Story by: Caitlin Taylor
Monroe County Community School Corporation became one of the first districts in Indiana to provide a training series for administrators and educators on creating safe and inclusive classrooms for queer students, specifically those that identify as transgender or gender non-conforming. This milestone was made possible through the Prism Youth Community, a part of the LGBT non-profit organization in Bloomington, Indiana called Bloomington PRIDE.
Justin Ford, Michigan State University communications alumnus, serves as the chair of Bloomington PRIDE and holds notable responsibility for the mandated training series.
“My job is to strategically and tactically oversee all operations of the organization,” said Ford. “The work is so fulfilling, and I also get to meet a lot of great people.”
Since earning the position in 2015, Ford has been involved in several projects that have strengthened his heart in activism.
“I looked around the community for advocacy organizations,” he said, “started getting involved with social justice work that felt meaningful to me, and pursued opportunities to make a bigger difference in my community.”
This drive for community engagement and activism was founded during Ford’s time at MSU, where he was largely involved in leadership, community building and facilitating change.
“I got involved with the LGBT communities at MSU because…I wanted to give back to a community that I felt had given a lot to me,” he said. “So the LGBT community seemed like the natural choice.”
Throughout undergrad, Ford served as the vice president, and later, president, of RING (Respecting Individuals on Neutral Grounds), the lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and ally caucus of North neighborhood. He also spent time as the treasurer, and later, secretary, of PRISM (People Respecting the Individuality of Students at MSU), the South neighborhood caucus. In addition, Ford was a Student Program Assistant with the MSU LBGT Resource Center during his junior and senior years.
“These leadership opportunities were incredibly beneficial to me, particularly in tandem with working for the LBGT RC,” he said. “I learned so much about the queer community through these experiences, but I also made wonderful friends, affected a lot of positive change and learned tons about programming, budgeting, facilitation and creating safe spaces for people.”
Together, Ford’s involvement not only molded his drive for social justice work, it introduced him to the field of higher education and student affairs, where he has ultimately found vocation.
Since his graduation from MSU in 2010, he earned his M.A. in Higher Education from Eastern Michigan University, holding an assistantship at their LGBT Resource Center for two years. Currently, he holds a faculty position in Business Communication for the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.
Ford partially attributes his professional success to his experience at the MSU LBGT Resource Center; he remembers being treated as a colleague, by professionals, while he was still an undergrad.
“That opportunity afforded me remarkable growth and taught me so much about operating as a colleague in a professional setting,” he said. “It also helped me to begin defining my professional character and what kinds of qualities I wanted to develop as a young professional.”
Among fostering professional qualities, Ford acknowledges the growth that he has experienced, and continues to experience, in his expression and identity.
“Like many parts of identity, there’s generally somewhat of a pendulum swing with how we express those parts of our identities,” he said. “I had periods when I was more traditionally masculine or feminine and played with styles and clothing that expressed gender in different ways.”
While his experiences with identity have been highly positive and enriching, Ford recognizes that in both universities and greater society, his needs, particularly as a person of Color, are never entirely met. In overcoming this barrier for both himself and other folks with marginalized identities, Ford stresses the the importance of finding community.
“The world can be a really lonely place for LGBT people,” he said. “I think the sooner we can find people who understand us and will support us, the better.”