Finding Love, Identity: Alumni couple share story of meeting and falling in love at CMU
Victoria and Dawn Sorensen say that love works in mysterious ways.
It was the beginning of the Fall 1991 semester. Dawn was looking for new roommates in Robinson Hall and approached Room 229.
“I’m looking for a room and you have a space," Dawn said to her fellow Central Michigan University freshman, then Victoria Grandy. "I’m going to move in with you.”
Like anyone going in blind; it took a few months to get out of that awkward first phase.
“We didn’t talk a whole lot that first semester,” Victoria said. “It was not until the (spring) semester that we started hanging out more and just doing more things together.”
Neither of them knew that they would go from roommates to life partners.
Today, the couple has been happily married for 26 years. They share two children and a home in Massachusetts. They look back on their time at Central Michigan University fondly and recall the by-chance meeting that started it all.
At the same time, they remember overcoming extreme adversities.
Victoria and Dawn remember attending on-campus events like theater performances and art shows. Victoria recalls visiting a yogurt shop in downtown Mount Pleasant.
With more time came a greater bond.
That following fall, a year after Dawn made her surprise entrance, they began dating.
The two women came to CMU for different reasons. From Crystal Valley, Dawn was studying history and Victoria, who is from West Branch, was studying psychology.
Coming to college meant finally being able to explore their identities.
"For Dawn, it all made sense. It kind of clicked and she was good," Victoria said. “For me, it was a lot more confusing – eventually identifying as bisexual and trying to figure out what that meant."
At the time, the early 90s were a transformative period for gay rights. In 1993, it was estimated that up to one million people marched on Washington protesting for legal rights for the LGBTQ+ community.
This was partly caused by the "don't ask, don’t tell" policy enforced by the U.S. military which allowed gay people to serve, but they were banned from speaking about their homosexuality which led to thousands of men and women being discharged from the military.
CMU was where the couple found family and support through their friends. The pair were members of the Gay-Lesbian Association for Student Support (GLASS) and involved with the Wesley Foundation which still stands on the corner of Preston and Washington Streets.
"We supported each other," Jon Humiston, a former GLASS member from 1992 to 1997 said. "We helped each other navigate our complexities of the campus climate and dealing with roommates and negative situations across campus."
Victoria and Dawn received a mix of responses from their friends and family when they started dating.
“Most of my close friends were fine with it, but I think there are definitely people we lost as friends,” Victoria said. “The world was just a really different place. There were a lot of people that didn't know we were a couple.”
Victoria recalls their first date to a theater in Alma. The reason for going out of town was that they were less likely to be seen by their peers at CMU.
Despite adversity, Victoria said marriage just felt naturally like the next step in their relationship.
“My thought was that just because it wasn't legal doesn't mean we don't deserve to have that," Victoria said.
There was no grand gesture or proposal. Just a simple question from Victoria; “do you wanna get married?”
The couple attempted to post a wedding announcement in The Morning Sun newspaper, as engaged couples often did at the time, but they were denied publication.
They instead turned to Central Michigan Life who published a full article "Lesbian couple to be married" in the Oct. 23, 1995 print edition.
In the story, Victoria and Dawn describe their wedding as no different than the union of a man and woman. They were also asked about their parents' reaction to the news.
“The couple sent out 80 invitations to the wedding and expect approximately 50 to 60 people to attend,” the story read. “But both Grandy’s and Sorensen’s fathers are not planning to attend the wedding.”
26 years and two children later, Dawn’s father has grown to accept their relationship. Victoria’s father passed away, but she says some extended family came around to acceptance.
At the time things were much more difficult.
After the CM Life article was published the community began to express its opinions.
"There were threats of people protesting," Victoria said. "There were letters sent to the editor concerned for the paper after the article came out."
The day before the ceremony, they got a call from their pastor at the Wesley Foundation which is run by the United Methodist Church. The church received lots of pressure to call off the wedding.
Even with the criticism, the pastor, Rev. Steven Michael Smith – who the couple were close with – wanted to go through with the wedding – even suggesting they move the ceremony to his own house.
Victoria and Dawn recall receiving a great majority of their support from their friends made at GLASS and the Wesley Foundation.
It was that support from their friends that helped the couple through their whole wedding planning process. They didn't have much money. The big day had to be budgeted.
Yet again, they overcame the obstacles.
Even without legal recognition, the wedding went on as planned at the Wesley Foundation.
Shortly after, the couple signed power of attorney documents which granted them the power to make medical and financial decisions for one another.
“I don’t think it was our dream wedding or anything,” Victoria said. “For a long time, we talked about doing a renewal or celebration, like a redo, but I think there was a lot of special things about it.”
The couple moved from Michigan to Massachusetts in 1999 for Dawn to attend grad school. During this time, the couple decided they wanted to grow a family of their own. Victoria carried both of the couple’s children, Jacob and Olivia, by having a friend who was also a CMU graduate be the donor.
With the coming and going of all these milestones, Victoria and Dawn were still not a federally recognized married couple.
It wasn't until Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004, that the life-long partners had the opportunity to be officially wed in the eyes of the state.
The couple laughed saying the only thing that changed for them was filing their taxes together. They had committed, loved and stood by each other for decades, the only change was it finally being accepted by others.
As the couple reflects on their time at CMU, they agree on one thing – it gets better.
CMU now has many resources dedicated to supporting those in the LGBTQ+ community. The Office of LGBTQ+ Services is in the Bovee University Center in room 110A.
Spectrum is a student organization centered around education and socializing with other members of the queer community. The group meets at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays via WebEx.
“Find a trusted friend, don’t feel like you have to label yourself,” Victoria said. “Do what feel right and that’s okay if that changes.”
“There is a whole big life out there beyond CMU just waiting. You are loved, even if you don’t know it,” Dawn said. “You are loved.”