Despite achieving national recognition as an LGBTQIA-friendly school, members of the LGBTQIA community at Elon University feel there is still progress to be made concerning inclusivity on campus.
Hosted by Spectrum, Elon’s queer-straight student alliance, Spring Pride Week is an opportunity to take steps forward in raising the visibility of LGBTQIA students on campus. Celebrated from April 3 to 7, Pride Week is a time to celebrate nonconforming sexual and gender identities while forming stronger relationships between LGBTQIA students and straight allies.
“I think Pride Week is extremely important in bridging the gap between the LGBTQ community and our straight allies because the queer community really needs a lot more visibility on this campus, which is what Pride Week offers,” Spectrum Vice President Bella Salmon said. “But it’s also a very open and fun way to get involved without feeling pressured or having to answer any sort of educational questions or know everything about the queer community. It’s more like a time for everybody to get together and enjoy themselves and realize that fundamentally we’re all the same kind of people.”
According to Salmon, members of Spectrum have been working hard to make sure that Pride Week is enjoyable for everyone. Beginning with a Bar-B-Queer and Rainbow Tie Dye event behind Smith Hall on Tuesday, Pride Week will end with a Dragstravaganza on Friday. Featuring professional kings and queens along with student performers, games and contests, Dragstravaganza will be held in Tap House from 10 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Wednesday night, students will have the opportunity to hear about the overlap between sexual identities and religious identities during LGBTQIA Storytelling with Peterson Toscano, founder of the Beyond Ex-Gay organization, at 6 p.m. in McBride Theatre. Thursday’s event will feature a Drag Makeup Tutorial from 5:30 to 8 p.m. in the Gender and LGBTQIA Center.
These weeklong events are designed to raise awareness of LGBTQIA students’ presence on a campus that can at times be forgetful of recognizing members of the queer community. According to Spectrum President Monique Swirsky, the success of the Elon administration in being ranked No. 1 among colleges and universities in the South by Campus Pride for LGBTQIA inclusivity has not necessarily translated to an increased atmosphere of acceptance on campus and surrounding areas.
“We still have a ways to go as far as making queer people feel accepted here from a student body perspective and then from a larger community perspective as far as how accepted students feel in Burlington and larger Alamance County,” Swirsky said.
Citing the threat of groups such as ACTBAC, a neo-confederate group involved in bathroom policing of transsexual people, Swirsky explained that many members of the queer community do not feel safe outside of the Elon bubble. Even on campus, Swirsky said efforts can be made to allow LGBTQIA students to feel more accepted.
“On campus, there’s still a lot that needs to improve to shift our culture to be more than just tolerant of LGBTQIA identities to accepting and affirming,” Swirsky said.Senior Darius Moore, a student assistant at the GLC, agrees that the LGBTQIA community at Elon often goes without proper acknowledgement.
“I think Pride Week is important because I think a lot of people within the community feel stifled and they feel like they can’t express themselves and that they don’t have a lot of reason to be happy,” Moore said.
Like Swirsky, Moore recognized that Elon’s status as one of the top universities for LGBTQIA inclusion does not mean there is no work left to be done.
“[Though] we are a very LGBTQ-friendly campus, and we’ve been ranked as the top in the country, it’s obviously important to let people know that [LGBTQIA individuals] exist and that [they’re] here, because ... it is easy to forget.”
Freshman CJ Porterfield, GLC student assistant, went on to explain Pride Week’s importance in making students with nontraditional gender and sexual identities feel comfortable on campus.
“I think it’s a chance for you to just be able to celebrate yourself and you don’t have to worry about judgement and you don’t have to worry about feeling unsafe because a lot of times people in this community often feel unsafe, when they try to express themselves,” Porterfield said. “So this week really lets them have that outing, and they don’t have to have any worries or cares because they get to feel great about themselves and love themselves where they don’t normally get that chance.”
For Spectrum and the rest of Elon’s LGBTQIA community, Pride Week is one of the best ways to bring about awareness and inclusivity on campus.
“It’s all about queer visibility,” Salmon said. “It’s reminding Elon and the students that we’re still here, we’re still queer and we’re a part of this campus, too.”