Illinois State alum Dave Bentlin ’88, ’93 remembers nervously driving circles around Fairchild Hall on Wednesday nights back in the early 1980s, trying to build up the courage to walk in.

Fairchild was where Gay People’s Alliance, the student group for gay and lesbian students, met every Wednesday night at 7. The group didn’t really advertise, and students like Bentlin worried that others were keeping track of who walked into Fairchild on Wednesday nights.

Three decades later, Illinois State—like the rest of the country—is in a much different place, so much so that Bentlin and another grad are launching ISU’s first LGBTQA Alumni Network.

“It didn’t feel like a safe environment back then,” Bentlin told STATEside. “But I don’t think (today’s students) would think twice about walking into a meeting like that. The student organization (now called Pride at ISU) is very integrated into the fabric of campus. It’s really a great progression.”

Bentlin is working with Barb Dallinger ’81, M.S.E. ’01, to get the LGBTQA Alumni Network off the ground with help from the Alumni Relations office, starting with a weekend of events March 28–30 centered around the 16th annual Drag Show at Bone Student Center.

Theirs would be the first affinity group for LGBT graduates, though Bentlin and Dallinger have been talking about it for years. The time is right for many reasons, said Dallinger, including the rapidly changing national conversation about increased LGBT rights. Also, students and alums “are in a very different place” today than they were years ago when Dallinger advised Pride, the current LGBT student organization. Pride used to be focused on coming out, but that’s not the case anymore.

“I went from being a student who was attacked on campus, to advising the organization that worked with those students,” said Dallinger, now associate director at Bone Student Center. “To go from really not feeling safe, to working with students who say, ‘This is so not a big deal,’ it’s crazy different.”

There’s evidence all over campus of just how far Illinois State has come. The LGBT/Queer Studies and Services Institute now helps coordinate, publicize, and support campus and community efforts, both intellectual and cultural, related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, and genderqueer people and ideas. And next year, Illinois State will host the 2015 Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference (MBLGTACC), the largest LGBTA college conference in the nation.

Dallinger and Bentlin are using the Drag Show weekend (March 28–30) as a launching pad for the alumni network. LGBT alums are invited to an opening reception and film screening that Friday, with a LGBT/Queer Studies and Services Institute open house and other festivities planned for Saturday. Sunday’s events include a celebratory brunch where attendees will be able to pitch ideas and help shape the LGBTQA Alumni Network.

The new network could become a powerful way to connect successful LGBT alums in many different fields, from all over the country, with today’s students as mentors, said Bentlin. Other LGBT college alumni networks have even started scholarship programs.

“There are a lot of opportunities to go in a lot of different directions,” said Bentlin, who works as an administrative assistant and office manager in the Division of Student Affairs.

Alumni can get a sneak peek of the LGBTQA Alumni Network from 5–7 p.m. February 20 at an after-hours mixer at Replay, 3439 North Halsted Street, Chicago.

Illinois State alumni who want to attend the March 28–30 events or are interested in the LGBTQA Alumni Network are encouraged to “like” the network’s Facebook page or visit the network’s official webpage.

Ryan Denham can be reached at