‘I Want to Change the Culture’: Alum Supports LGBT Community

Michael R. Komo chair of the GW LGBT Alumni Association. (Photo: William Atkins)

Michael R. Komo, CCAS BA ’11, GSPM MS ’12, Juris Doctor candidate, is chair of the GW LGBT Alumni Association. (Photo: William Atkins)

Few people find their passion at the age of 10. But for Michael Komo, CCAS BA ’11, GSPM MS ’12, a life devoted to advocacy was the clear choice.

“I’ve always been passionate about civil rights,” says Komo. “I’m lucky to have been raised by a really strong woman and have two great sisters, so I’ve always been in touch with women’s issues.”

But it was seeing the premiere of the TV show Will & Grace in 1998 that turned his attention to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Referring to Will, the openly gay lawyer on the show, Komo said, “When I saw Will & Grace I was finally able to identify with a character, and it all made sense.”

In 2007, during his freshman year at GW, Komo requested to meet with the dean of students and GW President Steven Knapp to discuss creating a resource center for LGBT students and establishing gender-neutral housing, both of which are now available to students.

This tenacity carried over to the GW Student Association, when Komo ran as an openly gay candidate and won a Senate seat two years in a row. Now a second-year law student at GW, Komo is co-president of Lambda Law, a GW LGBT law interest group, and in May will become chair of the GW LGBT Alumni Association, for which he already had been serving as student relations chair.

His dedication to the GW LGBT community stems from wanting to make the university a better place for students.

“When I first got to GW I thought it was LGBT-friendly, not LGBT-positive,” Komo says. “There were no negative issues but I thought there weren’t a lot of tangible resources for the community. I wanted to change that culture and to make sure we were always being as progressive as possible and never complacent with the status quo.”

The community continued to flourish and, in 2009, the GW Alumni Association, members of the Luther Rice Society, and other alumni came together to host the first annual LGBT alumni reception with the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

“The goal was to have a staple event every year that we could bring all of the LGBT alumni to, to touch base and debate important issues of the day,” Komo says.

This year’s event, which Komo emceed, was held in February and focused on transgender rights—the next step in LGBT equality, Komo says. Proceeds from the event went to the GW LGBT Resource Center.

The reception included a panel discussion with Kimberly D. Acquaviva, an associate professor and associate dean for faculty affairs at GW’s School of Nursing; Lisa Mottet, deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality; and Sterling Washington, CCAS BA ’95, director of the D.C. Mayor’s Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Affairs. Emily A. Smith, ESIA ’15, a transgender student at GW, also spoke about her experiences with the LGBT community on and off campus.

“We’ve seen our events actually at maximum capacity now, so that’s been a really exciting change from the past when we had a lower attendance rate,” says Komo, “which really shows how much our alumni care about these issues.” Komo said the alumni association has grown substantially and the event is now one of several held each year.

So what’s next for Komo?

“We already have a straight Senate majority leader from GW,” he says of law alumnus Harry Reid, LAW JD ’64. “So now we need an openly gay Senate majority leader from GW. I don’t know if that’s my end goal in life; I think it’s more of a dream job than anything,” he says. “But I envision myself always being involved with GW and in the movements for equality.”

–Kelly Danver, CCAS BA ’14

Want to learn more about the GW LGBT Alumni Association? Visit them online or join them at the Capitol Pride Parade!

Kelly Danver is a GW senior and current intern for GW Magazine. She has a passion for storytelling in all mediums, from the page, to the screen, to the stage. In addition to her work at GW, Danver volunteers her time as a writer and social media contributer for various blogs. On campus, she serves as secretary for Phi Sigma Pi, an alternative greek honors fraternity. She will graduate in May 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in history.

 

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