By Sandy Williams
Why do we need a Pride Center at EWU? I have heard that question asked on more than one occasion since the Pride Center officially opened its doors in the spring of 2010. Sometimes, the question is asked of me directly, which I appreciate. More often, however, the question is implied through back-handed comments, off-color remarks and indirect actions.
Simply put, we have a Pride Center at EWU because there are LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) students, faculty and staff at EWU. We also have a Pride Center at EWU because Eastern is committed to diversity and inclusivity and dedicated to fostering a welcoming and supportive climate for all of its students.
Why we need a Pride Center, on the other hand, is a little more complicated question to answer. In a recent classroom visit, I asked students on a scale of one to ten how safe they thought an LGBT student would feel on the EWU campus. No students indicated a ten, completely safe, and no students indicated a one, completely unsafe, but the majority of responses were grouped around the four to six range. When I questioned why that was, one student stated that they didn’t rate a one because they didn’t think someone was going to get attacked at EWU.
They didn’t pick a ten either because you hear a lot about how much people don’t like gays and lesbians , and you just never know which person is going to be the person that doesn’t like you or not. It’s the not knowing that makes it feel unsafe.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
The Pride Center offers a space, perhaps the only one on campus, where a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, asexual, pansexual, intersex, or ally student, faculty or staff member does not have to wonder about whether or not they will be accepted, whether or not they will be welcomed, whether or not they will be included and whether or not they will be safe.
In the past year, I have witnessed the impact of having that one safe space transform a student’s life.
Oct. 11 was National Coming Out Day, a day that was founded in 1988 to celebrate the process of “coming out” for the LGBT community and their allies.
The Pride Center hosted a Coming Out Soap Box in the JFK Library where faculty, staff and students read poignant, heartfelt and often painful coming out stories written by teenagers and adults from across the country. To my surprise, some Eastern students bravely shared their own coming out stories as well—a couple for the very first time.
I don’t know if that would have happened last year, but this year, they felt safe enough to do it. That is why we need a Pride Center.