Dennis Hall: From ‘Farm Boy’ to Leader of Change

Story by: Caitlin Taylor 

In December 2006, the Lansing City Council adopted its first anti-discrimination mandate. Called the City of Lansing’s Anti-Discrimination Ordinance, the measure provides, even still, protection for all people living within its official jurisdictional boundaries, against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodation.

The ordinance includes protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

Behind this pivotal point in Lansing’s history was Dennis Hall, president of the Lansing Association for Human Rights between 2004-2007.

“The ordinance was also the first to include transgender people,” said Hall. “I am very proud of that achievement.”

This accomplishment was one, of many, services that Hall provided to the LGBTQ+ community. After coming out himself, he served on the Board of Directors of the Lansing Area AIDS network for seven years and also worked as a “buddy” to men impacted by HIV/AIDS for 10 years.

Since his graduation from Michigan State University in 1969, Hall never thought that he would be able to accomplish so much for his community.

“My experience at MSU was exciting and helped me to grow from being nearly a ‘farm boy’ to one who better understood the world,” he said. “I never even imagined that there were other men out there who felt like I did.”

During his time on campus, Hall said that the LGBTQ+ community was non-existent. He recalls, along with his friends, just trying to fit in with the straight majority on campus. For Hall, revealing his sexuality was “unthinkable” during the early 1960s.

“No one that I knew was ‘OUT’ on campus,” he said. “[But], there were certainly LGBTQ+ people everywhere, because history has shown that we have been on Earth as long as straight people have been on Earth.”

The lack of a queer community on campus also meant for an absence of resources for LGBTQ-identifying students. During Hall’s time as a Spartan, MSU’s LBGT Resource Center had yet to exist.

“It may have changed my life much earlier if I had had the opportunity that today’s MSU students who are questioning or dealing with coming out issues in today’s world [have],” said Hall.

His lack of opportunity to engage with the center as a student hasn’t prevented his level of engagement as an alumnus, however. He has been a dedicated volunteer and supporter of the LBGT Resource Center.  

“I volunteer as a person to speak on panels along with MSU students who all are involved with being and experiencing the coming out process on MSU’s campus” he said. “Being able to interact with young and vibrant people has been very uplifting for me.”

Even still, his interactions with the center leave him feeling inspired and rewarded, as he is able to see the progress that the campus has made in passing years. He recognizes that the Spartan community is in a completely different time and place than when he was a student.  

“All students are so way beyond where I was in knowing and understanding themselves than I was at their age, that at times, it blows my mind” said Hall. “And yet, I also see that they are young and very new at this. Time will help them find themselves as they grow older and wiser.”

Through his own personal growth, Hall values the impact that his identity has had on his life, giving him wonderful experiences and courage. He has learned, he said, to treat everyone with dignity and respect and how to publicly take a stance against inequality. All the while, he has learned how to demand change, while always being aware of his surroundings.

“Always keep caution by your side,” he said. “Be aware that there is a violent side to life and never forget it.”