory in 2008 as assistant dean for Campus Life and director of the Office of LGBT Life. Now interim director of Emory's new Center for Diversity and Inclusion, he says he is "excited, honored and overwhelmed" to be tapped as a Pride marshal.

"So many of my mentors have been grand marshals and it seems inconceivable that I could be selected. I think this is a reflection on them and I am grateful for their love and support over the years," Shutt said.

He insisted that he shares the honor with all who have supported Emory's efforts on LGBT issues

"One of the reasons I was shocked was the fact that my work is not done in a silo. I am an active participant on campus and in the community," he said. "I see this as a celebration of us and it is humbling to be given the opportunity to represent us. I also see this as another charge or call to action. This honor is a new beginning, not a celebration of one's definitive work or action."

Showing Emory's Pride

Other 2014 Pride grand marshals include the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit seeking same-sex marriage in Georgia, as well as non-profit and community leaders.

"From organizing fundraisers to leading LGBTQ community and civic organizations to fighting for marriage equality, these folks are our friends and neighbors and they are doing inspiring things for our community," Cooke said.

The 44th annual Atlanta Pride Festival, one of the largest such celebrations in the country, is expected to draw tens of thousands to Atlanta's Piedmont Park Oct. 11-12 for two days of community outreach and entertainment, including performances by Meghan Trainor, Amber and Colbie Caillat.

The parade steps off at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 12, from the Civic Center MARTA Station and proceeds through Midtown to Piedmont Park. Emory's parade contingent, a joint effort of the Office of LGBT Life and GALA: Emory LGBT Alumni, typically numbers 50-100 students, faculty, staff and alumni. This year, the group will march with Shutt's grand marshal car. Those who plan to march can register on the Office of LGBT Life website to receive a free t-shirt to wear in the parade.

"There is something very special about being with the group as we walk past Emory Midtown and wave to members of the Emory family," Shutt said. "Our students find great joy hearing the crowd scream out, 'We love you Emory!' and 'There goes the smart queers!' It gives our students a new perspective on how Emory is viewed in Atlanta and affirms them in many ways."

Atlanta Pride is timed to coincide with National Coming Out Day, Oct. 12; October is also LGBT History Month. Prior to the weekend festival, Emory's LGBT community will get into the spirit by hosting Wonderful Wednesday events Oct. 8. Emory Pride is offering LGBT history trivia, a display of coming out stories, and ticket sales for the Oct. 31 Emory Pride Drag Show.

The Office of LGBT Life will use the opportunity to increase the visibility of its "Who is Out @ Emory" project, which grew out of feedback from students who said, despite Emory's inclusive policies, they didn't know openly LGBT faculty and staff. The Out @ Emory website now features photos and information submitted by LGBT faculty, staff, alumni and students who want to be known across campus.

On Wonderful Wednesday, website participants are invited for a special lunch and group photo from noon to 1 p.m. Attendees should register online to reserve lunch and a free t-shirt for the photo.

Before jumping into all of this week's events, Shutt reflected on his first Pride experiences, coming out, and where Emory stands on LGBT issues.

Do you remember the first Pride celebration you ever attended? What was that like?

My first Pride celebration was London Pride in 1995. Although I came out in late 1993, I was going to spend a year studying abroad in England and did not know if I should be out. Therefore, when I left for the University of Surrey in Guildford, England, in the fall of 1994, I went back into the closet. That soon changed and I truly spent the year discovering myself in terms of many of my identities. London Pride occurred a week before I returned to the U.S. and capped off my year of discovery.

The parade was amazing. We watched from Trafalgar Square. The massive crowds watching the parade combined with the crowds of tourists from around the world. It was magical. The festival was quite a distance from the parade route, so we took the tube to the park. We were packed into the train so tightly that it was almost hard to breathe. I am sure we left a trail of rainbows and glitter on the tracks that day! … I think my experience in England and at London Pride empowers me to continue my work to create change.

When you were first coming out, did you ever imagine you would be tapped a grand marshal based on your contributions to LGBT issues?

I didn't even know there was such a thing when I came out! I was in school at Michigan State University when I came out, but it was not until I visited my mom in Atlanta during my 1993 winter break that I even started exploring the community. I came out to her the night I arrived. Her response was to call her best friend, who was a gay man, and take me out to Blake's to see the Gospel Girls. I am sure I would not have been able to comprehend the idea that I would be representing Atlanta and our community in a parade passing that very spot 21 years later.

How do you think Emory compares to other Georgia colleges and universities on LGBT issues, and what message do you think it sends for your work to be honored by Atlanta Pride?

Emory was the first university in the Southeast to make an institutional commitment to LGBT students. In 1991, two graduate students were hired to provide programming and support, making it the 10th university in the country to provide such a resource. This institutional commitment enables Emory not only to lead the way in access, equity and inclusion in Georgia, but also positions us to develop promising practices that other institutions in the state can access. We have the privilege of working with our colleagues from UGA, Spelman College, Agnes Scott, Kennesaw State, Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia Regents University, and others to make higher education more accessible to LGBT students.

There are several messages I hope are being sent to the greater community. First, I think it acknowledges the fact that this work is challenging, even in a higher education setting. Second, I think it says that the work in higher education impacts our community beyond the walls of campus. Although colleges and universities can be places of privilege, they have critical roles in creating positive change in the world. 

Third, I hope it creates visibility of the need for access, equity and inclusion for LGBT students, faculty and staff in higher education throughout the southeast. Fourth, I hope it provides inspiration for faculty, staff and students in colleges and universities. There are many challenges in this work and we need to be inspired every day. Hopefully this can be one of those days!

Finally, I have the privilege of mentoring students who want to graduate from Emory and pursue careers that advance LGBT rights. I hope they see me receiving this honor as inspiration. As I said before, so many of my mentors received this honor and it was inconceivable that I would receive it. I hope my students listen to my message of "imagining the unimaginable future."