AU PRIDE, an acronym for “People Respecting Individual Diversity Everywhere,” is the University’s student-led LGBTQ+ organization. With June being Pride Month, the organization’s executive board is working to host virtual events and to amplify Black queer voices in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, as protests against police brutality and systemic racism continue across the country.
“I think we really see ourselves as an organization that is going to do what we can to uplift people of color, and especially Black voices right now and into the future,” Cassidy Stoneback, sophomore CLEG major and AU PRIDE’s incoming communication director, said. “Our organization is, at times, majorly white, and if we’re just going to remain silent, we are going to be participating in the problem.”
“Pride was a riot by queer women of color,” Ray Koffink, AU PRIDE’s incoming secretary and a junior studying international relations and education, said, in reference to the Stonewall Riots, which established June as Pride Month. “We’re trying to bring the roots back and bring the roots forward to say this is where it started, this is where we started. We need to acknowledge the people [that] have gone before us to provide the rights that we have today.”
Education is only one part of AU PRIDE’s mission. Stoneback said the organization also looks to create a safe space for students in the LGBTQ+ community. Max Miller-Edwards, a junior political science major and the organization’s incoming executive director, said that AU PRIDE also works to advocate for LGBTQ+ students on campus.
“Although overall AU is a very accepting campus, it’s important to still have a place that specifically LGBTQ+ people can get together and discuss topics that are important to us as well as embracing our past and embracing the community that has brought us all together,” Stoneback said.
AU PRIDE is divided into five internal communities: Queer and Trans People of Color, Women with PRIDE, Men with PRIDE, Trans and Non-Binary Collective and Activism and Advocacy Committee.
“Those community groups are there to offer individual spaces for people who might have multiple identities that are intersecting the [LGBTQ+] community,” Stoneback said. “We are not just a homogenous group of people. Although we often have a lot in common and getting together as a group can be important and valuable for us, we can’t just assume everyone’s going to have the same experiences and want the same thing.”
According to AU PRIDE’s constitution for 2020, “to be a registered member, one must sign up for the AU PRIDE mailing list.” Koffink, Miller-Edwards and Stoneback all agreed that getting hard numbers for membership is difficult, because the organization mostly focuses on hosting events, which are open to all LGBTQ+ students and allies regardless of membership.
“No one’s required to come to any events, obviously, and we always encourage people who are not specifically part of our membership to come to join because the point is, it’s supposed to be open to all LGBTQ+ students as well as allies if they decide to join in events,” Stoneback said.
The constitution states the five community group coordinators “are required to organize at least one event per month that can be educational, social, or advocacy-based in nature,” while the executive board’s deputy director “oversee[s] and manage[s] the four main yearly programs,” which are: Coming Out Day, Queer Halloween, Queer Thanksgiving and Pride Prom.
According to Stoneback, the executive board is trying to plan some virtual events this summer, such as trivia or a movie night, but it has yet to finalize any plans. Miller-Edwards said that the best place to get information regarding future events would be AU PRIDE’s social media.
As clubs prepare and adjust to the administration’s plans for reopening the campus this fall semester, AU PRIDE is still in the early stages of how it will operate but has goals and initiatives for the upcoming semester.
Stoneback said AU PRIDE wants its events to be as inclusive as possible in the fall.
“We’re really going to focus on making sure our events cater to everybody in the LGBTQ+ community,” Stoneback said. “We’re going to still have some of the classic events like the drag show if possible in the post-COVID world.”
In addition to making the organization more inclusive, which the organization has struggled with in the past, Koffink hopes to increase membership and event attendance.
“Often this club has not supported every single queer student on campus, and some students have felt excluded,” Miller-Edwards said. “So it is one of my priorities to make this club effective in supporting all queer students on campus.”
With the hopes of increasing inclusivity in the club this upcoming semester, Stoneback and Koffink echoed each other’s ideas about the importance of an LGBTQ+ student organization on a college campus for incoming students from varying levels of support in high school.
“[Freshmen are] expressing this new freedom of self-determination. When you’re in the college environment, it can be very scary to first come in and try to figure out who you are,” Koffink said. “You need a safe space to figure out who you are, and I want to believe that is the mission that we provide.”
AU PRIDE is still looking to fill the positions of Queer and Trans People of Color Coordinator, Men with Pride Coordinator and Treasurer for the fall 2020 semester.