LGBTQ students and allies celebrated the new semester with Back to School Pride and stood up to protestors in a display of solidarity on September 3.
The RaYnbow Collective’s second annual Back to School Pride Night featured local vendors, musical performances, a march and a family-friendly drag show. The ten-hour event focused on creating a safe space for LGBTQ students at BYU and building bridges within the community.
Maddison Tenney is the founder and executive director of the RaYnbow Collective, a group focused on creating a community for LGBTQ students and allies at BYU. This year, she took charge of planning and preparing for the second annual Back to School Pride event.
“The goal of Back to School Pride Night is to just provide a safe space for everybody to coexist and to work together as we work better on understanding and loving one another,” Tenney said.
For Tenney, the Pride festival’s biggest impact has been starting conversations and correcting misconceptions.
“That’s helped just to create a lot of friendships and relationships,” she said. “We’re not out here to wreck the church. We’re not out here to wreck BYU. We live here too. We love it. And we just want to find a way to be better friends.”
When protestors showed up at the drag show, ally groups including The Black Menaces formed a barrier around performers with pride flags and angel wings.
According to The Black Menaces on Tik Tok, “When the drag show started, 12 guardian angels with giant wings came to hold the line with us in the sweltering heat.”
The angel wings were a reference to the Angel Action activists who blocked anti-gay protestors at the funeral for Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming who was attacked and murdered.
BYU student Sarah Vorkink said she thinks it’s important for the community to see that LGBTQ students aren’t taking away from the BYU experience.
“I just think it’s super important to be seen, be visible, to embrace the community that I’m part of and help others see it and recognize that it’s a wholesome, great thing,” Vorkink said. “It’s helping people here and it’s not something that’s detracting from the spirit of BYU.”
According to BYU’s most recent campus climate survey, only around 8% of students identify as LGBTQ. Vorkink said events like Back to School Pride Night help her find belonging and community.
“It’s easy to feel like you’re either too queer for BYU or too ‘Mormon’ for the queer community,” Vorkink said. “I think events like this just help me realize that there is a space for me.”
Tenney said going forward, the RaYnbow Collective wants to bring that connection and community to the rest of BYU campus. Throughout the school year, they will be providing diversity, equity and inclusion training for BYU students and faculty.