On Friday, at the heart of Penn State’s University Park campus, a group of students, faculty, three young children and one puppy marched from the steps of Boucke Building to the steps of the Pattee-Paterno Library with one message: “Black, white, gay, straight, love does not discriminate.”
The Penn State LGBTQA Student Resource Center ended its celebration of diversity within the LGBTQ+ community during its annual Pride Week on Friday with a solidarity march on campus.
The group of roughly 30 people, representing a wealth of cultures and religions around the world, lifted the LGBTQA flag shortly after noon.
“This day is really important for us to remember what we fought for. Thirty years ago, I was a junior in college. It was there that I decided that I was gay,” said Jeff Stephens, a doctoral candidate.
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“Homophobia has got to go,” chanted the crowd, as passers-by acknowledged the marchers by raising their hands in solidarity.
One person, Jugaad Sawhney, a consumer psychology graduate student, joined in the walk on his way to class.
“Everyone’s the same,” said Sawhney. “Maybe it’s the way my parents raised me,” he said. “They (his parents) never told me I should act better than anyone else.”
The chanting continued as marchers rounded the corner in front of the Carnegie Building, walking past the freshly planted tulips poking through the mulch along the campus mall leading up to the steps of the library.
It was there that marchers let out a loud and boisterous cry, “We are Penn State. We are not straight.”
“We drove two and a half hours to get here,” said Cece Boran, campus nurse and health services coordinator at Penn State Schuylkill.
“Love is love,” said Boran with a smile.
“I’m happy my kids got to come up and experience this,” said Boran. “I hope that education would help some people see how bigoted they can really be.”
On the steps of the library, Cameron Yencsik, the leader of the march, spoke candidly about his experience growing up gay in a small, rural Pennsylvanian town.
“No one talks about being gay there,” Yencsik. “I have a couple of friends that I came out to, but I never had the opportunity like I did, until I came here.”
Yencsik was the first of several students to share their experiences of growing up gay.
“My name is Nate, I’m also gay and I just want to say that being gay here has been the best experience of my life,” said student Nate Pentz.
The crowd not only included members of the LGBTQ+ community, but a few of their allies.
“It’s hard to go through this alone. This takes bravery,” said Gretchen White, who joined the march in support of one of her close friends. “His sexuality has nothing to do with our friendship.”
As the marchers made their way back to the steps of the Boucke Building, many let out sighs and big smiles.
“I came here to learn as a person, to learn to accept myself,” Bryan Underkoffler said. “I want to make the world a better place.”