Outside, there were rainy and grey skies, but inside the Madison Street Lounge, a rainbow of cupcakes awaited.
It was a day for conversation, acceptance and food. It was Friday, April 21 and on the agenda was a Queer Pride Picnic.
The room was decorated with bursts of color and the smell of hot dogs roasting.
In addition, tables were littered with origami how-tos and little baskets filled with slips of paper promoting conversational questions.
One read, “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever tasted?”
“Broccoli,” Keene State College [KSC] first-year Jenna Hall said right off the bat.
On a more serious note, Hall said this event occured to provide a time and space for LGBTQ+ individuals to get together and just have fun. “One of the big things about activism is being aware and staying visible,” she said.
She said this event was also for allies to understand that transgender or queer individuals are just like everyone else; they want to celebrate and eat good food while conversing with others.
For KSC junior Sam Whitaker, he said vegemite spread was the worst thing he had ever tasted. “It’s supposed to be put on bread and I tried it blindfolded,” he explained. “It smelled liked ketchup and tasted like doo doo.”
Whitaker said he came to the event because he wanted to be there for his friends and other queer individuals. “We’re showing that there’s a place where your identity can actually be noticed and supported. It reinforces people’s coming out,” he said.
Whitaker is the president of KSC Pride.
Another executive board member of the group was also at the event, KSC Pride’s Event Coordinator Laurel Mendelsohn, who wasn’t able to physically talk because of an illness, but wrote her responses down.
She explained she came to the event because it reinforced the tight-knit community feeling she finds at KSC. “I find that Keene State has a lot of great resources,” she wrote.
Mendelsohn also stated she found this event to be a sort of celebration. “This provides an opportunity to have one last free moment to spend with people before finals and summer,” she wrote.
Program Support Assistant for LGBTQ+ students Hunter Kirschner, who was the one responsible for making this event happen, said the ultimate goal of this picnic was for community building with a celebratory feel to it. “The population of LGBTQ students are wanting folks to meet each other and build relationships,” he said.
In addition, Kirschner said it’s helpful for other individuals to see each other together in normal settings in public. “Seeing others hold these identities makes it a possible thing for them; experiences can resonate for folks,” he said. “There’s something about being in a room with other folks who are trans or gay that makes you feel acceptable and comfortable.”
Kirschner brought up his own personal experience.
“For me, coming into my trans identity, the real kicker was realizing what helped me; what made sense for me was based on getting to know people who had different life experiences,” he explained.
He said that being out there in the public eye has its purpose. “A lot of pride events, or any kind of visibility, streams from this struggle of invisibility with our cis-heteronormative society,” he said. “Queer and trans individuals are not always seen as belonging, so we have to continually make our presence known.”
KSC sophomore and transgender male Dante Diffendale said seeing the people in the Madison Street Lounge making an effort to give support moved him. “They show they understand, even if they haven’t personally gone through what I have. I realize that this is not something I need to be ashamed of or quiet about,” he said.
Director of the Counseling Center Brian Quigley was one of those there to offer support. “This gives us a chance to connect and have a social opportunity, especially near the end of the semester,” he said.
Quigley said he’s seen KSC come into a more accepting environment over the years and suggested for anyone who is heading home over the summer to a place where they may not feel as accepted, they should keep in touch with those who do fully support them. “It’s always important to reach out to people,” he said.
Managing Editor of Marketing and Communications Lucy Webb echoed Quigley’s words. “One thing that’s really nice and different being a person now versus in the early 90s is social media. There’s a lot more contact; even though you’re not physically around, you can connect much more easily,” she said. “You’ll find support if you seek it out.”
Dorothy England can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org