Howard Bragman said he hopes his gift inspires other alumni to give, but also hopes to raise awareness of what the Spectrum Center is.
When Howard Bragman was growing up in Flint, the city had a small but vibrant Jewish community, and he had a lot of family nearby. His family belonged to the old Beth Israel, a Conservative congregation.
Still, growing up in the Midwest in the 1960s, without a lot of peers or role models to look to, Bragman said he never quite fit in. “As a fat, Jewish, gay kid in Flint, I always felt like a Martian,” he said,
That all changed when he got to the University of Michigan.
“This campus allows you to be yourself. It allows you to spread your wings in the way you want to spread your wings,” he said.
Now a public relations expert and crisis manager, Bragman has gone on to a career of helping people — some quite famous — do just that, his approach to work and life formed in large part by his time on campus.
These days, Bragman is a member of Kol Ami, an LGBTQ temple in Los Angeles. He’s an activist and a philanthropist who said he’s doing what he learned growing up Jewish in Flint.
“I saw what my parents did,” he said. “I remember when Israel was under attack and them giving money at the shul. That’s what Jewish people have done. We have helped each other. I’ve always tried to help others, too.” He’s often called upon by rabbis he knows to help people coming out in the Los Angeles community where he’s lived for the last 35 years.
Bragman knows that even in a place as progressive as Ann Arbor, coming out as gay is a challenging journey.
“I tell people, ‘Stay strong, even when it hurts.’ And, I promise, it hurts sometimes. But, there are places that will help you ease the pain sometimes. That’s what the Spectrum Center did,” he said.
The Spectrum Center, the nation’s first LGBTQIA+ support center to be formed on a college campus, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
“When I needed help trying to understand my own sexuality, it was there for me,” he said. “I left accepting who I was.”
To make sure the center will continue providing support and guidance to U-M’s LGBTQIA+ community, Bragman has made a $1 million bequest to establish the Howard Bragman Coming Out Fund. The fund will be used to provide emergency financial assistance to students through the Spectrum Center, including help for mental and physical health services, short-term housing, long-term housing, transportation and tuition.
“I don’t care how liberal the school is. I don’t care how accepting and loving your parents are. I don’t care how ‘woke’ the times are. Coming out is this most personal of journeys, and it’s a challenging journey,” he said. “It’s so important for students to know they are not alone and that the Spectrum Center is there for them. I want to assure that other people get that same access that I had: life-changing, life-saving access.”
After graduating from U-M in 1978, Bragman went on to a prominent career in public relations and crisis management. After serving as a vice president in the Chicago and Los Angeles offices of Burson-Marsteller Public Relations, he founded the media strategy and public relations firms Bragman Nyman Cafarelli and Fifteen Minutes, was a vice chairman of Reputation.com, and currently runs La Brea Media in Los Angeles. A dynamic activist for LGBTQIA+ rights, he has earned acclaim for helping dozens of actors, athletes and executives come out as gay in the past 30 years.
He said he hopes his gift inspires other alumni to give, but also hopes to raise awareness of what the Spectrum Center is.
“The Spectrum Center is certainly one area where Michigan is the leader and best,” he said. “I hope this will let the students know that they have this extraordinary resource available to them.”
Bragman is excited about the 50th anniversary celebration, which kicks off this fall and will culminate in a gala May 20, 2022. Bragman hopes to return to Michigan for the event.
Ann Marie Aliotta works at the University of Michigan’s Office of University Development, where this story first appeared. Reprinted with permission. Additional reporting by Jackie Headapohl, JN Director of Editorial.