Illinois State alums help Redbirds in need through LGBTQ+ Student Support Fund
The support Andrew Anastasia ’06 received from LGBTQ+ advocates at Illinois State was essential to his success as a student and a professional. Now he is doing his part to give back to students who need that same help.
It was a long journey for Anastasia to reach the finish line at Illinois State. He arrived on campus in 1996, but significant family issues made it difficult for him to focus on his studies. He left and rejoined the University a couple of times before returning in 2003 to obtain a degree in sociology. Anastasia, who was assigned female at birth, started his gender transition during his senior year.
One of the first and biggest backers of Anastasia’s journey was ISU Pride. He joined the registered student organization after being put in contact with Barb Dallinger, M.S. ’81, M.S.E. ’01, associate director of events and catering, who was a longtime advisor for Pride. It was through Pride that Anastasia met his longtime friend Tracey Vogelsang ’04. They were both on the board during the planning of ISU Pride’s first Charity Drag Show in 1998.
Initially, the idea was a dream between friends, but the more it was discussed, the more they realized this kind of event could have a positive impact on the LGBTQ+ community in Bloomington-Normal. Eventually, they brought the idea to Dallinger and fellow Pride advisor Lin Hinds.
“They were always very supportive of student initiatives,” Anastasia said. “They helped us with how to approach administration, and we put together a pitch for Student Affairs. It took a lot of meetings and a lot of convincing but finally they consented to kind of a trial drag show.”
The show went off without a hitch and is now a signature campus event.
“I think if you had said at the time, ‘In 20 years, you will be talking about this because it will still be a thing,’ I wouldn’t have believed that and I certainly couldn’t have conceptualized the growth,” Vogelsang said. “We started in the Prairie Room with a tiny stage to having it moved to the Brown Ballroom and now to Braden (Auditorium). That’s wild.”
Even though ISU Pride was a cornerstone of his support system, Anastasia was especially impacted by Illinois State faculty and staff who were not involved with the organization but were still strong supporters of LGBTQ+ students.
“I think about all of the amazing advocates who taught me how to work within an institutional context to make change for myself and now for other students,” he said. “And also, how not to be complicit when things are oppressive, that was huge.”
Anastasia and Vogelsang learned from those advocates at Illinois State to better serve LGBTQ+ individuals in their professional careers. Anastasia is an associate professor of English at Harper College in Palatine and supports the college’s LGBTQ community through his social justice curriculum and by advocating for institutional change.
“Seeing firsthand how a department or a program and all of the unseen structures of an institution interact with trans folks has informed how I have helped create those structures at my own college.”
Vogelsang is as a medical case manager at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Peoria, primarily working with patients who are living with HIV. Her role has expanded to ensuring that trans and nonbinary people get appropriate medical care.
“One of the things that still sticks with me is how important visibility is,” Vogelsang said. “I’m in a position where it is really safe to be openly LGBTQ+, so I make sure to use that as much as possible when I have folks that need that connection.”
Anastasia and Vogelsang also give back by supporting Illinois State’s LGBTQ+ Student Support Fund. Created in 2009, this fund provides emergency financial assistance to students who have lost the financial support of their family due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, scholarships for members of ISU student organizations that support LGBTQ+ issues, and educational programming for ISU students related to LGBTQ+ topics.
The fund’s purpose especially resonates with Anastasia, who needed the support of two Acorn Scholarships to complete his undergraduate studies at Illinois State and attend graduate school. Anastasia has gotten creative with how he supports the fund. Anastasia was training for a century bike ride in Door County, Wisconsin, and had a unique idea.
He thought maybe he could donate his training miles to raise money for the LGBTQ+ Student Support Fund. Unfortunately, the event was canceled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Anastasia is hoping to use that opportunity to go bigger and potentially host a Pride Ride at Illinois State with the support of community partners in the spring.
Anastasia and Vogelsang are both looking forward to further partnering with Illinois State to explore the future of the fund. They are especially interested in seeing what more can be done with helping LGBTQ+ students meet basic needs and working with community groups to make sure those needs are met.