KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Call it a rainbow of hope after a year of uncertainty. Western Michigan University's Office of Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender (LBGT) Student Services has a full schedule of events to mark Pride Month in June. It's a welcome return, says director Nathan Nguyen, after the pandemic forced most Pride celebrations to be canceled last year.
"When we look back at everything that was happening in 2020, whether it was politics, racial injustice, the pandemic, all of the above, things are looking a bit more optimistic this year," he says. "Whether or not we return to pre-pandemic times and 'normal,' I think it shows that LGBTQ communities have resiliency and also that we've been able to exercise some community care and be there for each other."
"This year, we're really making a lot of things happen," adds Makenzie Marts, program assistant, who worked alongside the OUTspoken RSO and OutFront Kalamazoo to coordinate programming. "We're really doing a lot of different things in a lot of different formats, covering a lot of different identities and bringing in a lot of different people to talk about things."
An online conversation with Helen Zia, activist and award-winning author, on May 24 presented by Western and Kalamazoo College provided a bridge between Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Pride Month, says Nguyen, highlighting the intersectionality and complexity of issues facing marginalized populations.
"We're marking one year since George Floyd's death and on top of that, we have the intersections of identity," he says. "The past year has felt out of control with racial injustice—not only the Black Lives Matter movement but also anti-Asian hate—and on top of that you have states ramping up anti-transgender laws. So, we're trying to work around that."
Events kick off Monday, June 7, with a Black LGBTQ history livestream presentation. Following that, a Black LGBTQ virtual panel discussion will talk about current issues facing the community on Tuesday, June 8. The panel will include Demetrias Wolverton, director of Mission Impact at the YWCA of Kalamazoo and Western alum; Cody Charles, social justice educator and writer; and Dr. Michelle Johnson, co-founder of Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative in Kalamazoo and scholar of African American history, literature and culture.
Other livestreamed events include a Trans JOY panel that will celebrate transgender lives and stories, a virtual presentation on the Stonewall uprising and a workshop focused on relationship liberation. A virtual pajama party will give asexual and aromantic students and allies a chance to talk about their unique identities as well.
"I really wanted to bring in the most diverse array of lived experience possible for a lot of these events," Marts says. "I want students to remember there is a much bigger community out there that they're going to be able to be part of someday (once pandemic restrictions are lifted)."
All virtual Pride Month events will be streamed on the Office of LBGT Student Services' Facebook page.
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