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UWRF celebrates LGBTQ history month

October 14, 2021

The entire month of October is National LGBTQ history month. From Oct. 1 through Oct. 31, a variety of events is taking place on campus to educate and honor UW-River Falls students and faculty about social justice, the LGBTQ community, and to raise awareness of these issues among the public. The goal of this month is to enhance public awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning and/or queer (LGBTQ) individuals, their history, lives, experiences, as well as their contributions to society. But also, it is concerned with ensuring that educational and other institutions are safe spaces for members of all LGBTQ populations. UWRF will celebrate LGBTQ history month by highlighting student leaders, staff, activities, and special events throughout the month.  

Nathan Riel-Elness, gender and sexuality outreach coordinator at the office for Diversity, Inclusivity, and Belonging (DIB) states, “I think it’s really important in education to understand where we’ve been, to understand the movement, what has happened, and where we still need to go.” Nathan Riel-Elness believes the month of October is focused on understanding the history of LGBTQ individuals, The Civil Rights Movement, and overall the people who started this movement and conversation originally 

“One person that we hear about a lot but don’t talk about as often is Marsha P. Johnson. They were at the forefront of the conversation, leading the Stonewall riots. It goes with that same conversation that trans women of color have always been on the forefront of, since the beginning, and we don’t give them as much credit as we do to many others” says Riel-Elness. 

Natalie Rodgers, a student intern at the DIB office, said “Georgia O’Keefe grew up in my hometown, Sun Prairie, WI. A lot of people think she’s from Arizona because that’s where she did a lot of her work.” It’s important to talk about the LGBTQ historical figures from around the world but some of them are from places a few hours from River Falls. 

Eli Nahkala, a student at UWRF, says another important historical figure to talk about this month is Oscar Wilde, a famous playwright from the Victorian era. He was known for flaunting his sexuality during a time known for conformity.  

Given that LGBTQ history month begins with a conversation, it is also about understanding where the month itself comes from. Nathan Riel-Elness said “in the mid-90s it was started by a teacher from Missouri who really wanted to incorporate the history and celebration of LGBTQ individuals into the curriculum.”  

Throughout the month there are many opportunities for students to get involved and informed. One of many events going on this month was National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11. This day is internationally observed and devoted to LGBTQ individuals. Oct. 11 is a dedicated time to celebrate coming out and to provide visibility and awareness of issues that affect LGBTQ communities. At 11 a.m. in the Falcon’s Nest, there was Coffee and Conversation with news anchor, Jana Shortal, where she spoke more about her personal story. Later in the day, there was cookie decorating with Drag Queen “Plenty O’ Cookies.” Overall, this day was a celebration of identity for students. 

If students are looking to start a conversation for LGBTQ history month, there will be a buddy read in partnership with the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program where they will be reading “Sweeter Voices Still: An LGBTQ Anthology from Middle America.” A buddy read is a more casual form of a book club, but it still gives students and faculty a chance to read and discuss a book in a set amount of time. The anthology showcases LGBTQ voices from the Midwest, Appalachia, the Rust Belt, the Great Plains, and the South. It’s a great opportunity for students and staff to get together and discuss their experiences and the book. 

There will also be a guest speaker on campus, Sergio Perez, director of Center for Inclusion and Advocacy of Loras College. Perez will be speaking about the intersection between LGBTQ identities with religion and spirituality. Riel-Elness states “that was a topic that had been brought up in the spring in some classes, wanting to explore that specific conversation more.” These events will be a great opportunity for students and faculty on campus to come together and have conversations about LGBTQ individuals’ spirituality, individuality, and history. 

Rodgers says this month is about “celebrating LGBTQ history month, recognizing important figures, recognizing the progress we’ve made and how far we still have to go to make sure LGBTQ people are treated equally and fairly in the classroom and the campus. It is critical that we still talk about these things, and we’re not quite there yet.” Universities are at the heart of LGBTQ history month education and celebrations. It is increasingly more important for UWRF to serve and adjust to minority communities by engaging students and advocating for the community. 

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