Volunteers from Washtenaw International High School assisted in the annual creation of the giant pride flag for Eastern Michigan University’s OUTober events on Friday, Sept. 28.
Members EMU’s LGBT Resource Center (LGBTRC) and the LGBTQA+ community gathered on the lawn outside Pray-Harrold to place 2,600 colored flags to form one large rainbow pride flag from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The event has been the kick off for OUTober – a celebration of LGBTQA+ history and community during the month of October – for the past few years.
A group of 15 students from WiHi approached right at the beginning of the construction to volunteer their assistance in putting the flag together. The students, all members of their high school’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), sought to branch out and help support the LGBT community in different ways.
Elizabeth Blackwell, a junior at WiHi and the president of the Gay Straight Alliance, expressed excitement in helping any way she could with the community.
“Something that we are really passionate about and what the board is really passionate about is making connections with the community and branching out of our own little high school,” she said.
According to Blackwell, the environment for members of the LGBTQA+ community at her high school has been positive, and the GSA does what they can to keep it that way. Considering October LGBT history month, they will be profiling various LGBT historical figures, putting up timelines of LGBT history throughout the world. The administration fully supports their efforts gets funding and approval for the events they plan.
In terms of the pride flag being set up, Blackwell said visibility is the most important concept it can stand for.
“The gay pride flag has always just been unapologetic in what it is and what it stands for,” she said. “Just being unapologetic in your identity is especially important in today’s political environment, so to have this [the flag] here is just a statement of ‘we’re here and we’re not afraid to be who we are,’ and that is powerful.”
The exact placement of the flag has stayed consistent over the years because of this visibility. Sierra “Oz” Bartsch, a coordinator for the event, explained how the placement was meant to reach their message to as many as people as possible,
“It [the flag] is a show of solidarity with the campus to let people know that we’re here and we’re not just something that you read about in a textbook or statistics,” they said. “Pray-Harrold is the most used building on campus – it forces people to look at it, to acknowledge it, so they can’t hide from it.”
Both the LGBTRC and WiHi’s GSA attempt to help the community endure even through times of stress, negativity and protest. High school sophomore Jordan Wait explained how ignorance and a lack of education often cause students to cause offense and lack respect for the LGBT community.
“We’re hoping if people are more informed they’ll be kinder and more accepting,” he said.
“You have a really diverse, progressive school, right? But you have kids coming to the school from not so progressive backgrounds,” said high school freshman Conrad Drukman. “They haven’t really learned how to be respectful yet, so I think it’s just coming from a place of ignorance.”
While both students try to correct people whom inappropriate language or disrespect the community, they don’t always find success.
“Last year when people were using certain words to demean other people, I just tried to tell them that isn’t something they should say, but they just kind of brush it off,” said Wait. “One of the only things we can do is tell teachers and say ‘hey this is a problem that we need to work on.’”
Drukman said having positive connections does wonders to help those who are struggling to be a part of the community.
“When you have friends who are in the [LGBT] community, usually if you want to get involved, they’ll be there to help,” he said.
A sense of community, especially to transfer student Ariel “Bird” Contreray, who hopes tragedies aren’t the main events that bring the community together.
“It breaks my heart that we keep having to have tragedies in order to come together as a community,” they said. “As a community it’s really important for everyone to remember that we are here not just to heterosexual and cis-gender people as a reminder that we are here…but for any of the people here that might not know they have a home.”
The LGBTRC has resources for those in and wanting to support the community. OUTober events continue on Friday, Oct. 5 for a coffee hour at room 330 in the student center from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.