“Hold space for other people.”

A native of South Bend, Eli Williams was “always a downtown kid,” having been born and raised on West Washington Street. Returning to South Bend after attending Smith College and traveling around the country Eli, is “glad to be here and fell in love with the place and really believe in the positive movement that is happening here that wasn’t happening before.”

Eli is currently the Executive Director at the LGBTQ Center, formerly the GLBT Center. She attended Adams High School “right across the street from the GLBT Center and didn’t even know it was here.” Under her reign, Eli is fighting to make sure that the LGBTQ Center is well known and that future students know it is there. In addition to shepherding the name change to more accurately reflect the LGBTQ community, Eli also oversaw the design and creation of a new logo and mission statement, complete refurbishment of the interior, and creation of an online business directory. Currently, the LGBTQ Center is unique as the only center serving all ages through a physical space in all of Indiana. Eli helps ensure that individuals embrace the center’s new motto of “all are welcome,” with many people driving over two hours to participate in programs there.

In addition to overseeing the new direction of the Center, Eli has also embraced her philosophy of “being the person you needed when you were younger.” During the school year, groups of teens will come to the center “just to hang out there” and be in a safe space. Eli serves as a sounding board for them by enacting what she calls “radical listening” as they come to terms with their sexuality.

As the Center continues to grow, Eli continues to actively reach out to get others involved. She is also helping lead a group of community leaders in Justice for Jodie, a group formed after the 2016 murder of Jodie Henderson for being gay. The group’s goal is to help pass Hate Crime legislation in Indiana, which is currently one of only five states that doesn’t recognize hate crimes.

Through her direction of the LGBTQ Center, Eli lives her philosophy of, “I try to do everything very radically.”

  • Phi Beta Kappa member
  • Jeanne McFarland prize winner
  • Anita Volz Wien Global Scholar
  • Valeria Dean Burgess Stevens prize
  • Quigley Research fellow
  • Board member, Purple Porch Co-op
  • Board of Trustees, First Unitarian Church of South Bend

Information compiled from oral history collected by The Michiana Women Leaders Project

Eli was honored at Celebrating Michiana Women Leaders 2016.