The Pride Center at University of Tennessee, Knoxville is an important organization and resource for all students, faculty, and staff―including those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI). The Pride Center serves as a beacon that represents an accepting, affirming, welcoming campus where LGBTQI students, faculty, and staff are respected, valued and included. Potential students (undergraduate and graduate), staff, and faculty make decisions about application, enrollment, and employment based on the existence of the Pride Center because it represents a structural commitment to issues specific and unique to LGBTQI identities. The students who serve the Pride Center, Pride Ambassadors, provide high quality programming that improves the campus landscape through education, advocacy, celebrations, and by providing welcoming and safe spaces (i.e., Safe Zone training; training for faculty and staff in how to provide safe, inclusive, and affirming spaces for LGBTQI students).
The Pride Center has repeatedly come under attack politically, financially, and physically. The Pride Center, previously administered by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, was defunded by Public Chapter 1066 and has since faced a myriad of obstacles to keeping its doors open. This year, Pride Center staff have navigated changes in leadership and student advising, constraints on support and guidance, and financial strain, with professionalism, great attention to detail, thoughtful navigation of the tricky political landscape, and a persisting commitment to providing much needed services and resources for students, faculty, and staff.
The Pride Center has experienced targeted vandalism, theft, and property damage. These occurrences have often gone unrecognized and have not been fully addressed by the wider campus community. Most recently, and over the Labor Day weekend, the Pride Center’s large, rainbow banner was destroyed and hate messages were posted to the Center’s door. Again, the Center must bear the burden of continued hatred and costly vandalism with limited financial and administrative support. If we ignore the plight of the Pride Center, we send a dangerous message of exclusion to our LGBTQI students, staff, and faculty. This message is damaging – to the Pride Center, to the LGBTQI members of this campus, and to our greater UTK community. Damage to one part of the institution, harm to one student at this campus, damages and harms us all.
We, the Department of Public Health, are taking a first step in standing with the Pride Center. We publicly stand with the students, liaisons, and advisors who serve the Pride Center. We stand for all their hard work and their significant contributions to the University of Tennessee campus. We stand for LGBTQI students, faculty, staff, and their allies. We stand for the just treatment of all students, faculty, and staff, and we reject hate, vandalism, homophobia, transphobia, and other oppressive acts committed against the Pride Center.
We welcome other departments and colleges to join us in standing against hate, and with the Pride Center.
#volmeansall #UTDIVERSITY MATTERS #STOPthehate #publichealthstandswithpride