National Gay Pilots Association Comes to Kent State University
In 1990, members of the very first National Gay Pilots Association (NGPA) identified by a subtle airplane on their shirts, met discreetly in Provincetown, Massachusetts, to begin their fight for equality. These members, and many others, were at risk of losing their jobs or being dishonorably discharged if anyone found out they were gay during that time.
Now, 28 years later, more than 4,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) members worldwide, ranging from commercial pilots to mechanics, are openly supported by the National Gay Pilots Association.
This story and the organization’s mission is what inspired Chris Olmstead, a senior aeronautics major at Kent State University, to bring a student chapter of the organization to the Kent Campus.
“In spring 2017, I received two scholarships from the NGPA to assist me in my flight training at Kent State,” Mr. Olmstead says. “Ever since, I’ve wanted to give back to the organization that helped me achieve my dreams.”
Not every pilot is lucky to receive scholarships, but due to the National Gay Pilots Association’s work over the last 25 years, more students now than ever are able to have the same experience as Mr. Olmstead.
The mission of the National Gay Pilots Association is to build, support and unite the LGBT aviation community worldwide, and one way of doing that is through scholarships.
After he received the scholarships, Mr. Olmstead began researching how to bring the organization to Kent State.
“It’s been a lot of work to jump through the hoops of bringing the NGPA to campus,” Mr. Olmstead says.
After reaching out to a friend at another university with an NGPA chapter, he contacted Troy Merrit, the chair for University and Flight School Chapters for the organization, and started working closely with Ken Ditlevson, director of Kent State’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Student Center.
Kent State’s chapter of the National Gay Pilots Association will be the first career-specific LGBTQ organization on campus.
“It’s exciting that we are not only starting to provide support for students in this field, but also helping Kent State’s rating on the pride index,” Mr. Ditlevson says.
The Campus Pride Index measures different universities across the nation on how inclusive and supportive of LGBTQ students, staff and faculty the campus community is.
Kent State’s LGBTQ Student Center works to support LGBTQ individuals and increase the university’s pride index rating by promoting supportive clubs and organizations for LGBTQ individuals to feel welcome.
To support the National Gay Pilots Association, the center offered to help promote the organization’s first meeting, which took place on Jan. 23, by sending out fliers and information to its email list.
“My goal going into this was to reach and generate interest with as many people as possible,” Mr. Olmstead says. “With those in attendance that night and the people who emailed me, I foresee about 10 members to start out with, which is very exciting.”
Mr. Olmstead hopes the organization will build a strong, tight-knit community that can offer a network of support to members and encourage LGBTQ students to feel comfortable being who they are within their field of study.
For more information about the National Gay Pilots Association, visit www.ngpa.org.