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Standing in pride: Campus rally brings together students, leaders amid rainbow flag

Rainbow flag unites students at Penn State pride rally

Penn State LGBTQA Student Resource Center holds their annual march and rally as part of pride month on April 5, 2019.
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Penn State LGBTQA Student Resource Center holds their annual march and rally as part of pride month on April 5, 2019.

Rainbow flags and umbrellas, “Born this way” signs and metallic “You are special” balloons brightened the rainy Friday afternoon on Penn State’s campus.

Close to 100 students, faculty, staff, administrators and State College community members braved the weather to show public support for and celebrate the university’s LGBTQ community with a march around campus and rally on the steps of Old Main — one of many activities Penn State has planned for Campus Pride Month.

“I think it’s so important to show that (public support) because it shows other students here who maybe are queer but aren’t yet comfortable with being themselves that this really is a welcoming place,” said freshman Colton Lucas, a Bald Eagle Area High School graduate. “We had a lot of visitors walking by, too, and it shows them that this is a really inclusive, welcoming place.”

Lucas, wearing a rainbow flag cape over a denim jacket and blue jeans, along with rainbow socks, purple sparky eyeshadow and thick mascara, said he didn’t always feel accepted and able to be himself while growing up. That changed this fall when he got to Penn State, he said, and joined clubs such as the LGBTQA Student Roundtable and Opulence, the university’s drag club.

Many students who got up and spoke on the rainbow-flag-draped steps of Old Main shared stories similar to Lucas’. Some students, speaking about these issues for the first time in front of a big crowd, were emotional as they spoke about discrimination and barriers they’ve faced in their communities, schools or academic departments or fields.

Being part of Penn State’s LGBTQA community and the LGBTQA Student Resource Center helped them overcome some of those challenges, students said.

“Here we have so much diversity, not only of color but different backgrounds, diversity of religion, diversity of sexual orientation and gender identities, all coming together under the rainbow flag that unites us,” student Freddy Purnell said between chants of “We are Penn State; we are not straight.”

He continued: “It just means so much to me that we have a community that’s always willing to stand up and support everyone else here regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation or whatever else.”

A quick glance over the crowd outside Old Main revealed allies from Penn State’s faculty, staff and administration. Representatives held up signs from the Department of Psychology and Penn State Finance and Business. A Career Services representative got up to speak and share that department’s support. President Eric Barron, Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims and Penn State police officers also were in the crowd.

“I want you to know that I am proud to stand here with you today,” Barron said.

For Lucas, seeing that support reaffirmed his belief in the acceptance he’s felt at the university.

“It meant a lot to see that because I think a lot of kids in high school don’t really get that from teachers, so to see Penn State’s staff come out and support them is awesome,” he said.

Behind a banner reading “Free Mom Hugs,” eight local mothers also took the steps of Old Main, offering support and hugs for students who may not be getting that at home.

As a relatively new group locally, the moms were inspired by a national movement started by Sara Cunningham in Oklahoma to take support for their own LGBTQ kids and share it with others, said Jennifer Babb, of State College.

“We want the kids to know that we love them and they are loved,” she said. “So many of them don’t have supportive parents and family members, so we want them to know that there’s adults and parents that love them and find value in them and celebrate them.”

She said the group plans to show up at other events throughout Campus Pride Month, offering hugs to anybody who wants one.

Upcoming Campus Pride Month activities

Saturday: The Penn State Law Diversity Banquet, with keynote speaker Zachary Brecheisen (Class of 2012), will be held form 6-9 p.m. at the Days Inn Hotel in State College. Registration required.

Tuesday and Wednesday: The Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State presents “Kinky Boots,” the hit musical that brings together four-time Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein and Grammy-winning rocker Cyndi Lauper for two 7:30 p.m. performances at Eisenhower Auditorium.

Tuesday and Thursday: Pride Rides cycling class will be offered in the IM Building. Preregistration is recommended.

Wednesday: Pride Month keynote speaker Kalen Allen, known for culinary segments on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” and his series “OMKALEN,” will speak about his experience at 6 p.m. at Freeman Auditorium in the HUB-Robeson Center.

For a full list of Pride Month activities and more information, visit https://news.psu.edu/story/566219/2019/03/29/campus-life/pride-month-events-campuses-throughout-april-celebrate-lgbtqa.

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