Combating ethnic, cultural, and racial underrepresentation within the LGBTQIA+ community.
The first ever Diversity Pride Parade at the University of Redlands was met with great success. The parade kicked off on Oct. 18th in front of the Administration building, celebrating minority groups within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA+) community at Redlands.
For many participants, the Diversity Pride Parade was the first parade of this kind they’ve ever been to. Gina Gramata, a student at the university, said she had always wanted to go to a pride parade but was never able to due to distance. Meanwhile, Kathryn Zornado, a first year student, felt “elated” as it was her first time at a pride event. Zornado also enjoyed the small size of the parade, as she had heard anecdotes of larger parades that she was “not ready for.”
For others, this Diversity Pride Parade was the first one in Redlands specifically that they’ve encountered and attended. Jayla Brown, a U of R sophomore, commented, “We’re pretty fortunate to be in Southern California where it’s pretty liberal, but at the same time, there are still people who don’t accept [different types of diversity such as different sexualities, ethnicities.]”
The Diversity Pride Parade at the University of Redlands celebrated the stories and experiences of those within the LGBTQIA+ community who might not have the same representation as that in mainstream media and who struggle to find acceptance from their own community due to cultural, ethnic or religious prejudices. A collaboration effort between many diversity organizations and clubs on campus, the parade placed the spotlight and the narrative onto those in the minority groups.
As the two guest speakers took the stage in front of the Chapel, the crowd quieted down in anticipation of their speeches. Angie Balderas, a community organizer in Redlands, shared their own experience as a member of the LGBTQIA+ coming from a conservative Latino family.
In a community where sexuality wasn’t openly discussed, at a time when there weren’t a lot of supporting resources like LGBTQ centers, Balderas’ coming out story was one of many struggles. Yet, they stressed, for many other people, disclosing their gender identity or sexuality could be fatal, “especially [in places like] Russia or Nigeria.”
“Some folks have the privilege of being out, [but] it’s not like that for everyone, especially our POC transgender siblings. It’s not easy for folks to be out,” said Balderas. “Just to be ‘out’ is a privilege.”
Similarly, guest speaker Matthew Taylor called the attention of the crowd to the issue of the dangers targeted at the LGBTQIA+ community. Starting his speech with a firm acknowledgement of the current situation in the country, Taylor attested that “over 20 trans people have been murdered, specifically black trans women.”
Recounting how he and Balderas had helped develop the LGBT center in California State University by only the two of them, Taylor called forth the audience to take action towards making themselves presented.
“This is about teaching our future generations how to live in a world that’s not made for them,” Taylor said. “If you see someone that’s hating on you, tell them ‘I love you’, because they don’t understand the love that you have to have in yourself to stand in your freedom, to walk in your freedom, and just be present.”
After the speeches, participants organized themselves into a line and marched across the campus. Rainbow flags and colourful glitter followed the crowd wherever they went, and so did bursts of passionate chants from parade-goers.
“Hey hey! Ho ho! Homophobia has got to go!”
“We’re here, we’re queer, we don’t wanna live in fear!”
Amidst the chants, bystanders could also be seen joining in the spirits as they honked their cars and waved to the line of parade-goers.
Komz Muthyalu, one of the organizers of the parade, refers to it as “creating history.” According to Muthyalu, the conversation that sparked the idea for this parade came out of the blue. They recalled talking to a friend about the lack of representation for non-white members of the LGBTQIA+ community in media, especially when they were growing up.
Muthyalu explained what it was like to not have a positive role model in the community.
“I know that my stories are going to be completely different [from that portrayed in Western media.] I knew that when I came out, it’s not going to be that easy. I think it’s important to acknowledge that in some places, some people just have it a little easier, and I think that’s what the idea of the parade was,” said Muthyalu.
A thought turned into a plan, and the idea promptly became reality, met with much enthusiasm by their cabinet members once they proposed it. Emails were sent out, and a committee comprising of representatives from twelve diversity clubs and organizations on campus was soon created.
Ellis Jackson Hodo, another member of the organizing committee whose job was to send mass announcements to students to promote the event, recalled that a particularly difficult aspect of organizing the parade was avoiding making it seem like a “marketing tool” to attract prospective students.
“That’s the last thing we wanted,” Hodo said. “I think it’s good that prospective students see the diversity [here], but I, and the community, really wanted to avoid it seeming staged. […] This event wasn’t about the university. It’s about the students on this campus who can’t safely come out and that typically falls onto queer and trans students of color specifically.”
That is why Hodo hesitated on initiating the chants repeated by the crowd as they didn’t want to be the face of the event, being a white person themself.
According to many parade-goers, the parade meant something much more intrinsic and personal. For Sara Sommers, another first year student, the parade allows her to be able to “hang out with other gay people, in a safe and fun environment.”
For Zornado, it is “a congregation of like-minded people who want rights.” She added, “For me, it’s half a protest, and half a place for people to gather and make awesome things happen.”
In a wider context, the parade may also signify drastic changes in the university atmosphere.
“This is a wonderful moment in the life of the institution, that so many students feel free and open to celebrate who they are and who their friends are,” said John Walsh, University Chaplain.
Parading alongside students and donning a pride button on his shirt, Walsh discussed the significance of this event for the community at large. “It wasn’t that many years ago that a parade like this would have been a very different experience,” said Walsh. “[We] are a more open, more affirming community today than [we were] just some years ago.”
Looking forward into the future, the possibility of subsequent Diversity Pride Parades seems positive, as both Muthyalu and Hodo expressed their aspiration for an annual iteration of the event. According to Muthyalu, “There’s a potential to keep the conversation going.”
In addition to the dance party and tie dye events following the main parade, for future parades, Muthyalu hoped they could host a follow-up discussion forum for participants to share their stories.
Some participants also expressed their desires for changes in some areas. Catie Nohra expressed her wish for the parade to be bigger and having more support from the university. “I feel like a lot of people here are mostly people that are involved in CDI and the Pride Center already, so it would have been really awesome to see people who weren’t typically involved being involved in this and provide support to make it bigger on campus,” said Nohra.
On the other hand, understanding that not everyone who wanted to attend the parade was able to, Hodo wanted to convey to them the importance of perception.
“Often, narrative in the community gets placed on people who are out and proud. You are not any less of a member of the LGBTQ community because you’re not out, or because you’re not sure. It’s okay to not know, to change, to question. Take your time. Don’t let anyone force you. Come out when you’re ready,” Hodo advised.
And for each and every person in the LGBTQIA+ community at large reading this article right now, Muthyalu has one single important message to stress:
“You’re not alone.”
Photographs by Kyle Eaton.
*A list of the twelve campus organizations participating in the Diversity Pride Parade, courtesy of Komz Muthyalu:
- Redlands International Student Association
- Asian Student Association
- United Indigenous Nations Collective
- Black Student Union
- Middle Eastern Student Association
- Alpha Chi Delta
- Alpha Xi Omicron
- Gamma Delta Rho
- Race On Campus
- Multi-Faith Student Association
- Queer & Trans People of Color
- Pride Center along with Campus Diversity & Inclusion