Maintaining community despite the distance
by Dani Puccio (she/they)
July 3, 2020
With typically in-person pride events being postponed, canceled, or moved to a virtual format, LGBTQ people had to be creative in finding ways to celebrate Pride month this year. College students are no exception to these adaptations. After being sent to live off-campus months earlier than expected in the Spring 2020 semester, students had to adjust to new living situations that often caused them to be separated from their friends or potentially back in an uncomfortable housing environment.
Pride month just ended, and it sure wasn’t what most people expected. As a college student, I already feel the need to connect with friends who I haven’t seen since we were all sent home from campus; wanting to feel the collective joy of the LBGTQ community during Pride was no different. It was definitely strange to witness pride celebrations become live-streamed events or virtual meet-ups. I think these modifications, however, represent the will of the community as a whole to adapt to changing circumstances and find new ways to support each other through these new happenings.
The LGBTQ Center at my school started a virtual LGBTQ book club. We have been meeting over Zoom every other week to share our reading recommendations, vote on readings to do as a group, and just to maintain the nice feelings that come with socializing even though we can’t be together in person. Additionally, I have continued my work as a student ambassador with the Center and had the opportunity to co-host one of our social events, “Center After Dark,” where students can join together to play games, watch television or movies, and talk to each other or make new friends. We have moved this bi-weekly event online and it was still very fun to see people and laugh with people I hadn’t seen in a while.
When we reached July 2020 earlier this week, I definitely had to take a moment to realize that that meant that June had ended. It was a Pride month without parades, a celebration without seeing most people in-person. Still, LGBTQ people across the world worked together to provide entertainment, send support through social media, and continue the long history of social activism that has shaped the community.
As a college student, I have learned more about myself and what Pride means to me through the connections I was able to make with fellow students, staff, and instructors throughout the mere total of six months I lived on campus during my first year of college. I got to attend Durham Pride last fall; it was the first event with a pride parade that I had been to. A huge change from my high school’s QSA was the fully staffed and supported LGBTQ Center on campus––I was able to make many friends through the ambassador program and help plan both social and educational events on campus throughout the school year.
These activities absolutely shaped my experience of my first year of college, and the connections I made with people I met have encouraged me to continue educating myself and to strive to better support others during these times. Being a college student means that I feel tied to two distinct environments: my home where I have grown up, gone to school, and made friends in the past years; and my university, where I met new people and lived for many months of the past year.
I think it is the connection between these two spaces that has shaped my perspective on Pride this year. It made me realize how important it was to keep up with the new people I had met throughout the year. This came with challenges like not being able to see people in person and to navigate strengthening relationships purely through technologically supported means.
Having been away from my new friends and living off-campus due to the pandemic since March, I was missing people very much by the time June came around. It was tricky to identify both my nostalgia and happiness for spending the month without being able to attend Pride events or simply hang out with the people I had met in the past year, but everyone did their best to reach out, check-in, and make the most of this situation.
As a college student, I feel that I have more agency in how I choose to celebrate Pride, and it was disappointing to have options limited by current circumstances this year. That considered, I am really happy to have been able to experience my first year of college before this pandemic came about; I have many things to look forward to like classes starting again in Fall and continuing to get to know the new people I have met at school.
Pride as a college student means navigating your new sense of freedom and a new understanding of your place in the LGBTQ community. We strengthen bonds by continuing to support each other through our commitment to justice and change and sharing the identity of both college students and LGBTQ people adds a sense of recognition of the situation to those relationships.