By Tehya Wachuta, Feature Editor uploaded at 8:40 p.m. on Friday, March 23, 2018
From Saturday, March 24 to Friday, March 2, the University of Minnesota Morris campus celebrated Pride Week with a multitude of events designed to celebrate LGBTQIA2S+ students. From plays written in just one day to panels to a drag show, UMM’s Pride Week not only gave students a chance to celebrate Pride and socialize with other LGBTQ+ students, but also to think about what Pride means to them.
“Pride to me is not only accepting who you are but being ecstatic, elated, and excited with who you are,” said UMM senior Justice Robinson. “[Pride is] to be proud of knowing who you are despite what others say, to have personal pride of being true to yourself even if you can't be true to others.”
UMM junior Majia Kittleson Wilker holds a similar view.
“Pride means accepting and loving who I am, and sharing that wonderful person with the world,” she said.
Assistant Director for Student Life and LGBTQIA2S+ Programs Adrienne Conley believes that Pride is not only recognition of oneself, but of LGBTQIA2S+ history as well.
“To me, pride is about acceptance and recognition of our LGBTQIA2S+ identities,” she said. “For so long, those who identified within the LGBTQIA2S+ community were made to feel shame and to hide who they were. Historically, we know that being LGBTQIA2S+ meant that you could be harassed, openly discriminated against, and possibly even killed. Pride is a time for us to recognize that we can be who we are and to honor all of the work that happened in order for us to live and exist as our authentic selves.”
UMM freshman Rachael Knafla also feels a sense of community in Pride.
“[Pride] means a community of people who have felt the same way as I do and who have experiences similar in nature to mine,” she said. “Pride is also another form of self-love for me, for through the LGBTQIA2S+ community, I have learned how to accept the parts of myself that I can’t change and to view the ‘ugly’ parts of myself, according to societal standards, as having their own beauty through my eyes.”
Pride is often described as a kind of activism, and an opportunity to celebrate diversity in a world which does not always allow individuals to feel welcome to be themselves. UMM senior Kara Black recognizes this aspect of Pride, but also sees it as a connection to a larger community of those individuals.
“A lot of people describe Pride as an opportunity to push back and be loud and flamboyant and proud of who we are in a world that tells us we shouldn't be. I think that's an important part of it, and the radical activist nature and origin of Pride is important to remember, but I like to frame it differently,” she said. “To me, Pride is a celebration of the history and existence of people and communities who we should be proud to be connected to. For example, I'm not proud to be trans out of spite, I'm proud to be trans because transgender people have a history thousands of years old of being leaders and healers and sources of knowledge and wisdom, and of fighting to make the world a better place. I am honored to be a part of that history and be connected to those people.”
UMM freshman Aaron Walter holds a slightly different view.
“To me, it’s sad that Pride has to exist,” he said. “I would rather that we could all just do our own things and [that would be considered] normal, but with all the history of homophobia and transphobia, we really can’t do that.”
Regardless of their personal interpretation of Pride, all students were able to enjoy the Pride Week events held on campus. Knafla wrote one of the plays performed during the first day of Pride Week, an experience which was both stressful and rewarding.
“I was anxious to write for the play at first because before this, I had never written a play before. I really have to give Paige Quinlivan credit for her help in giving me and other writers very helpful instructions and tips during the writer’s workshop the Thursday night before,” she said. “One of the most rewarding things that happened [during Pride Week] was seeing the play I wrote performed on Saturday night. It was beautiful to see my story unfold before me and to know that the actors and director put just as much care into it as I did. That was something I was immensely proud of.”
Knafla also performed in the drag show. This was her first time performing in a drag show, and like the play, it was an enjoyable experience which started with a bit of nervousness.
“It was a strange mixture of casualness, anxiousness, and excitement that made the whole thing rather spectacular,” said Knafla. “I was anxious about my performance for a few reasons: as a cis woman dressing as a drag king, I didn’t want to do anything that could possibly come off as transphobic, I didn’t want to freeze or move awkwardly on the stage, and I was the first student performer, so I wasn’t sure how well I’d be received. The casualness came from not having to have a step-by-step choreographed piece and having improvisation encouraged, which I found helped with audience interaction and with calming my nerves. Overall, doing the drag show was super fun. It’s something I definitely want to do in the future.”
For Robinson, a highlight of Pride Week was the sense of campus-wide community during the opening social.
“[The social] feels like I'm seeing extended family again and it's Christmas morning all in one,” they said. “To see so many people together reminds me how welcoming our campus is and how many people there are that have been able to come out and be proud of themselves or others in the LGBTQIA2S+ community.”
For Black, the LGBTQ+ Play-in-a-Day performances were especially enjoyable.
“The plays were all incredibly well-written and well-directed, and the actors were phenomenal. I think I cried at least twice,” she said.
For Conley, simply the sense of community involved in UMM’s Pride Week was enjoyable.
“As an older person involved in LGBTQIA2S+ activism and organizing I have had the opportunity to attend other Pride events. What I like about Pride at Morris is how the students think a great deal about our community here on campus,” she said. “Programming is designed intentionally for our LGBTQIA2S+ student population and at the same time it welcomes others into these spaces to learn and celebrate with us. I appreciate how we have a community-centered approach at Morris.”
Now that Pride Week is over, there may not be any more celebratory events, but Black reminds LGBTQIA2S+ students that accepting and valuing oneself is not just a week-long event.
“The events may only last a week, but you should be proud of who you are every day,” she said. “You have a history and a community and being a part of that is something you deserve to be proud of.”
It is also important to remember that although Pride is openly celebrated in some areas, and in events such as the ones held during Pride Week, there is still a fight for equality in many places, and it should not be forgotten simply because Pride Week is over.
“Pride is not a celebration of some completed victorious fight,” Black said. “LGBTQ+ people still face a lot of difficulties, from health care access to discrimination in employment, housing, and adoption, to homophobic and transphobic violence. It's important that you support us when that means doing work, and not just when it's fun and there are lots of rainbows.” Outside of these events, Pride can also be an opportunity for education and an opportunity to continue forming a sense of community between LGBTQIA2S+ people.
“I think too often in our society we assume a rather heteronormative view on how love should be expressed, and Pride is a reminder that there are other ways that people find love in themselves and each other,” said Knafla. “I also think Pride events allow for education, and this education can then reach children and/or people questioning themselves, telling them that they aren’t alone.”
It is also important to remember that celebrations like Pride are a recognition of community and a reach for equality, not an opportunity for any one group to outweigh another. To anyone who may feel that the concept of Pride is discriminatory toward non-LGBTQIA2S+ individuals, Walter says, “Don’t take it the wrong way. The point of Pride is not to put down straight people and cis people. [It’s] to foster a sense of community among a group of people who face similar problems.”
Photo courtesy of UMM Flickr