In the three years since Jon Henry, ’12, came to the University of Richmond as a first-year student, support for the queer community on campus has ballooned. Henry’s role in building this support — and in changing the landscape of the city of Richmond — has garnered him recognition as “Out.Spoken. Richmonder of the Year” from GayRVA, a local news website.

“The recipient of the award is in line with GayRVA’s core values of being inclusive and supportive not only to the LGBT community, but Richmond as a whole,” states an article announcing the award. GayRVA presents the award annually to someone who is “making a newsworthy impact to move Richmond forward.”

Henry co-founded the Student Alliance for Sexual Diversity in 2009 and currently serves as its president. The alliance focuses on providing social support and advocacy and holds a variety of events throughout the year to fulfill its mission. As membership has grown, so has SASD’s impact on campus.

One reason for the group’s success is its inclusion of allies beyond campus. “SASD learned early on that we needed to look outside of the ‘bubble’ of our own organization’s members and the campus’ queer community,” Henry says. “SASD never makes our events private, and we advertise them across the city. We’ve had people drive from North Carolina, Vermont and D.C. for our events.”

Henry and the organization’s other leaders have worked to engage different constituencies on campus, too. “SASD’s long-term goal is to do a program with every single student group on campus at some point in the next four years,” he says, adding that they’ve met with every level of school administrator and all student leaders. “We try not to leave any stones unturned.”

Henry’s dedication to making queer issues relevant to the whole campus is consistent with how he sees his role as an activist.

“I’ve always been taught that if you have a problem, solve it face on,” he explains. “I saw some problems and dove right in to solve them. LGBT issues didn’t really have any momentum, and you can’t solve race or gender issues without including LGBT issues.”

Looking back on progress since 2009, Henry points to major achievements like adding an LGBT living-learning community and growing the number of queer groups from zero to six.

And his biggest accomplishment? Henry feels it is the addition of gender identity and gender expression to the University’s non-discrimination policy — a change approved by the Board of Trustees in April. “We are now the first school in the state to offer non-discrimination protection for sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression,” he says. Two other Virginia universities include gender identity/expression protection.

SASD, under Henry’s leadership, started petitioning more than a year ago to make this change. 

Their work will impact campus, but it also is felt in the greater community, as the GayRVA award attests. According to their article, “The University of Richmond has made great strides to build an inclusive environment in the past three years and Jon’s story is testament to that.”