Between March 13 and April 13, the Pride Planning Committee is hosting a series of events to celebrate and honor LGBTQ identities and history. The committee is composed of a group of students who work closely with the Intercultural Center. While it is not specifically affiliated with any student organizations, many of its members are leaders in Swarthmore Queer Union, Colors, and Persuasion, three prominent organizations for LGBTQ-identifying individuals on campus.
Pride Month stems from a decades-long tradition of commemorating the progress of LGBT activists and the struggle for equal rights, and is celebrated nationally in June to coincide with the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots. At Swarthmore, Pride takes the form of a month of events to highlight marginalized voices in the LGBT community and to create spaces for queer and questioning students as well as faculty.
Gretchen Trupp ’18, a board member of SQU and one of the organizers of the Pride
Month MAZE party, expanded on the purpose of Pride Month.
“It’s about showcasing the variety that comes with the queer experience. I think there are a lot of stereotypes and conceptions that aren’t always true for everyone [in the LGBTQ community], and so lifting up all kinds of voices, especially the ones that are the most marginalized and misrepresented, is a way to dispel those,” Trupp said.
As part of its initiative to lift up marginalized identities within the queer community, the Pride Planning Committee kicked off its month of events on March 13 with a panel discussion entitled “Queering the Gender Narrative,” which was composed of students who identify as transgender or non-binary. In addition, on April 11, there will be a panel discussion for queer and transgender people of color.
The Director of the Intercultural Center Jason Rivera believes that an important objective of Pride Month is to facilitate discussion of issues relevant to the LGBT community.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge … that there are very intentional opportunities to engage in dialogue about issues germane to the LGBTQ populations. I think this is an incredibly important and often unacknowledged outcome of Pride Month,” Rivera said.
Nyk Robertson, the LGBTQ Fellow in the Intercultural Center, emphasized the balance of opportunities Pride Month offers with regards to education and community building.
“We want to make sure that we create a space for community for those within the LGBT community, but also [we want to provide] education both for allies and for people in the community who identify differently and don’t necessarily have the chance to connect and ask questions,” Robertson explained.
The committee has planned several lectures and presentations to give speakers the chance to educate and speak on LGBT matters. Guest speakers include Malcolm Lazin, the executive director of the Philadelphia-based LGBT organization Equality Forum; Jonathan D. Katz, the first artistic director of the National Queer Arts Festival; and Andre Perez, the director of the transgender-themed documentary “America in Transition.” Among the events aimed at building community, one standout is an LGBTQ+ faculty, staff and student dinner to connect members of the community across campus.
“We’re trying to give more time and space for talking and [for] hopefully finding people for mentorships, where that’s not something that necessarily faculty or staff share on a regular basis when you’re in the spaces with them that you’re in, because it’s not the time or place. But this will hopefully create some communication,” Robertson said.
In the past, Pride Month was held between National Coming Out Day on Oct. 20 and National Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20. According to Margaret Hughes ’17, a member of the Pride Planning Committee and a board member of SQU, Pride Month had to be moved this year due to administrative reasons.
“My hope is that in future years people will do the work to start planning [Pride Month] in September, so we can go back to that October 20th through November 20th date,” Hughes said.
Until 2014, the college held a queer- and transgender-themed conference every spring for LGBT students, faculty and staff to connect over issues relevant to the community. According to Hughes, Pride Month is especially important in the absence of such an opportunity.
“I think that it’s more important than ever that Pride Month try to do some of that work of uplifting the voices of more marginalized queer and trans people, just because there isn’t this big symposium that happens every year to do that,” Hughes said.
Planners of Pride Month have traditionally began the month of events by chalking sidewalks around campus to advertise events. However, since the ’80s, the chalkings have been met repeatedly with negative counter-chalkings, according to a 2014 article in The Phoenix. Two such messages were “Gays can’t make kids w/o a petri dish” and “For true equality, let the women rape the men.”
Hughes believed the homophobic messages are a reminder that Swarthmore is not separate from national issues and anti-LGBT rhetoric.
“The fact that it happens every year leads me to say it’s not just a random person from the ville — this is a manifestation of real feelings at Swarthmore. Don’t be surprised if there are counter-chalkings. Swarthmore is part of the real world and is not separate and exempt from the homophobia and transphobia that exists in the real world,” she said.
Pride Month offers LGBT students, faculty and staff the opportunity to gather and discuss matters relevant to the community. Although the events have been met with anti-LGBT messages in the past, Pride Month at Swarthmore continues as a tradition three decades in the making.