Two people, one with pink hair and the other with long black hair and glasses, hold a pride flag behind them and stand in front of the Cook Carillon clock tower.

The importance of building community: How GVSU students are celebrating Pride

June is Pride Month, which recognizes and celebrates the LGBTQ community. Pride Month first began in the United States in the 1970s to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, which served as a tipping point in the gay liberation movement. Since then, it has grown into a month-long celebration in many parts of the world. 

Grand Valley State University is a key sponsor at both the 2024 Holland and Grand Rapids Pride festivals. Grand Rapids Pride took place on June 22 and Holland Pride will be Saturday, June 29. In addition to sponsoring these festivals, the Milton E. Ford LGBT Center is hosting weekly events throughout the summer. 

Three GVSU students shared how they’re celebrating Pride, and what the month means to them.

Rowan Armour, a person with pink hair and rainbow earrings, sits in front of Zumberge Pond. They are wearing a shirt that says “Chosen Family.”
Image credit - Macayla Cramer

Rowan Armour

For Rowan Armour, Pride Month means spending quality time with their partner. “I think a lot of queer people share a similar sentiment that our identity is so tied to community,” they said. “Spending time with friends and chosen family is such an important thing for me.” 

“Part of what makes Pride Pride is the celebration and queer joy that happens,” said Armour. “It’s just so exciting to see other queer people existing in a space that they are free and excited about. I think that there is so much focus in media and in our society today on all of the bad stuff that’s going on, just seeing queer people celebrating is super exciting.”  

Armour will begin work as a graduate assistant at the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center in the fall. “Working at the LGBT Center attracted me to nonprofit work,” said Armour, who will be pursuing a master’s degree in public administration. “I love working with the queer community. It’s very fulfilling for me.”

In addition to Pride being a celebration, Armour also said that the month is the perfect time to learn more about the community. “The goal of Pride Month is not to make everyone agree with the LGBTQ+ community. I mean, it’s rooted in protest and community building. What’s so important, especially as an institution like GVSU, is that it creates this opportunity for people to learn and educate themselves, and also highlights what the universities values are,” said Armour.

Zoey Belk, a person with short magenta hair, sits on a bench and holds a small non-binary flag with yellow, white, purple, and black stripes.
Image credit - Zoey Belk

Zoey Belk

Zoey Belk celebrated Pride this year by attending the Grand Rapids Pride Festival. The event, which takes place at Calder Plaza every year, included musical performances, food trucks, art vendors and sponsors, like Grand Valley, giving out everything from stickers and lanyards to water bottles and Pride flags.

I always look forward to June,” said Belk. “There’s just so much positivity and self-expression. It’s wonderful to see people celebrating their sexuality and identity, and be encouraged to do so. Plus, people who may be closeted or freshly out of the closet get to see that they have community and they’re not alone. It means a lot to me. Most people ignore my pronouns or have something to say when I introduce myself as they/them, but I get to celebrate my queerness at Pride and be surrounded by people like me, rather than feeling out of place.” 

Seeing Grand Valley at Pride and having a public queer community on campus is also important, said Belk. “It reminds students that it’s important to celebrate their identity and be themselves, even in places that are not welcoming. It reminds LGBTQ+ identifying people that there are resources for them and that they are seen and wanted.”

Lex Larkspur, a person with long wavy black hair and a brown shirt, holds a rainbow pride flag behind her back.
Image credit - Macayla Cramer

Lex Larkspur

Lex Larkspur is doing “the whole West Michigan circuit” of Pride events, attending festivals in Grand Haven, Grand Rapids and elsewhere. After growing up in a small Michigan town with no Pride celebrations, moving to Grand Rapids was great, said Larkspur, because “all of a sudden, those events were everywhere.” 

“Before coming to Grand Valley, basically all the queer people I knew were online, and there weren't really spaces where you could be out and proud,” said Larkspur. “I immediately got involved here and made some of my first in-person queer friends, which has been great. I think when you don't have those kinds of communities, it can be isolating not seeing the experiences that you’ve had shared by folks around you. But being able to get that kind of reassurance and solidarity at Grand Valley has helped me feel more normal, helped me feel like there are folks out there that are like me, rather than feeling alone in a crowd that would rather not think of you.”

A fourth-year English and secondary education major, Larkspur plans on becoming a high school teacher after graduating. “Role models in that stage of life are very important,” she said, adding that she hopes that as a visibly out and proud queer teacher, she will provide her students with a supportive space in school that she did not have. 

“I think the biggest reason Pride is important is because the world’s not fully accepting yet,” said Larkspur. “Which means that it’s Pride, in spite of judgment and a lot of political action against queer people. There’s lots of people out there who don’t want us to be proud of who we are, so i think its important and really liberating to find spaces where our ideintities are celebrated and accepted. I think Grand Valley is almost a beacon in terms of supporting queer people, and Pride is a great way for them to do it.”


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