By Samantha Daggett, Beca Delvaux, and Josh Buntin
The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (UWGB) has been recognized as being one of the most welcoming campuses in Wisconsin for LGBTQIA2S+ students. Of the 13 Universities of Wisconsin schools and their associated campuses, UWGB and UW-Eau Claire have been recognized as being the most welcoming of queer and transgender individuals. The UWGB Pride Center, the main resource for LGBTQIA2S+ students on campus, has received recognition in recent years for its outreach and acceptance at the university. The Pride Center recently received the University Award for Excellence in Community Outreach as part of the Founders Awards ceremony at UWGB’s staff convocation in August in recognition of the welcoming, acceptance, and services the center provides to students, and the school has been named as one of the top 30 in the country for LGBTQIA2S+ students.
The Pride Center was created for students who are seeking a safe space and also provides resources and education. The Green Bay campus Pride Center is located in the University Union, but there are locations at all four UWGB campuses. The mission of the Pride Center is to respond to the needs and concerns, provide high-quality support, and offer a safe space for LGBTQIA2S+ students, faculty, and staff at UWGB. According to the “Our History” section on the Pride Center’s website, the LGBTQA Resource Center was founded in January 2011 by Christine Smith, Joanie Dovekas, Debra Rezac, Steve Zywicki, and Stacie Christian. In 2014, the center was renamed to the Pride Center. Originally, it was only two rooms and was only open for 20 hours a week. It has since expanded to three rooms, which operate 40 hours a week at UWGB, along with all of the branch campuses. An Ally Lounge at the Kress Center was recently added, as well as another safe space for students. Now, the Pride Center at UWGB’s main campus is currently run by Nicole Kurth and 14 student interns.
The Pride Center is important to UWGB because it helps ensure students have the resources they need to both feel safe and succeed academically while at school. A rough estimate of more than 2,000 students a semester at some point makes use of the Pride Center. On the Pride Center’s website, there are a number of resources available to everyone who identifies as LGBTQIA2S+. These resources include on-campus, employee, regional, identity-specific, health, and national. They also offer safe ally training, which helps train students, faculty, and staff on how to better support members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Another resource the Pride Center offers is Lavender Graduation, which was started in 2011 by Mai J. Lo Lee. This is meant to recognize LGBTQIA2S+ students and their allies when they graduate from UWGB. It has continued to grow throughout the years and has become known as the Lavender Graduation and Leadership Awards. With the graduation, they also provide recognition of individuals in five different categories, including Student of the Year, Staff of the Year, Faculty of the Year, Pride Center Intern of the Year, and Community Member of the Year. Others on campus outside the Pride Center also have received recognition for being allies of the queer community. On November 9, UWGB Professor Dr. Byran Carr won the P.B. Poorman Award. This award is in recognition of outstanding allies, including faculty, staff, and students. Carr said, “Receiving the P.B. Poorman award is a tremendous honor, and I am humbled to be a recipient alongside so many amazing students, faculty, and staff from all across the Universities of Wisconsin that are doing incredible work supporting LGBTQIA+ and diverse student populations at a time where that support is more important than ever.”
The COMM Voice spoke to Dr. Stacie Christian, who is the Assistant Vice Chancellor of Inclusive Excellence and one of the founders of the Pride Center, about the importance of the center and the resources it provides. Christian said it is important to provide a safe space where queer students can feel comfortable and accepted. The center provides more resources than just being a safe space. They provide assistance with referrals for housing, legal assistance, personal and professional development, some limited health care, and anything else they need. They also help correct people’s names on campus systems so they can recognize their real names instead of their dead names. Christian also spoke about how the center is important for helping people find what being LGBTQIA2S+ means to them. She also said the recognition the center has received is significant because “It’s a recognition on the campus that someone is worthy of that because I wasn’t here in the eighties, wasn’t here in the nineties, even in 2000 for the earlier part when we started,” Christian said. The Pride Center has primarily employed students at the Green Bay campus, but internships are available at the additional locations as well, but no one has applied for them.
To get a student’s perspective on the Pride Center, the COMM Voice spoke to Josh “Sky” Reiter, who is a sophomore majoring in Studio Arts and Creative Writing programs and is a student intern at the Pride Center. The fall semester is their first semester interning with the center, but they have taken advantage of its resources before. They were approached by Nicole Kurth, the Pride Center manager, to be an intern starting in fall 2023. Reiter believes the recognition the Pride Center has received, particularly for being recognized as one of the top 30 in the country for inclusivity, is very significant and makes Reiter feel good. They cite how far the Pride Center has come since it first opened in 2011 in a small room, which now is part of the wider center. “It shows how long we’ve come as a society and just at our history in general, especially with how frequent hate crimes were. Not even 100 years ago. So being able to come to time or it’s becoming more accepted and more widely known and for people to finally start to get what it is to be queer, I think, is an amazing feat in itself,” Reiter said.
The Pride Center hosts many on-campus events for students at the university to celebrate and recognize pride, as well as provide information on their resources and information on healthy sexuality. In September, the Pride Center hosted open houses at each of their locations. On October 27, the Pride Center hosted its fifth annual HallowQueen Drag Show at the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts. HallowQueen is a drag show with the goal of informing the community about drag and the LGBTQIA2S+ community. It is also a fundraiser and donation collection for the Campus Cupboard, which provides students who might be in need of food and other necessities at no cost. The Drag Show had several performers who danced to different songs from the 1980s, which the event was paying homage to. Outside the main event, there was also a resource fair with booths set up in the Grand Foyer of the Weidner Center with information on different resources available on campus, as well as supporters and community partners of the Pride Center and of the university. One such booth was for Golden House, a domestic abuse shelter in Green Bay, and had information on the services they provide. Students had the opportunity to take photos with the drag show performers after the show.
Serra Laubert, a Social Work major, spoke to the COMM Voice about her experience at the event. “I love and adore the HallowQueen Drag Show. I like seeing all the queens and kings each year. I think it would be cool if we had maybe a longer show or more talent, but I also really love the lineup that we tend to stay with and would be sad if any of them got replaced,” Laubert said. She also believes it is important because it is the biggest LGBTQIA2S+ event the university hosts and promotes acceptance and healthy sexuality and that there’s nothing that could replace it on campus. Laubert even brought a friend from out of town to attend the event with her, and she intends to go to next year’s drag show.
The HallowQueen Drag Show began in 2018, and the 2023 event was the second year it was held in the Weidner Center at being held in the Phoenix Rooms previously, which are located in the University Union.. Over 800 people were in attendance at the 2023 event, according to Stacie Christian, which is a slight decrease from the 2022 show but is still a large turnout for the Pride Center.
The Pride Center does not experience any pushback on campus or pressure to close. They do have budget constraints like the rest of the university as it tries to address cuts made to the Universities of Wisconsin (UW System) budget by the Wisconsin State Legislature, but they also receive donations from outside the university and enjoy broad support for their mission. Issues of discrimination still plague people who identify as LGBTQIA2S+. Stacie Christian also cited the efforts made by lawmakers to target queer individuals, in particular transgender individuals. Christian said it is sometimes hard to keep track because of the vast number of bills being introduced designed to limit access to resources by members of the queer community. But things have changed, with Christian explaining, “They feel much safer in this community than they used to. And people say they’re going to stay here rather than where they used to live. But you are concerned about laws and discrimination for housing, for the ability to use public services.” The Pride Center has grown significantly since it first began in 2011, going from limited space to having a large, recognizable space continually recognized by the university and community. The Pride Center hopes to expand its collaborations with other resources on campus, such as the Multicultural Resource Center and Campus Housing, to provide more resources and opportunities for students. They also want to collaborate with the community and help people recognize there is support out there. “So we want to give people the experience of doing that. They don’t have to be in a cave. Just get the support. There are people out there to support you, scaffold, or teach, and there are different ways of how people are and how to build relationships. You have a lot of strong support out there, not just one place,” Christian said.
Link to the UWGB Pride Center.
Link to PFLAG, a large organization for LGBTQIA2S+ individuals.