Returning to IU on Friday to accept a Distinguished Alumni Award from the IU Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Alumni Association, McRaith said it’s absolutely crazy to think of how far the LGBT community has come since his days in Ballantine Hall.
“It’s IU that provided a platform for me to be open to the world and to myself,” McRaith said, accepting his award.
Students, faculty and alumni from across the country came together Friday afternoon at Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center’s Grand Hall to recognize McRaith, as well as Gregory Carter, a clinical assistant professor in the IU School of Nursing. The two were honored as a part of the IU GLBTAA’s eighth annual IU GLBTAA Celebration Weekend.
McRaith, director of the Federal Insurance Office, was presented the association’s Distinguished Alumni Award for a career of public service and advocacy within the LGBT community.
In speaking with about a dozen students and faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences on Friday before accepting his award, McRaith said years later he still remembers when he learned from his openly gay professor Richard Young that it was not abnormal to be gay.
“He was very open about it,” McRaith said. “And at that time in the ’80s, that was a time when people were in the streets holding up placards that said ‘God hates fags’ and ‘God created AIDS to kills the fags.’”
McRaith, now serving in the Obama administration, has used his career to advocate for equality in healthcare and in other areas of financial disparity.
Aside from his work in finance, McRaith helped expand the Windy City men’s basketball league, an inclusive three-divsion gay men’s basketball league, into one of the nation’s largest basketball leagues.
McRaith has served on the board of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago for nearly a decade and became deeply involved in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention after his partner committed suicide.
“Most people that know (McRaith) well, whether professionally or personally, uniformly remark about his ability to put people at ease in terms of building consensus,” said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Larry Singell, who presented McRaith’s award. “He’s just simply a likable guy.”
Of his time in public service, McRaith said he finds it very difficult to pass up any opportunity to make a difference.
“It’s not enough to observe,” McRaith said. “It’s not enough to know or talk about something. For me, I want to be a part of something, and doing what I can to contribute change where change is needed.”
Carter, who expressed a similar devotion to change, was presented the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Student Support Center Spirit Award on Friday.
In his nursing classes, Carter emphasizes an education of culture and patient advocacy in addition to traditional bedside manner. Carter said he works with culture centers, engaging the black, Muslim and LGBT communities to teach how individuals’ healthcare needs may vary.
“My goal is to expose my students in an academic setting to the cultures so they’re able to understand that you and I aren’t so different,” Carter said. “Your care might be different than my care. I might not be able to get a blood transfusion, or I might need to pray a certain way.”
Students in Carter’s classes said they are very close. Learning in cohorts of about 60 students, some have described Carter as a powerhouse and as being easy to talk to.
“He’s a very determined individual,” junior Mackenzie Reetz said. “It doesn’t surprise me he’s getting awarded for it.”
After receiving the Spirit Award, Carter said he didn’t believe the award was about him, but rather about his students and their patients.
“It’s beyond humbling,” Carter said. “But really what it means to me is that we’re changing someone’s life, whether it’s the student or it’s the patient or it’s that patient’s family. It’s changing lives.”
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