This past Monday April 24, free sno-cones, popcorn, and t-shirts kicked off a queer-pride celebration on campus known as “Gaypril.” The week featured a variety of events both celebrating queer culture and acknowledging the human rights work and intolerance that must still be overcome. The week featured a wide variety of events ranging from a St. Mary’s Project presentation on gay marriage, a pride parade, a day of silence, and a Drag Show. Co-President of STARs and senior Tyson Morgan said, “A lot of recent events have divided the campus…this whole week is about unity and inclusion.” Senior and STARS President-elect Wesley Watkins added, “We as a community are so strong.”
Many of the events were well-attended with enthusiastic participants, especially the Pride Parade on Monday night. Queer students and allies met on the circle by Dorchester Hall and marched from the Hill past the Public Safety Office, Waring Commons, Lewis Quad and Daughtery-Palmer Commons and all the way down the path to the Campus Center, cheering and waving rainbow gay pride flags. At the Campus Center, several students impersonated queer and queer ally celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Wanda Sykes and Harvey Milk to make speeches about the need for acceptance and pride in the queer community.
Students were impressed by the turn-out. Sophomore Margaret Lillie said, “It was cool to see all these people, considering the lack of civility on this campus lately, I’m happy for the turnout.” Senior Nona Landis added that it, “exceeded my expectations […] [people] are often commited to this idea but when it comes to actually doing stuff that doesn’t always happen.”
Another event that took place was the “Meet the Queers” panel discussion on Wednesday, April 26, where faculty, staff, and students of different sexual orientations answered questions submitted by students in the previous week. Meghan Root, Sexual Assault/Wellness Advocate, Associate Professor of French Katie Gantz, sophomore Joshua Santangelo, senior Rahkeena Banks, and senior Bryan Miller were all part of the panel answering questions.Questions ranged from “How do lesbians have sex?” to “How do you feel SMCM responds to being LGBTQ?” and “How did it feel to come out?” Many of the questions touched at least tangentially on issues of discrimination and intolerance or common myths about LGBTQ students and faculty.
While some students both in the audience and on the panel remarked that they or their queer friends did not feel safe on this campus, others offered a somewhat different perspective regarding intolerance at St. Mary’s. While acknowledging recent harassment issues, Root said, “St. Mary’s is the safest space I’ve worked in. It’s amazing to work in a place where there are faculty and staff that are ‘out’ and where there is support for instances of homophobia.”
Gantz echoed some of these sentiments when addressing the question “Would you be friends with a person who disagreed with gay marriage?” Given some recent instances of harassment directed towards queer students on this campus, the question is a relevant one for many students. The discussion around this question focused both on the trauma of not being considered deserving of basic human rights and the impatience for true acceptance, but also the need, as with other civil rights movements, to confront intolerance with an open mind and heart. Gantz said, “I am willing to keep the door open… if I can keep outing myself to students over the years and eventually even one person learns to get comfortable with knowing someone or working with someone who’s gay, that is a success in my mind.”
The climax of Gaypril was the “Dragstravaganza” where members of the student body, in an effort to demand ownership of their bodies and sexuality, dressed up in drag and performed routines; this event, much like the other events planned for Gaypril. The event started off with an opening act put together by the members of senior Helen Coy’s burlesque workshop, which titillated the audience and prepared those who attended for the wild ride that comprised the next hour and a half. The acts for the drag show were surprisingly varied, ranging from dance numbers to a comedic interlude where one student, sophomore Camila Rangel, dressed up like Freddy Mercury and sang Acapella. Rangel even went as far as saying, “I’ve been dead for some time, so don’t hate me if I forget some of the words.”
To make sure the event was extra spectacular, three drag queens from Washington, D.C. attended the event and performed for the crowd in between the student acts. The performers, who are all members of the cast of a new television pilot Drag City D.C., were one of the biggest highlights of the evening. After each of their respective performances, the ladies took a moment to address their love for all who attended, gay, straight or bi-sexual or whatever. One of the visiting drag queens, Shiqueela Lee, made it clear to everyone that they are beautiful and no one should tell them otherwise. “If you look at yourself in the mirror, and you like who you are on the inside, who gives a f**k what anyone else thinks.”