As the coordinator for the Bryant University Pride Center, Meg Kenneally works to provide a safe space for Bryant’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, (LGBTQ+) community and the allies that support them through educational and social programming. In addition, the Pride Center, part of Bryant’s PwC Center for Diversity and Inclusion, offers a variety of educational resources and helps students make connections with the local LGBTQ+ community.
Bryant News recently spoke to Kenneally about the role of the Pride Center, finding strength in difficult times, and the meaning of allyship.
Tell me about the vision for the Pride Center.
Kenneally: I think, for queer students especially, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach, so listening to them is always key and at the core of what we do. Every student is at a different place in their journey and they’re all coming from different backgrounds and home situations and levels of experience.
Part of what we’d like to convey is that while there's plenty to be anxious about in the great wide world, there are also people who will stand with them, and that there is also there's also joy and love and support. We want the members of Bryant's LGBTQ+ community to know they matter and that their journey is not one that they have to go on alone.
In addition to the educational programming the Pride Center hosts, you also organize fun events like Queer Brunch, Lavender Graduation (in which the LGBTQ+ members of the Bryant community have a special graduation celebration with one another and receive a commemorative cord for the gown), queer-themed movie nights, and Drag Bingo events. How do these events align with the Pride Center’s mission?
Kenneally: When we talk about queer history or current events, it can be very easy to be become overcome by things that are troubling or sad or tragic. It's very easy to think, oh, this is daunting, this is terrible — and, to be sure, there is cause for concern with more than 400 pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in place or being proposed, and the news and social media often so toxic. But there is so much to be excited about as a member of the queer community as well. It’s expansive, it’s innovative, and there’s so much incredible, incredible work and art coming out of it at all times, which is just so amazing to see.
We try to provide opportunities for queer joy and community — opportunities for students to celebrate with other queer students and beyond. It helps to show there is a vibrant LGBTQ+ community on campus. And sometimes, in the case of Drag Bingo, it allows us to make a statement as well.
As you mentioned, this is, in many ways, a difficult time for the LGBTQ+ community, with anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and sentiment rearing its head nationwide. How do you reassure students?
Kenneally: It's definitely a difficult time right now, but in some ways, it’s always been a difficult time, and that difficulty has always ebbed and flowed based on different factors like where you’re from. At a time when there is so much prominent intolerance, the students often come to me, and we talk about it.
Beyond the troubling things, we talk about the progress that’s been made, even when things might look so daunting, and find uplifting moments about how far the queer community has come. We are a community that has endured centuries of censure and feeling diminished and not being able to be ourselves publicly. But every queer generation prior has endured. And we will endure.
One of the things we talk about is what does safety look like, but we also talk about what we can do to help. Can we host discussions or information sessions about certain issues, or raise awareness about the importance of voting? Can we do things that support organizations like Youth Pride Rhode Island? Usually, I find that the best sort of healing is feeling like I made a positive difference for somebody else, even when there is so much hatred and so much vitriol that is otherwise present.
Tell me about what it means to be an ally.
Kenneally: One of the things we try to remind people of in our trainings for students, faculty, and staff is what true allyship looks like and that just coming to one two-hour session does not make you an ally. It is about the day-to-day confronting of homophobia and transphobia, and supporting others, in whatever way you can.
If you are not willing to stand up to instances of hate and bigotry, the people around you see that and they assume that you feel exactly the same way as they do. Being an ally is about being willing to make yourself uncomfortable in the day-to-day, which is hard for a lot of people, but can make a real difference for others.
The Bryant Pride student organization, which works closely with the Pride Center, celebrated its 31st anniversary this year. How would you characterize the legacy of Bryant’s LGBTQ+ community?
Kenneally: It’s a legacy of courage and the utter drive to endure and make things better. There has always been such an effort here to find community in one another, even when it is frightening. I think that’s the beautiful part of it: that through the trials and tribulations they’ve faced over the years, the community’s courage, and their willingness to be there for one another, has been what has sustained the club over three decades and even helped lead to the establishment of the Pride Center.
It's provided the strength we know we need to make the progress that needs to be made.