Trish Boyles, the director of the Pride Center, stands in front of the center, which is located in the second floor of the University Center. The center was rebranded over the summer to be more inclusive for all identities of gender and sexuality. (Abby Smith/B&W photo)

‘The Pride Center’ takes center stage, paves the way for change

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LGBTQIA Services Director Trish Boyles wants more than just change for her office. She wants her office to have a strong impact on Lehigh’s campus and be present in student life from the first-year experience through graduation.

Boyles, who joined Lehigh as the office’s director last October, is leading the charge in a rebrand of LGBTQIA Services on campus, which includes a name change to “The Pride Center for Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity.”

“We were trying to be more inclusive and stay connected to the history of the gay rights movement, and the pride parades and celebrations have a long history back to the Stonewall (riots),” Boyles told The Brown and White. “We wanted to do something that would help raise our visibility on campus and just be more integrated into everyday life at Lehigh. We felt like the rebranding would help us on all those fronts.”

Before Boyles came on as director, she said the LGBTQIA Services office was struggling to be visible among the student body. The absence of a director meant there was no programming or outreach, she said, meaning there was no way for students to be exposed to the work the office was doing.

“We physically didn’t have people here to do things,” Boyles said. “There just weren’t things happening, so we couldn’t be seen because we weren’t doing anything.”

Eryne Boyle, ’15, a student worker in The Pride Center, said that Boyles has been a key figure in drawing students to participate in the Center’s programs and initiatives. She believes that more students will want to be involved than ever before.

“This is my fourth year, and I don’t even know who our old director was,” Boyle said. “Then we were without a director. And now there’s kind of been a fire lit under me to get involved.

“There’s top-down leadership, and that adds a lot to people’s desires to be involved and desire to be affiliated and associated with something that does have a stigma around it.”

For Boyles, perhaps one of the most important aspects of the rebrand and the most critical step toward being more visible on campus is the Pride Center’s push to collaborate with other offices, departments and organizations on campus.

Among the services’ changes is the re-launch of SafeZone training, a program that aims to educate students, faculty, and staff on the issues LGBT students face and teaches participants how to use inclusive language and how to intervene when peers engage in homophobic behaviors. The Pride Center is also working to establish Athlete Ally and Greek Ally chapters.

Pride Center student worker Elizabeth Pines, ’16, highlighted the Center’s collaboration with two other offices fighting for a more inclusive campus environment: the Women’s Center and the Office of Multicultural Affairs. She said that having a director in place for The Pride Center has helped her feel more connected to the other two offices.

“Now that we have a director and we have a vision, a long-term strategic vision, we’re able to leverage each other’s strengths to make all three of the offices more visible,” Pines said. “Though we focus on different identities, we’re so intersectional and are really there to support each other.

“That’s also done a world of difference for the students, both those within those organizations and spaces and students who are passersby, who now see this collaboration and want to get involved.”

This collaboration among the three offices is a new development for Lehigh’s campus. Though the offices have pursued many initiatives separately, Boyles said they have not had the chance to collaborate because there has not been consistent leadership across the offices for the last six or seven years.

“So there haven’t been three people in the positions for more than a year at the same time,” she said. “There has not really been an opportunity to collaborate because people have been turning over, and it’s just the new director learning the old director’s job.”

The Pride Center will harness this new sense of collaboration to plan this year’s LGBT History Month. While before the office’s programs consisted of a few exhibits around campus, this year October will feature a month-long program of events celebrating the history of LGBT rights and exploring the intersection of different identities.

“This is the first time we’re doing a really institutionalized LGBT History Month,” Pines said. “For the first time, we actually partnered with a lot of what Black History Month does in the way that they had their events. It was very much supported by Lehigh in terms of sponsorships and funding and marketing.”

Boyle echoed Pines, adding that The Pride Center is collaborating in all but one of its LGBT History Month events. The Center is co-sponsoring events with the Women’s Center and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, as well as athletics, academic departments and other campus organizations.

In addition to the widespread collaboration, this year’s LGBT History Month has drawn institutional support, and for Boyle, this support is one of the things that will make October’s events so successful.

“The fact that we’re all collaborating and that Lehigh as an institution is supporting it is something that’s unprecedented for things that relate specifically to LGBT issues,” she said. “I think it’s really important that the school is behind it, and I think a lot of that is driven by the events of last year. The school’s really looking deeper into the issues students say exist, and this is one of the ways they can help us out.”

The large-scale celebration of LGBT History Month ties in well with the Center’s rebranding, Pines said. She hopes the month’s events will help “make this a really big, successful, prideful, but still challenging LGBT History Month. So in addition to celebrating the progress that’s been made, (we’re) at the same time being critics and pushing for more change.”

Besides the LGBT History Month programs, Boyles said The Pride Center’s main goal for the first year of its rebrand is to get its name out to the student body, to welcome more LGBT students on campus to its community and to get involved in as many areas of student life as possible.

“People are getting used to it and making that transition from ‘we’re the office formerly known as’ and just being able to say we’re The Pride Center,” Boyles said. “I would like for people to say, ‘The Pride Center is everywhere.’”

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