A large group of people sporting t-shirts with rainbow leopards on the front gathered in front of Hogg Hall last Friday for the third biennial Equality Rally.
Quest, the college’s student organization for gender and sexuality issues, organizes and hosts these rallies to foster support for members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community.
Sarah Mudrick ‘18 emceed the event and facilitated two different sections: one with featured speakers, and another open-mic portion during which audience members could share thoughts or experiences.
“The Equality Rally is a very important event that Quest does to raise awareness of the work that needs to be done for LGBTQ equality,” Mudrick wrote in an email after the rally. “It is also a place for students and faculty to both fight back against the silencing of their identities and also provide catharsis by seeing physical support and having their narratives validated.”
Mudrick began the ceremony with thanking student government for collaborating with Quest on Resolution 2017-04. The resolution, which is available on student government’s LafSync page, aims “to increase the wellbeing of trans-students and provide enhanced LGBTQIA+ academic focus.”
Mudrick said the resolution as a step in the right direction for the college.
“It’s been refreshing and heartwarming to see people from all over campus come together to support our LGBTQ community,” she said.
English and women’s and gender studies professor Mary Armstrong, local LGBTQ+ advocate Adrian Shanker, Vice President for Campus Life Annette Diorio, Athletic Director Bruce McCutcheon and Dean of Students Paul McLoughlin were all featured speakers at the rally. President Alison Byerly was also in attendance.
Armstrong said she felt it was important for every student to feel comfortable on campus, especially ones of different sexual orientations, identities and cultures.
“I wouldn’t ever dare speak for every single faculty member, and staff member, and administrator who’s a member of the LGBTQ community or an ally, but I will say this,” Armstrong said. “We really care about what happens to you on this community. We want you to do more than just survive. We want you to thrive.”
Many of the other speakers had similar messages, saying the college has come far in the past few years. Diorio said that she has noticed a significant change on campus since she first arrived at the college, 17 years ago.
“The strides that we have made have been the result of courages students, faculty and staff, who have really led the way and helped us to achieve levels of dignity that we all deserve,” Diorio said.
McLoughlin encouraged members of the LGBTQ+ community to be supportive and caring toward one another at all times.
“I think that some of our work needs to be filled with a little more humility, and a little more grace, and maybe even a little less judgment of each other,” he said. “It is really important I think for each of us to take care of one another. Because the road to struggle and the fight is hard and it hurts sometimes, but I think that we can pull strength from one another.”
McCutcheon said there is a need for the athletic department to get involved in LBGTQ+ advocacy.
“My silence on this stuff actually does impact other people,” McCutcheon said. “I can’t be silent.”
To that end, he highlighted the athletic department’s recent effort to create a more inclusive and accepting atmosphere for LGBTQ+ students.
“We’ve kicked off what we refer to our ‘Respect Initiative’ in the athletic department,” he said. “Again, believing that as a unit, a team, can only function at its very best if everybody’s on the same page…and everybody believes in and trusts in each other.”
Byerly said that the rally was an excellent opportunity for students to express their personal experiences, especially in relation to how the college has handled these issues.
“I loved hearing students give shout-outs to individual faculty, administrators and, most especially, the friends and allies who have supported them,” she said. “Everybody talked about struggles that they’ve had along their journey, but many of them were able to emphasize that Lafayette is a supportive community, and so as president I felt pretty proud of that.”
Shanker concluded his speech by arguing that people’s attendance at the rally is a huge step toward gaining equality for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“Every time that the queer community stands up and says that, ‘our voices matter, you’re all wrong about us, we’re going to change the world and you’re gonna listen,’ we win…Every single time,” he said.