Celebrated across the country during June, Pride Month is a time to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community recognizing not only their contributions but celebrating how far the community has come. Indiana University continues to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community across all its campuses in a variety of ways. From student, staff, and faculty organizations to LGBTQ+ culture centers celebrating the month with social media posts highlighting various aspects of LGBTQ+ life, the LGBTQ+ community at IU is not only respected but continues to thrive.
Pride has multiple meanings for Benjamin Liechty, director of alumni relations and co-director of the LGBTQ+ Center on the IU Kokomo campus. “It’s a way to honor those who died of HIV/AIDS and hate crimes and celebrate their memory. Our lives are important, and—contrary to popular belief—we’ve been here for millennia.”
Bruce Smail, interim director of the LGBTQ+ Culture Center on the IU Bloomington campus, recalls the history of Pride, beginning as a riot consisting of primarily trans women of color at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 to its more recognizable form as a celebration, parade, and educational opportunity.
Smail says it is important to remember and reflect on the past to work towards a better future. “Stonewall was the launch of the current movement for gay rights. And pride celebrations are a reflection and memory of that time.”
Liechty, who recently joined as co-director in October 2020—around the time the LGBTQ+ Center opened in IU Kokomo’s large Multicultural Center—stated that working in this role is rewarding and transformative.
“This is a wonderful opportunity,” Liechty said. “Working with current and future LGBTQ+ students and making a positive impact on them. Seeing someone who looks like them. I’m happy that students can come here and have a safe space.”
Although students are often off campus during Pride month, LGBTQ+ programming and resources are continuously available. For example, Smail has hosted Intersections, a series of twelve virtual workshops and over 30 panelists to discuss identity intersections in the LGBTQ+ community.
“It was a weird year,” Smail said. “With the pandemic, we weren’t meeting in person at all. But because of the murder of George Floyd and the conversations it sparked, I knew I wanted to do something with a primary focus on education that focuses on critical issues and allows us to have a dialogue about these different topics.”
Similarly, Liechty is working on LGBTQ+-focused events and workshops, which will take place during the fall semester. “We typically have a coming out panel which is always well attended,” Liechty said. “When we met in person, faculty members would often bring their classes to hear coming out stories, both good and bad, from future and current alumni. It’s a wonderful way to educate students, and they were always so respectful of the panelists.” In addition, Liechty hopes to host other programs in the upcoming semester: a drag queens story hour, a tye-dye event, and an HIV/STI testing and education event.
Both Smail and Liechty note how far their centers have come.
“We’ve come a long way in 27 years,” Smail said in regards to his center. “From two small rooms in our current building to encompassing the entire building. In some ways, it indicated the strength of the university’s support and is reflective on how much IU believes in the work we are doing.”
“We are making a difference and showing that LGBTQ+ students have space here at IU Kokomo,” Liechty said. “And I am so happy and thrilled to be a part of this transformative experience for everyone involved and am looking forward to making a difference in a positive light.”