A guide to 2023 Appleton pride

The progress pride flag. Photo by Alana Melvin.

For Lawrence, June 1 marks final exams and the end of the academic year, but for many students, staff and members of the broader Appleton community, June 1 marks the beginning of something positive, too. Pride Month, a month of celebration for LGBTQ+ identities, history and culture throughout the world, will be celebrated by queer organizations, peoples and allies alike through June and into July.  

District 12 Alderperson Nate Wolff, who identifies as gay, said that pride is not only about how far the LGBTQ+ community has come, but also recognizing how far there is to go in the fight for equality. 

“Pride is about expressing resiliency, about being safe to exist, being proud to still be here,” District 2 Alderperson Vered Meltzer ‘04, the first openly transgender elected official in Wisconsin, said. 

District 1 Alderperson Bill Siebers is Appleton’s longest-serving elected official. While he does not identify as queer, he voted to ban conversion therapy in 2020 and has voiced support for the LGBTQ+ community.  

“I think one of the problems in life is that we often fall into the trap of expecting another person to be what we want them to be when they are not,” Siebers said. “If we expect another person to be who we want them to be, we fail to respect them for who they are […] Let’s learn to seek the beauty of another person, even if that person isn’t what we would expect that person to be.” 

“Pride is about expressing resiliency, about being safe to exist, being proud to still be here,” Meltzer said. 

Set to herald both a beginning and an end, the Lavender Graduation will be hosted on Sunday, June 4 at 2 p.m. by Lawrence University and the LU Pride Network at a location yet to be determined. The annual event was founded by Dr. Ronni Sanlo at the University of Michigan in 1995 but was not adopted at Lawrence until 2017 by Affinity Group Coordinator Helen Kramer and Dakota Williams ‘14. Lavender Graduation welcomes LGBTQ+ Lawrentians to celebrate their accomplishments and reflect on their challenges with each other. Students planning to attend are encouraged to fill out a survey via email to indicate their intent to attend and if they would like to request a lavender stole. 

This will be one of the only pride events on the Lawrence campus. The reason for this, said PRISM Vice President Isabel Dorn, a sophomore, is that while PRISM plans on recognizing Pride Month, they will only be able to host events up until the end of May due to finals and many students leaving soon afterwards.  

Although the timing is less than perfect, many still believe events held by queer organizations in Appleton and beyond are important for many reasons. Whether events are activism-related or recreational, PRISM Emails, Events and Task Manager Celia Carrillo, a sophomore, acknowledges their role in connecting members of the community and creating bonds. Carrillo notes that students can engage in the queer community outside of official events, but to her there’s more. 

“Events make it feel like it’s about us, it’s about our identity, because we set time aside to celebrate being queer,” said Carrillo. “We can do that casually in conversation, but setting a time aside for it makes it feel special. Having other people there who want the same celebration, who want the same fun, it feels really good, and I can tell regardless of our turnout that people really enjoy these events, and I can tell that people have fun. Even if you’re just playing games and you’re not even talking about what it means to be queer, if you’re just completely goofing around, it’s nice to be in a room with other people like you, and other people who accept you.” 

The greater Appleton community also has a number of pride events planned for the month. A few events have already taken place; on Sunday, May 21, LGBTQ+ education organization Rainbow Alliance Advocacy hosted PRIDEducation at the Grand Meridian Banquet Hall. The event was dedicated to educating the Appleton community about LGBTQ+-related topics and issues with booths and guest speakers alongside live entertainment, raffles and fundraisers. 

On Tuesday, June 6, the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce will host the Inaugural Pride Luncheon at the Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The luncheon will be a celebration of the progress made for the LGBTQ+ community, the challenges the community still faces and a networking event for LGBTQ+ people and allies who are looking to make a difference in their communities. Also at the stadium, on Tuesday, June 20 at 6:40 p.m., Pride Night will be held with a Timber Rattlers game and various pride-themed activities. 

On Saturday, June 24 from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., Downtown Appleton will host Appleton Pride 2023, its third annual pride event, in Jones Park. According to Downtown Appleton’s website, the event will be a celebration of diversity, resilience and love that people of any sexual orientation are welcome to attend. Food trucks will be available to eventgoers, as well as resource booths and entertainment. 

“Don’t be afraid to get involved, create something and make Appleton even bigger, gayer and more fun,” said Wolff. 

Wolff encouraged the Appleton community to host their own events, and District 11 Alderperson Kristin Alfheim, who represents Lawrence, hopes these events and those across the entirety of Wisconsin will get maximum participation.  

Much, however, has changed in the past three decades. Professor of Art Benjamin Rinehart feels that pride has historically been an opportunity for activism and community through times when in many respects it was still illegal to be gay, and now it is a much more joyous time for celebration. 

This is reflected in the 2020 banning of conversion therapy in Appleton, a piece of legislation sponsored by Meltzer, District 3 Alderperson Brad Firkus and District 5 Alderperson Katie Van Zeeland. The legislation passed 14-1.  Although Wolff and Alfheim were not yet elected at the time, they said that seeing that legislation passed was one of their proudest achievements, Wolff refering to conversion therapy as “trauma.” But while Alfheim acknowledged the strides towards equality made in Appleton for the LGBTQ+ community, she pointed out that anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is still being proposed and passed around Wisconsin.  

“The fight continues every single day,” Alfheim said. “Appleton is a strong base, but we need more and more support and conversations going on in Madison to keep it that way.” 

Firkus said that banning conversion therapy was important to him because he sees those practices as abusive. Although he does believe that parents have a right to raise their children the way they see fit, he does not see this as an issue of parental control, but rather of preventing child abuse. Van Zeeland said that she felt it important to speak out as a Christian who supports LGBTQ+ people and opposes these practices. She concurred with Firkus’s view.

“It is outright child abuse, and to me there’s no […] well maybe we abuse children, [or maybe we don’t],” Van Zeeland said. 

The progress pride flag. Photo by Alana Melvin.

As the parent of an autistic child, Van Zeeland pointed out that the person who championed conversion therapy also championed abusive therapy for autistic people. The issue hits close to home for her; in hindsight, she realizes how important it was for the city to stand up for LGBTQ+ people before it became a culture war topic. 

Meltzer asked younger people to remember that they have many adults doing what they can to ensure a brighter future for them, even if the impact they have the power to make is small. Likewise, Alfheim believes that the small actions are the ones that will end up making the biggest impact; she said even though the loud, hateful voices are often the ones spotlighted, support in the form of a bumper sticker or keychain from the silent majority collectively speaks volumes.  

For members of the LGBTQ+ community, many organizations and support groups exist to build community and support one another. Diverse and Resilient, an LGBTQ+ Anti-Violence Program in Appleton, holds regular meetings in support of adult and youth members of Appleton’s queer community. Rinehart describes the organization as mainly centered on survivors, but also as another way to connect with other people who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. 

The LGBTQ+ Support Group for queer or questioning students is led by Staff Counselor Corynn Stoltenberg. Since its founding during COVID, the group has grown substantially and meets twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.. Stoltenberg holds that community and support are essential for the group, and confidentiality and respect are important for it. 

“I really wanted to create a space, another space on campus, where students could come meet one another,” said Stoltenberg. “But also create community care and support for all the things, all the topics that they might want to talk about but don’t have the space for.” 

The support group discusses a wide range of topics, from identity and what it means to be queer, to anything going on in students’ personal lives and Appleton as a broader whole. To join, said Stoltenberg, students need only email her.  

“I think it’s extremely common that everyone’s going to go through stuff at different times, especially in dealing with other people [in the general community],” said Rinehart. “I think getting to know your resources and your [local] community of who will be your support network is enormously important. Because, sadly, it’s not always family [that is supportive], and I think building a family through friends, […] relationships and resources is a really beneficial thing to make sure that you can thrive as a human being.” 

Organizations like PRISM, formerly COLORES, and the Gender and Sexuality Diversity Center (GDSC) in Memorial Hall also exist. PRISM, according to Carrillo, was created for education and recreation. It often hosts social, educational and partnered events catering to and building queer community at Lawrence.  

“Regarding Lawrence, I’m a second year, so I’ve yet to experience the extent of what it’s like to be a queer student here; I felt very welcomed as a queer student here,” said Carrillo. “I enjoyed going to the queer student org events; I enjoyed that we had the GSDC; I enjoyed that sometimes Wriston or the Memorial Chapel will host events that highlight queer artists or queer authors.” 

In the end, Dorn hopes to continue to build engagement in PRISM and other organizations, but recognizes that difficulties with scheduling and budgets over the year have made that hard. Dorn would like to offer things that work well for and empower Lawrence’s entire queer community and believes that while Lawrence is doing pretty good in comparison to other schools, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. 

“I guess I would encourage people to express themselves in a way that makes them feel happy regardless of whether or not they fit in, because I just think it takes away from who we are as humans if we can’t be our authentic selves,” said Rinehart. “So I would encourage people to just, whatever that means for them, be kind to themselves through that process. There are going to be people that don’t understand you, but there are a lot of people that will advocate for you, especially on campus.”