The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement lost an inspirational leader this July, with the death of Eastern Michigan University music therapy professor Michael McGuire. His passing will not be marked by a presidential proclamation nor will any great monuments be erected commemorating his achievements, but his impact on the individual lives of many in our movement is no less profound than that of Frank Kameny or Barbara Gittings.
McGuire was a courageous LGBT pioneer in his own right and one of our movement’s many unsung heroes. Before it was the popular thing for a public university to do, he was among a small group of professionals working for EMU who recognized the university’s LGBT students needed something more than just an ally in the Dean of Students office. Working with his colleagues, he helped EMU found a campus LGBT Resource Center which has been a leader in Michigan’s higher education community ever since.
McGuire’s accomplishments in his beloved field of music therapy were monumental and earned him the Lifetime Achievement Award from his colleagues, and culminated in the creation of EMU’s Music Therapy Center, which is used for teaching and demonstrating music therapy clinical practice.
In much the same way McGuire became a leader in the field of music therapy, serving in many leadership roles within the National Association for Music Therapy and the American Music Therapy Association, he remained a prominent figure in EMU’s LGBT community. He helped create the EMU Stonewall Scholarship, which provides financial aid to LGBT student leaders on campus.
Like a proud parent, he served on the LGBT Resource Center’s advisory board, and guided student leaders working towards true equality among EMU’s student body. I was fortunate enough to be one of those student leaders in the early 2000s, and the course he helped me plot towards being an advocate of those in need is one I proudly remain on today.
I will never forget his glowing smile as he bragged to others about the accomplishments of his students, or his subtle and kind words when things like inclusion and expression of gender identity in university policies seemed more like a dream than a soon to be realized reality.
Perhaps even more important was his forgiveness of mistakes and relentless support even after the title of “student” had faded. He went out of his way to send thoughts, and donations, of encouragement as my work took me far away from EMU’s campus.
Michael left us far too early and I will always regret not sharing with him sooner how much of an impact his support had on me. He is one of the many unsung heroes in our movement whose work and support, sometimes subtle and sometimes profound, empowered those around them to go after our dreams.
While we cannot erect the monuments or amass the proclamations these pillars in our movement deserve, we can and should take more opportunities to recognize and praise them. Do not make the same mistake I did and wait too long, reach out now and share with the unsung heroes in your life how much they mean and how much they are cherished.
Never lose hope and never lose sight of the impact our actions can have on others.
Michael: You were a truly amazing man, a wonderful role model, a relentless supporter, and a catalyst for positive change. Thank you.
Michael McGuire died at the age of 63 on July 16th in a hospice, after mounting a gallant war on Stage 4 terminal lung cancer. At the time of his passing he had served as EMU’s director of music therapy for nearly 30 years.
Donations in his name can be made to the Michael G. McGuire Endowed Scholarship fund at the EMU Foundation, 1349 S. Huron, Ypsilanti, Mich.
Guest writer Gregory Varnum is an EMU alumnus who has worked professionally in the LGBT movement for over a decade, and got his start as the student coordinator of EMU’s LGBT Resource Center; a start Varnum said he owes in part to professor Michael McGuire.
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