A Testimony from Natalie Edwards
Pride Month Origins
The first declaration of Pride Month was made in 1999 when President Clinton named June Gay & Lesbian Pride Month. Since then, it’s held many official titles – LGBT Pride Month by President Obama and LGBTQ+ Pride Month by President Biden. Now, every June, the nation paints itself with rainbows and parades the streets in celebration of our queer siblings, and rightfully so! However, with the rise in acceptance of the queer community came the rise of rainbow capitalism and queer tokenism.
The Rise of Tokenism
Tokenism is when companies and organizations only prioritize inclusivity symbolically, using marketing campaigns and their marginalized members to appear inclusive rather than implementing any actual change. Inclusivity is more than hanging a rainbow flag. While having symbols to show support can help make statements about the acceptance of an organization, it doesn’t matter if it’s all just for show or profit.
Being Queer at Western
Natalie Edwards, a Western Alumni who studied communication arts, theatre, and philosophy, knew she was queer from a young age. Growing up in the suburbs of central Texas, Natalie figured she would experience the same bigotry here at Western as she did back home. She was surprised and relieved to learn the opposite.
“Western has a diverse body of LGBTQ+ students,” said Natalie. “For me, this meant an opportunity to establish a network of queer friends and acquaintances. I was lucky to have many professors, staff, and faculty in my time at Western who were loud and proud advocates for the wellness and safety of their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students.”
While at Western, Natalie found her community through the Western Theatre Company and made a network of queer professionals through the Gunnison Valley Theatre Festival. Such easy access to queer resources taught her to advocate for herself and her identity.
“We’re incredibly lucky to have an administration at Western that is open to the progress needed to create the best possible environment for LGBTQ+ students, but we haven’t always had that, and we won’t have it forever,” said Natalie. “The time is now; speak up for yourself, speak up for your friends, and find people who are ready to stand with you.”
“There Are So Many Ways to Be a Mountaineer”
Despite Natalie’s experience, Western’s track record with the queer community is unacceptable. A few years back, the Campus Pride Index rated our school three out of five stars on the resources offered to and for queer students. We know there’s work to do.
Through course additions, like the LGBTQIA+ Theatre History class added last spring, and initiatives from our Vice President for Inclusivity, Steven D. Parker, Western is making strides toward a more accepting social climate on and around campus. Our mission as a university is to create spaces where all students can continue to feel welcome and safe during Pride Month and year-round.
“I think it can be hard to believe that a small, rural college town like Gunnison could have the capability of fostering its own queer community,” said Natalie, “but there are so many ways to be a Mountaineer.”
by Kinlee Whitney
Photo Credit: Olivia Reinhardt