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Voices of a changing Pride at Stanford

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The month of June typically hosts a slew of LGBTQ+ Pride festivities that commend its community’s colorful past and present. The streets of American cities are laden with rainbow-clad paraders, embellished floats, song and dance; congregating is often central to celebrations. This June, no such parades spotted urban hubs. Instead, Black Lives Matter activists took to the streets while the country gradually reopened amidst rising coronavirus numbers. Still, on the 50th anniversary of the first Pride parade this year, commemoration rang true among the Stanford community. 

Amid the pandemic and protests, Stanford Pride, Stanford’s queer alumni organization, adhered to tradition this past month, sending out graduation care packages complete with lavender honor cords to support seniors from afar. The association’s remote continuation of their Lavender Graduation, an annual event hosted on campus to celebrate LGBTQ+ graduates, was just one component of a continuous effort to maintain a sense of community among its 4,000+ members despite physical limitations.

Throughout the course of the pandemic and Pride Month, board members have pushed Zoom initiatives, meeting weekly with participating members to quell feelings of isolation and speak on timely topics such as the implications of nationwide demonstrations. Veteran Board of Directors member Claude Baudoin M.S. ’74 sees this year’s secluded Pride Month as unfortunate but opportune. Counterintuitively, adapting to pandemic protocol has extended a sense of community to members that have historically been left out, he says. 

“This situation is both a challenge and an opportunity: it’s challenging because of the inability to celebrate in person and convene, whether it is [via] panels or mixers, but at the same time, it’s an opportunity because we have some members [living] where there isn’t a critical mass of other members [nearby], so we were not able to organize events for them in the first place. Now they can join our Zoom calls from wherever,” Baudoin said.

Queer Student Resources (QSR) hosted similar virtual events to encourage bonding among LGBTQ+ students prior to the start of the summer quarter. Though Zoom calls are no longer active throughout the break, QSR’s support system is still in place and accessible for those who need it. To Mia Leonard ’20 speaking to those who need support from their homes has been “difficult, because there are so many questions that don’t have answers, or have undesirable answers.”

Though June teemed with unconventionality, it was a period of growth for some. For both Baudoin and others in the organization, Pride Month and the coinciding nationwide effort to combat anti-Black racism prompted broad introspection. Though a diverse association, Baudoin told the Daily that Stanford Pride is not “immune to unconscious blindness.”

“Stanford needs to…make sure there are no structural issues or unconscious bias[es] that [are] hurting how representative we are as a community,” Baudoin said. “If [Stanford Pride’s] Board is not representative enough of various communities that have additional needs for support and visibility, that might deter people from joining us, and then it’s perpetuating imbalance.” 

This heightened awareness of the organization’s demographics also stems from years of documentation. Both Baudoin and Jason Lin ’20 the Board’s newest member and a former Stanford Pride Fellow, have been heavily involved in the association’s Oral History Project. Baudoin describes the project as an effort to “assemble a collection of stories that are a testament to the past struggles and victories” of Stanford’s LGBTQ+ community. Funded by a grant from Stanford Associates, the initiative launched in 2015 and was recently revitalized in 2018. 

To Lin, who has heard countless stories through his involvement as an undergrad, the Oral History Project and its participants have granted both deeper gratitude for and insight into the community’s history.

“A lot of alumni back in the 1960s and 1970s didn’t come out until the early 2000s or late 1990s, and many actually ended up marrying the opposite sex before having courage to come out as who they were. Hearing all of those different perspectives and knowing that nowadays, it’s clearly different…has made me really appreciative of a lot of the work that my predecessors did for me to be what I am today,” Lin said.

Ranging from written transcripts to audio and video recordings, the project’s files come in a variety of forms and span a large breadth of subject matters.

“It depends on the age of the contributors, but we have stories of self discovery; living on campus was quite a liberation for [some]. On the other hand, there are stories of people who in the 1970s and 1980s were terrified of climbing the stairs to the second level of the Firetruck House and…outing themselves,” Baudoin said. “You also have stories from foreign students who came from a country where homophobia is institutionalized, and they wind up at Stanford asking themselves, ‘what do I do now?’” 

Though the project’s content is not limited to the accounts of Stanford alumni, it sheds light on the community’s vivid history at the university. While appreciating the past, many looked forward this Pride Month — its co-occurrence with media attention on systemic racism motivated some queer students and alumni to revisit the need for representation. In terms of diversification, some work has already been done: in 2017, the LGBT Community Resources Center was renamed to QSR to embrace “identities that are not encompassed just by LGBT,” Leonard said. 

“QSR is important to me because when I came here it wasn’t a space where I, a Black woman, felt represented or heard, but once they rebranded…and made a lot of tangible changes, it got a lot better, and the staff only gets better every year,” Leonard wrote in an email to the Daily.

In addition to continuing their current initiatives, Lin hopes that the sense of community Stanford Pride provides will outlive this period and expand.

“A lot of alumni [from the Oral History Project] have said, ‘Hey, I want to be able to live in a world where we don’t need to use the resources that Stanford Pride is able to provide,’ because that means that at the end of the day, we are comfortable with being who we are, and also society is comfortable with [us] being who we are. That would be a utopian reality in some cases,” Lin said. “I want the future to be [one] where we continue to be there for those members of the community who need us and also to add diversity to our organization and to the broader events we have.”

Such an evolution may appear far away to some; it may “need decades of continuous work to facilitate, [along with] goodwill and hope,” according to Baudoin. Though recent news of homophobic and transphobic acts — particularly against people of color — may make queer students and allies cynical of achieving equitable pride, the reflections of Baudoin, Lin and Leonard along with affirming support systems already in place reveal the capacity of Pride at Stanford to more broadly incorporate and support the queer experience. 

Contact Nicole Johnson at nicole.djohnson ‘at’ comcast.net.

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Nicole Johnson is a high school student writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop.