There may not have been a drop of rain in Ann Arbor on Sunday afternoon, but Palmer Field was covered with rainbows as the return of “Pride Outside” brought several hundred students — and a couple of drag queens — together to celebrate the University of Michigan’s LGBTQ+ community during the first week of classes.
Since 2015, Pride Outside has annually connected students of all gender and sexual identities with their classmates and relevant campus organizations. Last fall, however, the event was canceled as COVID-19 restrictions prohibited large in-person events.
Pride Outside was Art & Design freshman Kate Bonello’s first LGBTQ+ pride event. Bonello said she appreciated that Sunday’s event allowed her to meet new people in a more intimate setting.
“I’m from a pretty religious town, so this is the first pride event I’ve ever been to,” Bonello said. “I’m hoping to meet a lot of people in the community because … there are more people (at U-M) than I’ve ever met in my life.”
The goal of Pride Outside is to welcome underclassmen to campus for the first time and show them how expansive and accessible the LGBTQ+ community is on campus, Engineering senior Shirley Wu said. Wu is on the executive board for the University’s chapter of Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (oSTEM), which primarily organizes the event.
After a year of social isolation, Wu said it was especially significant to come together at Pride Outside to celebrate the perseverance of the community.
“This is still Welcome Week, so we want to make sure that the new freshmen and also the sophomores that didn’t get to experience in-person events and classes (last year) get to see how many queer orgs there are and how welcoming (the University) is so that we build a safe and open community for them,” Wu said.
During Pride Outside, representatives from 43 clubs and organizations gave out free items from their tables and offered information about relevant programs and resources to attendees.
LSA senior Grace Roberts, Central Student Government chief of staff, said CSG traditionally sponsors and attends Pride Outside so members of the LGBTQ+ community can connect with their student representatives in a comfortable setting.
“If there are specific things that (Pride Outside attendees) want to see changed … (CSG) wants to make sure that they feel like they have the opportunity to say those things,” Roberts said. “Especially as a bi woman, I feel like I would want this sort of attention to my needs if I were not a part of CSG.”
Roberts said CSG is collaborating with the Spectrum Center and Counseling and Psychological Services to create physically safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students within CAPS at the Michigan Union, as well as on North Campus.
Reverend Tim Kobler, the Chaplain at the Wesley Foundation at the University of Michigan, greeted students attending Pride Outside with a smile from above his rainbow-striped beard. The Wesley Foundation is associated with the United Methodist Church and aims to reconcile Christian belief systems with acceptance for diverse sexual and gender identities, according to Kobler.
“Being LGBTQ+ and a religious person are not opposed to one another; in fact, as we are more truly ourselves, we are able to relate more fully to the divine,” Kobler said. “We’d like folks to know that if they are looking for a spiritual home, there’s a place where they can come and be themselves.”
LSA sophomore Russell Jacobs recently joined Ahava, a student organization for Jewish and LGBTQ+ students, and represented the group at Pride Outside. Jacobs said his experience in Ahava has been affirming.
“I’m just excited to find a safe space amongst other Jewish and queer students,” Jacobs said.
Outside of the main tent, participants played lawn games and watched a series of performances, culminating with a 90-minute drag show.
U-M alum Socrates Papageorgiou, who was DJ-ing and emceeing Pride Outside, introduced student-led performances from percussion performance group Groove and Gimble A Cappella. Students also read original poetry selections.
LSA freshman Austin Killam said that out of all the performances, the expressive poetry readings especially resonated with him. Killam said listening to the speakers figuratively describe how they reconciled the various parts of their identity was powerful, particularly because Killam has faced similar challenges when reflecting upon his own identity.
“(The speaker) was talking a bit about being a larger person and being queer,” Killiam said. “I am personally also a plus size, but also kind of trying to identify with pop culture … so it felt good to have that representation there.”
Several attendees said they came to Pride Outside mainly to experience the drag show. Described by Papageorgiou as the “centerpiece” of the event, the drag performance featured the Heads over Heels drag troupe dancing and lip-syncing to a diverse array of music from “The Little Mermaid” to MARINA.
In the middle of the drag show, over pounding music and the enthused screams of the crowd, Bonello affirmed to The Daily that her first time attending a Pride event was unforgettable.
“This is awesome, and I am so happy. I really love the drag show,” Bonello said. “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Daily Staff Reporter Roni Kane can be reached at ronikane.umich.edu.