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Pride: In their own words

As June comes to a close, VCU faculty, students and staff describe what pride means to them.

From the formation of the Gay Alliance of Students nearly 50 years ago to the recent creation of a new scholarship to support LGBTQIA+ students and their allies, Virginia Commonwealth University has been home to countless people who have worked tirelessly to create a more just and equitable world.

Their efforts have helped create some of VCU’s most notable equity and inclusion programs, including the formation of Equality VCU and the annual Lavender Celebration and Burnside Watstein LGBTQIA Awards. More recently, VCU launched both a minor in LGBT+ and queer studies and opened a Queer Research and Advocacy Center.

As June and Pride Month draw to a close, we asked a handful of VCU faculty, students and staff to describe what pride means to them. Here are their thoughts, in their own words:

Aurora Higgs
Aurora Higgs

Aurora Higgs

Program Manager and School Liaison, Office of Continuing and Professional Education

Higgs is a two-time VCU graduate and current student in the Media, Art and Text program, a former co-chair of Equality VCU and a 2017 recipient of the Presidential Award for Community Multicultural Enrichment.

When I think of Pride, I think of the riots and rallies it took to foster progress in the face of hate and disenfranchisement. Pride is not just the euphoria one feels to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. I mean — it is that but it’s also the macabre acknowledgment that that same euphoria has come at a heavy price.

Queer people have a long history of jeopardizing ourselves for the chance at visibility and/or comfort. We have been ostracized, brutalized, emptied and even lost in history. Today, the alienation still exists and threatens to regress us as a society. Despite the knowledge that we still face the intersecting epidemics of racism, homophobia, transphobia and white supremacy, the queer community chooses to exist yet still. Our audacity to persevere in the face of adversity is radical and a rebellion against injustice. We navigate a world that actively resists our being and/or exploits us for profit, so every day that we show up with respective authenticity is yet another victory for us all.

You CANNOT have Pride (capital “P”) without gross sacrifice. It is the feeling of memorializing a fierce battle you’ve won but never consented to fighting. So therefore, Pride has a mournful gravitas to it that cannot be counterfeited. If anything, it is a healing salve, one you apply to the site of a grave wound. It gives us the strength we need to continue the fight another day. And we celebrate to be able to do so — just to be able to say we are still here. Still, our resolve is tested continuously without reprieve.

It’s easy to romanticize Pride, but to be honest I’d prefer liberation without the bloody cost. Pride is a consolation prize at best, but one we’ve earned the right to — a hundred times over. Pride is a bittersweet reminder of our mission to live our lives unapologetically, for ourselves and for those who never got or get the chance.

Archana Pathak
Archana A. Pathak, Ph.D.

Archana A. Pathak, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies, College of Humanities and Sciences

Pathak is a diasporic feminist who examines issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality and scientific imperialism from a social justice perspective. Her essay is partly inspired by a piece she wrote earlier this month on the origins of Pride and why we should recognize it.

Pride is a vital, necessary celebration that paves the way for LGBTQIA+ communities. I am thrilled that we have Pride. I want it celebrated always.

For me though, Pride has never really been a thing. For so many of us, Pride is actually an inner resilience, a recollection of moments where we finally knew we belonged; that we were better off being our truest selves, even when the cost seemed insurmountably heavy. “Pride” for me is the moments that sustain me when I’m not sure what my place is in this world:

- Pride is attending the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, being among others who were just like me, watching movies about people just like us.

- Pride is being at RVA Pride on Brown’s Island with a chosen nibling, watching utter relaxation infuse through their body as they moved in a space where they could be their fullest authentic self.

- Pride is sitting at a computer with dial-up internet, stumbling upon a group called DesiDykes, for South Asian lesbians and hoping I would be accepted into this private inner circle.

- Pride is realizing the liminal space I hold as a member of the South Asian diaspora is easier because queerness allows me to understand the value of not fitting in. And my diasporic, immigrant experiences allow me to understand the beauty of queerness. I am a vibrantly colored tapestry with all of these parts woven together in ways that cannot be pulled apart from one another.

And yet, all of these moments could only become my Pride because of those who came before me and fought for this world.

Pride is one thread in a tapestry of social justice. Pride has its roots in the U.S. civil rights movement, the United Farm Workers Movement, an anti-war movement, a feminist movement. And as with these movements, it was spearheaded by people who represent the most vulnerable populations in our society.

Pride is Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans woman who faced mental illness and housing insecurity, engaged in sex work, and was at the vanguard of fighting for LGBTQIA+ rights.

Pride is Sylvia Rivera, an activist and drag queen who fought for transgender rights to help homeless LGBTQ youth. Protecting trans people, especially trans women of color and LGBTQIA+ youth remains our greatest crisis today.

Pride’s origins teach us that intersectionality at the crossroads of both the personal and the political is the heart of civil rights. When we work to secure the rights of the most marginalized, we secure the rights of all. We are simultaneously privileged and disprivileged. We must attend to both realities.

Pride is about the pathways we walk, the stops we take along the way and memories we keep building. For some, that is a glitter-filled parade down Fifth Avenue; for some, it is a quiet walk holding hands with a forbidden lover. For some, it is a rainbow flag flying high as they shout, “I’m out and I’m proud.” And for some, it is a silent knowing, held in sacred trust.

So wherever you are along these pathways, however you know yourself to be, Pride is yours. It is ours. And it is every day.

Carmel in two frames: one of him out of drag and the other of him in drag
John Carmel, left, and Carmel's drag character, Jessica Peru

John Carmel

Rising Sophomore, School of the Arts

Carmel is studying film in the Department of Photography and Film and is the co-founder of Time Warp, a student-led drag performance group.

What pride means to me is an active acknowledgment of the struggles and accomplishments of queer people. I remember my first pride festival after coming out as bi three years ago. I recall looking at the mirror before leaving and thinking to myself, “I’m really happy there’s a month dedicated to pride.” At that moment, I probably couldn’t have told you why I was happy, I just knew I was. Looking back at that moment three years ago, now I understand why it made me excited. Finally, I was able to be free not only to the world but to myself.

In the fall of 2020, Oct. 30, my freshman year, my roommate Harris Erickson and I put together our first student-run drag show called Time Warp. We produce, host and perform in the shows in Monroe Park with a cast of other VCU students. This past semester we had a total of six shows. Harris, whose drag name is Thea Trickality, is in charge of the administrative aspects of the show. My drag name is Jessica Peru, and I am in charge of the artistic side of things, including art direction and social media. My drag character is heavily inspired by the ‘60s camp esthetic. Beginning Time Warp is one of my most significant accomplishments at this point in my life, and I am so proud of Harris and me for putting together a show that brings so much to the campus.

Pride for me is an encapsulation of the past and the present. Understanding the importance of those who have come before us and appreciating what they have done. I am so profoundly honored to be a part of the queer community. The truth is the LGBTQ+ community still struggles and faces significant inequalities but having a dedicated month where such a diverse and vital community can come together is truly something special.

Elizabeth Cramer
Elizabeth “Liz” P. Cramer, Ph.D.

Elizabeth “Liz” P. Cramer, Ph.D.

Professor, School of Social Work

Cramer, an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences, is a member of the iCubed core Intersections in the Lives of LGBTQIA+ Communities.

When I think about PRIDE, this is what I came up with:

P for Passionate: We are passionate in our relationships, in our friendships, in our work, and in our advocacy for equality.

R for Revolutionary: We imagine ways of expressing love, family, commitment and community that move beyond the constrictions of the mythic “traditional family.”

I for Intersectional: We acknowledge the multiple intersecting identities of persons in LGBTQ+ communities and the necessity to continue to become more inclusive of people and relationship structures that have been marginalized in our communities.

D for Daring: We dare to be visible, to demand equality, to center the margins.

E for Elegant: Face it, we have style. We challenge gender and sexuality boundaries. We perform. We play.

James Irwin, Corey Boone and Brian McNeill contributed to this report.

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