PRIDE sheds light on LGBTQ community
Members of Cameron University PRIDE have come together to increase the presence of organization on campus, and their endeavors so far this semester have given students a haven from any harsh treatment they may encounter.
PRIDE started the semester with an annual candlelight vigil to observe National Coming Out Day on the evening of Oct. 10 at Cameron Park. This event gives individuals the opportunity to disclose their sexual orientation to others or affirm their status as an ally to the LGBTQ community.
In addition to raising awareness for the LGBTQ community and civil rights movement, the event coincides with the murder of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student who was tortured, tied to a fence and left for dead in 1998. It was later found that the attackers chose Shepard because he was gay.
Alumna Jenn Castricone was about the same age as Shepard when the tragedy shook the country. She said she remembers thinking that one of her own friends could have been Shepard. She has been with CU PRIDE as its adviser for four academic years.
Members have taken care to promote the annual event, Castricone said, and they want to honor the legacy of a man whose death made the national conversation turn toward the need for hate crime legislation at the state and federal levels.
“We want to be serious but not mournful or depressing,” Castricone said. “Yes, it is an observation of a horrible crime that happened, but that was also sort of the catalyst that turned our culture and made people way more aware of hate crimes and the effect that they had on communities.”
After the candlelight vigil, Castricone said that CU PRIDE intends to follow with a series of events: Members are planning to participate in the CU Diversity Day and are scheduling a donation drive for World AIDS Day later on in December. Members might also film a video in the style of “It Gets Better,” a project created by Dan Savage to inspire hope for young people facing harassment.
“We still want to be visible,” Castricone said. “I still get people telling me that they don’t know that we exist.”
Members are eager to welcome students to meetings held every Friday at the MCC.Preparations for the first event of the semester took place at a meeting a week before the vigil was to happen.
Former CU PRIDE president Taylor Brunwald, who has since gone on to graduate in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, was also in attendance to offer his assistance and socialize.After serving the on-campus organization during his sophomore and junior years of college, Brunwald is now leading Lawton/Fort Sill Pride as its current president. He said he was glad to see students ensuring the continuation of the organization into another generation, and on behalf of the members in the city-wide organization, he was there to offer their ongoing encouragement.
“Lawton/Ft. Sill Pride is eager to support Cameron PRIDE however we best can,” Brunwald said. “We are not here to impose; we are here purely out of support and camaraderie.”
Francisco Patiño became an active member of CU PRIDE a couple of semesters ago. He sat close to an open window were storm clouds were visible and began painting as music and conversation began circulating through the room. Patiño said his design came from the view beyond the window: there was a ribbon of color arching high above campus after a shower had left the grounds glistening with rain. He took a brush to outline the country so that it would appear as if the spectrum of hues — a symbol expressing pride for the LGBTQ community — was held by the country in its brilliance.
“That was kind of the inspiration,” Patiño said, dabbing a stroke of paint to his poster. “I am trying to make it look like the U.S. is behind the rainbow.”
Patiño came to the candlelight vigil last year to offer his support.
“It was very quiet — very reflective,” he said. “There was a mix of youth and older members of the community. People shared their stories. There was a lot of solidarity.”
His poster was on display this year during the vigil. Students took turns standing by their artwork and posing for photographs while luminaria dotting the sidewalks cast a soft glow onto the area.
Forming a circle, the students each held a flameless candle as they came forward one by one to listen to the story of Shepard and speak about the moment they came out.
Current CU PRIDE president Mitch Dufrin, was one of the first students to share his account with others in attendance. Couples held hands while others held tears back.
“Everybody has a unique story,” Dufrin said. “Some people get kicked out of their homes because their parents are very religious or they just think that it [their sexual orientation] is wrong. And then some parents are very caring, loving and supportive.”
Despite facing bigotry where he lives, Dufrin said he still finds beauty in knowing others that embrace tolerance as a way of life.
“Being in the loophole of the Bible Belt, I think that we can bring awareness is reassuring,” he said. “There are some people who have roots in religion but still believe in equality.”