Lee Dyer is as dynamic as he is unique. 

He attended four higher-education institutions and has a long list of qualifications to be Common Ground's associate director for LGBTQ campus life. However, Dyer's most important qualification is his experience as a college student navigating his own identity.

Dyer knew from a young age that his female gender assigned at birth didn't fit his true self, but it would be years before he could embody that knowledge. 

He grew up in two very different environments: In New Orleans, his traditional mother encouraged him to be female, but in Atlanta, his father fostered a more gender-neutral environment, telling him, "You'll be different but you need to... be assertive about who you are."

In the fifth grade, Dyer lost the tangible presence of the biggest supporter of his identity when his father was wrongfully imprisoned with a life sentence. Dyer reflects on that day with racial disparity at the forefront of his memory. 

The jury was all white for his black father. 

Dyer recalls his upper-middle class grandparents despairing that in spite of their connections, they could not save their son from a wrongful conviction.

"We've been fighting his appeal for 20 years, so hopefully with the probation and parole laws in Louisiana, he'll get to come home one day," Dyer said. "'Appeals don't really work out for men of color in Louisiana."

Dyer persevered and eventually entered the world of higher education, where he would find himself and his calling. Attending Georgia State University in between two stints at Dillard University, Dyer graduated with a degree in political science. 

"After undergrad, I was like, I wanna go to law school but I kind of want to experience life a little bit," he said.

Dyer did just that while attending paralegal school and working at a Hilton in Washington, D.C. He was later accepted to North Carolina Central University School of Law, where his identity expression began to affect his academic performance.

Dyer's first semester of law school was terrible, as he wrestled with his identity. 

"I went with this very feminine persona to law school and it was very uncomfortable to the point where it was taking away from my academics," Dyer said. "My grades were a mess."

Second semester brought a shift to a gender-queer lifestyle, along with soaring grades and high accolades for his superior work. He used they/them pronouns and dressed to his identity, forgoing the feminine garments purchased by his mother in favor of his more masculine wardrobe.

Dyer's shift in gender expression was accompanied by a shift in career path as he pursued his masters in public administration at North Carolina Central University and simultaneously began his medical transition from female to male.

Dyer's mentors and colleagues at NC Central's LGBTQ center played a crucial role in his story. He emphasized the uniqueness of the center as one that encouraged the expression of non-binary identities at a historically black university. Through NC Central's LGBTQ center, Dyer met other transgender men. He volunteered with LGBTQ youth, and became immersed in the LGBTQ community. 

He officially came out as a man to his parents in 2015.  

"'Ok let me bring this on you – I'm a transgender guy, been on testosterone,'" Dyer said, recreating when he told his parents, "'And I've been out of law school and am about to graduate with my masters.' So they kind of got a double whammy."

The only question remaining for Dyer was his career trajectory. Colleagues encouraged him to stay on the path he had been traveling. He was well suited to work with LGBTQ students because he understood their journey.

"When you don't get to be your authentic self, however that is, it takes away from your student experience," he said.

Dyer said he was and is committed to ensuring that every student feels they are in an environment in which they can be their authentic selves.

After serving as a student-affairs program coordinator at the University of Cincinnati, Dyer came to the University of Richmond in summer 2017. 

Jeff Lowe, RC'19, said he is excited for the work Dyer is doing at UR.

"He is really trying to coordinate with us to figure out what the students want, what we need," Lowe said.

Lowe says Dyer is more radical than other Common Ground employees, addressing issues such as white supremacy and intersectional identities.

In light of recent events in Charlottesville, Lowe said Dyer has an attitude that reflects the statement: "We need to address this. We need to make sure people on campus know, you know, this is bad."

Lowe said he sees Dyer as a driving force of intersectional awareness.

"I think we're doing really well on the LGBTQ front and not as well on the race front, and I think he's seeing that," Lowe said.

Dyer said UR is a campus full of opportunities for collaboration and he speaks highly of his colleagues on this campus. Dyer said he praises many members of the campus community, including Dean Mia Genoni and Dean Joe Boehman, for their efforts to include all identities at the university.

Dyer said he views the recent events in Charlottesville as an indicator that it is time for marginalized communities and allies to come together. He said understanding is an integral piece of a successful dialogue.

"Educating someone about your experience can make things better," he said, expressing his hopes that UR will be a place for students to do that.

Dyer said his father told him to care about people regardless of identity, and "to really care about folks who don't have the privileges or the blessings that I might have." 

Dyer brings that compassion to the university community and hopes to put it to good use, helping people and speaking for people who don't have a voice.

Contact features writer Hannah Dunn at hannah.dunn@richmond.edu.

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