Lehigh’s Pride Center and Lehigh Athletics are set to host the university’s first LGBTQ Equality Night at the men’s basketball game against Bucknell University on Feb. 25.
The Pride Center — the center for sexual orientation and gender diversity — and Lehigh Athletics have partnered in order to promote awareness for the LGBTQ community and to show support and inclusion for student athletes and the Lehigh community as a whole.
Before the game, the Pride Center will be hosting a tip-off rally from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in Lamberton Hall. The event will include food, Clutch the mascot and a video campaign asking Lehigh students why LGBTQ is important to them.
Trish Boyles, the director of the Pride Center, said they also hope to have a speaker present if funding and scheduling works out.
The two speakers up for consideration are Akil Patterson, an ambassador from the non-profit organization Athlete Ally, and Brian Sims, an activist on LGBTQ civil rights and a politician in the Philadelphia area, Boyles said.
According to the Athlete Ally official website, its purpose is to provide “public awareness campaigns, educational programming and tools and resources to foster inclusive sports communities.”
Ambassadors from the organization are from more than 80 colleges and include more than 100 professional athletes. Lehigh joined this list of colleges just last year.
“We wanted somebody that could contribute to that spirited atmosphere that we hope to create at the tip-off event,” Boyles said. “But we also wanted somebody who had a real understanding of LGBTQ issues in the context of athletics.”
After the tip-off event, buses will be provided outside the Dialogue Center to transport students to and from the game.
Jonathan Jean-Pierre, ’15, came up with the idea for the event after seeing a similar LGBTQ event hosted at Colgate University.
Jean-Pierre interned at Google this summer and he experienced employees working on many different projects on issues around the world. He said he felt so inspired that he wanted to take his experiences from Google and use it to make a bigger impact on the Lehigh community.
Jean-Pierre said working with Google gave him different opinions and ideas on how to expand on what Colgate did to make a bigger impression. From there, Jean-Pierre contacted Boyles and they partnered with Athlete Ally and Lehigh Athletics.
“The event was a great fit,” said Richard Haas, the assistant athletic director for sales and marketing. “Anytime we can provide support to such a positive message of campus pride, campus unity, athletics would be glad to help support it.”
From the athletic standpoint they are looking to bring people out to the game to help support by giving the Pride Center a higher profile platform to support their initiative, Haas said.
“When we first envisioned this event, we didn’t think it would be feasible or possible,” Jean-Pierre said. “But through the dedication of administrators and generosity of other groups on campus it shows how much the institution wanted this to happen.”
“My future goal is that people will not be afraid to go to Pride Center regardless of their sexual orientation,” Jean-Pierre said.
Jean-Pierre also said he hopes that in the future there will not be a need for events to spark dialogues and discussions – that people on campus and in the community will already be having them on their own.
“It originally was just an awareness event,” said Abby Farrell, ’15, a representative of Athlete Ally. “But now it’s building off of a lot of the themes Lehigh is working towards in terms of inclusion, respect and the five bLUeprint principles.”
Farrell acts as the student liaison between the Pride Center and Lehigh Athletics and played a significant role in making Equality Night happen, Jean-Pierre said.
Boyles said the students are really excited about this event partially because this is something that has never happened at Lehigh.
“The students who identify with the LGBTQ see it as the next step in Lehigh’s evolution — that we are recognizing these issues in an area like athletics,” Boyles said. “And for student athletes that have been working on this cause, it is a confirmation that the work they are doing is important.”
“It shows Lehigh is ready to move forward,” Jean-Pierre said.