On Friday, Aug. 20, the University of Tennessee Pride Center opened the doors to their new location in the Student Union. The Pride Center is an LGBTQ+ resource center that has provided a safe space for queer students throughout the past decade.
Initially launched as the OUTreach: LGBT & Ally Resource Center, Donna Braquet served as the coordinator of the Pride Center until 2016, when funding was halted and the organization was no longer considered a part of the university.
Because of the activism of UT students and alumni, including fundraisers, walkouts and marches, the center returned shortly thereafter with Bonnie Johnson as the new coordinator. In 2019, the center again received funding from the university and has since continued to flourish.
Bonnie Johnson describes the center as “a physical community space where people can hang out, but we also host a variety of programming that’s community-building, educational and everything in between.”
Seeking to connect, educate and empower LGBTQ+ students and allies, the Pride Center offers discussion groups, reading groups and peer mentoring programs, along with plenty of online resources to help queer students with the hardships that come along with being a member of a marginalized community.
One aspect of the center that Johnson highlights is the availability of complementary “swag” that allows students to express their pride.
“Being able to proudly show your identity whether it be through a pin, a bracelet, a sticker, I think would be so important to students,” Johnson said.
The new location in the Student Union makes the Pride Center more central to students, providing them with the opportunity to stop by whenever they feel compelled. Previously located in Melrose Hall, the Pride Center can now be found at Suite 373 in the new Student Union.
A welcoming space complete with a lounging area, kitchenette and several offices, the center gives students a place to socialize with like-minded people, grab a coffee or seek out resources. The center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and students are welcome to stop by any time during those hours.
In the center, students can find informational fliers from various organizations about some of Knoxville’s best queer resources, including the UT gender clinic, LGBTQ+ affirming religious spaces and counseling services. The center also offers a lending library, where students can rent books or games, in addition to complimentary pins and badges that allow students to visibly express their pride.
The welcoming environment in the center is almost tangible in the room. At the Center's Open House on Aug. 20, it was clear that students were glad to have a space where they could freely express themselves without the judgment of others.
“For any students who are feeling isolated or like they don’t fit in, I encourage them to stop by the Pride Center,” Johnson said. “Even over the past few weeks we’ve had students come in and make their new best friends.”
New and returning students were enthusiastic about the inclusion and support at the center’s new location. Lillie Duffy, a freshman at the university, explained the difficulty of finding community in a new place.
“The main reason I’m here is looking for queer community,” Duffy said. “It can be really hard to meet straight people who can relate to you in the same ways that other queer people can.”
Duffy additionally expressed an interest in their peer mentoring program, highlighting their intentions to “let you see older people who are a good example and are doing the best in their field, while being queer at the same time.”
Sophomore Vladimira Conrad reflected on the progress that the university has made over the past decade,
“Professors having their pronouns in their descriptions is really assuring, and reminds you that it is a safe space,” Conrad said.
Conrad and others believe that small actions like these can show allyship in subtle ways and make queer students feel more comfortable on campus.
The Pride Center can be supported through signing up for their newsletter, attending events or simply by stopping by and interacting with the local LGBTQ+ community on campus.