The Lawrence University Faculty and Staff Pride Network will be putting on the eighth annual Queer Thanksgiving in the Diversity Center at 3 p.m. on Nov. 15, which will be immediately followed by the grand opening of the Gender and Sexuality Diversity Center in Colman Hall 110 at 6 p.m.
Organized by Instructor of Gender Studies Helen Boyd Kramer, Queer Thanksgiving is an annual potluck event where LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff are able to come together to share food and stories from across generations.
According to Boyd Kramer, this environment encourages attendees to feel comfortable being themselves and discussing experiences and identities without a fear of being “outed,” since there are strict rules limiting photography of the event. Especially during the holiday season, when many students will be returning home to situations where they do not feel safe being openly queer, Kramer emphasizes the value of supportive celebration.
“The easiest explanation a student gave me years ago is that it’s kind of like they’re coming to Hogwarts,” Kramer said. “Lawrence really ended up being their Hogwarts and they had to always go back to Privet Drive and not be a wizard anymore. I think that’s the easiest way to explain it, that you have to put down this very important part of yourself in order to live in that world.”
Although Queer Thanksgiving technically does not end until 6:30 p.m., students will begin moving to Colman Hall 110 around 6 p.m. for the opening of the Gender and Sexuality Diversity Center, which will double as a Queer Thanksgiving reception with light refreshments and desserts.
The establishment of the new center has been spearheaded by five students who will serve as the center’s council: senior Zach Fithian, junior Quentin Washington and sophomores Olivia VanSlyke, Ezra Marker and Sterling Clarke Ambrosius.
The project has been in the works since Spring Term of 2019, when the students began circulating a petition calling for the establishment of a separate, safe space specifically for queer students, which got about 200 signatures.
“It is a student-led project, and we want it to be for students,” VanSlyke said. “We might do some events with faculty and staff to bring especially queer faculty and staff into the space, but it is primarily a student space. So we really just want it to be like the Diversity Center where you can just go and relax and rant about microaggressions that you experience or just enjoy that space with people who identify similar to you.”
Although the center will be housed in Colman for this year, VanSlyke said that they are in the process of looking for a more permanent location.
Today’s opening will begin with introductions by the council members and statements on the center’s purpose, but the event is primarily just a chance for students to see the new space and spread the word, according to VanSlyke.
Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and Associate Dean of the Faculty Kimberly Barrett hopes that both the Queer Thanksgiving celebration and the opening of the Gender and Sexuality Diversity Center help to ensure queer students at Lawrence feel supported by the community.
“I am so pleased to see that society is changing, so that people can celebrate with their chosen family,” Barrett said. “… Reflecting on the 30 years I’ve been in higher education, things have really, really changed, and for the good. We have lots of work left to do. But I think that this is an example of positive progress in terms of inclusion.”