2nd Annual Pride Day brings attention to Clark’s LGBTQ community

Clark College celebrated its second annual Pride Day on June 8th with an entire day full of workshops and LGBTQ panels, wrapping it up with a drag show at the end of the night.

The celebration of diversity acts as a way for both students and faculty to explore different perspectives and gain more understanding of all walks of life, said Felisciana Peralta, the director of student inclusion and equity services at Clark.

Embracing and bringing attention to the LGBTQ community is now more important than ever. While the entire month is often used throughout the nation and world to bring attention to LGBTQ issues, Clark began using this time of the year as an opportunity to raise awareness in 2016, when the Office of Diversity and Equity organized the school’s first ever Pride Day.

Pride Day was a “whole office effort,” Peralta said. The Queer Student Association was also involved in making the event happen.

Pride signs were put around Clark College informing students and visitors of the day’s events. Photo by Kindal Dolph.

The Pride event began with a queer student luncheon and offered three separate workshops organized by Clark students and staff members. It also included a resource fair where students could find more information on the opportunities they may have when looking for support around the school.

One of the three workshops was centered around the influence of queer comic book characters, a topic that has played a large role in the LGBTQ community since the first gay character, Northstar, was introduced during the AIDS epidemic of the ’80s and ’90s.

Hosted by Clark students Matty Guard and Katie Czech, Up, Up and Out of the Closet informed peers about how relevant and important comics are to the LGBTQ community. It also served to share personal stories about the portrayal of queer superheroes or villains who have aided the community in self-identity and inner strength.

Guard, who just finished his third term at Clark, said he “feels like there needs to be more representation for those characters” because they show more human emotion. As a gay African American man, he said he had connected to very powerful black characters such as Blade, Luke Cage, and Ororo Monroe when he was younger, but “wanted to connect somewhere with [his] sexuality”, especially while still being in the closet.

After reading a Young Avengers comic that featured openly gay teens when he was just 12, Guard said he felt he could relate to superheroes and villains on a different level. “I [still] hope to see more heroes and villains on the silver screen who are openly queer.”

Other workshops held during Pride at Clark included a Queer 101 discussion centered around basic questions about respect and privilege, as well as another discussion on how to support queer staff and faculty on campus.

After the workshops, a queer student panel was held in the student lounge where nearly forty people listened to the students discuss things like proper pronouns and asked questions about coming out, being yourself, and more.

Ash Walker, who is currently finishing up her third quarter at Clark, was one of the four to sit on the panel. Before joining the Queer Student Association in the fall of 2016, she had just finished her education at a local Christian high school.

“That’s a scary place if you’re not cis, and I wasn’t out yet,” Walker said. In fact, Walker didn’t even realize she was bisexual until she was almost finished with high school, she said. “I just knew I was different, but I didn’t think someone could be gay.” And while it’s hard for many people to come out, she added, it may be even more difficult if they are also intersectional, meaning they have “overlapping social identities.”

“Sexuality and gender identity are completely different,” Walker said, emphasizing how important it is to her that people be willing to learn about things like privilege, correct pronouns, and respect.

She described the true difficulty of being different in a place like school. While “it should be safe for anyone to come out,” Walker said, events like Pride Day “give people a place to be themselves.”

Walker said it’s important to many queer students that they and their peers are educated on things like sexuality, orientation, self identity, and other topics, especially on a college campus. To do that, she suggested starting with how schools approach the “safe sex talk.”

“It’s always hetero-based, but it’s really important for students to learn about sexuality. I think I just wish it was taught by people that got me,” Walker said.

Nearly fourty people gathered to listen to a queer panel at Clark College discuss self identity, pronouns, and other issues. Photo by Kindal Dolph.

During the evening of Pride Day, students and visitors were invited to come back to Clark for a drag show complete with dancing, lip sync battles, D-I-Y outfits and activities involving members of the audience, including a nonperishable food drive.

The food drive, made possible by the communications program and Pride volunteers, collected donations to go towards the school’s new “Penguin Pantry”, which provides students with a “safe, comfortable place to get something to eat [or] pick up a necessity” and is expected to open this summer.

One participant of the drag show, staff member Zara Talon, was asked to perform for the night’s event. Talon, a former drag queen, said that doing drag helped him through college. He still enjoys the shows and is willing to volunteer in the name of Clark College.

“[Events like Pride Day] give people the opportunity to experience other communities and learn more from them,” Talon explained. “The more diverse our events are, the more understanding we will have for those people.”

Talon also said “we are very fortunate our campus is [already] diverse, committed, and has an absolute zero tolerance for hate,” but questions why people are willing to stick to preconceived ideas about someone without getting to know them first.

Lights, music, and rainbow flags decorated the Penguin Union Building during the drag show at Clark College’s Pride Day. Photo by Kindal Dolph.

Pride participants said awareness-raising events are more important at Clark and across America now than ever before, with events such as the Pulse Nightclub terrorist attack in Florida happening just a year ago and President Trump’s confusing stance on the queer community.

After headlining an anti-LGBTQ conference just three days before this year’s LGBTQ Equality March in Washington D.C., Trump’s previous vow to do “everything in [his] power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of [a] hateful, foreign ideology” has become obviously questionable to the many queer Americans who are now left wondering what the president’s contrary actions will mean for them.

“Our country has spent so much time trying to separate us,” Talon said. And like the many others who attended Pride Day 2017, he is hopeful LGBTQ events like this have the power to reverse that.