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Now in its 31st year, the Bryant Pride student organization has been helping LGBTQ+ students find community and fellowship since 1992.
Love wins as Bryant Pride celebrates more than three decades of community
Jun 16, 2023, by Stephen Kostrzewa
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It wasn’t that long of a letter, taking up perhaps a third of a column in the February 6, 1992, edition of The Archway, Bryant’s student newspaper. But, for generations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) students, it would come to make a world of difference.

“I was one of the first to read it,” recalls Michael Chagros ’92, one of the founding members of Bryant Pride and a guest of honor who shared his story at the organization’s 30th anniversary celebration in 2022. “I worked on the Archway staff at the time so I proofread the letter before it went out — and I couldn't believe that it was making it to print.”

The letter, which Chagros would learn was written by Eric Albee ’93, Bryant Pride's other founding member, was published under the title “Support For Homosexual Students Available,” and signed “A Gay Student at Bryant.” Addressed to the campus’s homosexual community, it provided a list of off-campus resources where gay and lesbian students could find support.

It also contained a message of struggle and solidarity.

“I keep my homosexuality a secret fearing lack of understanding from other students, and I believe there are many other students who do the same,” the author wrote.

“I have a message for all students who are gay, lesbian, or questioning their sexuality: I know Bryant can be a lonely place for gay students, but you are not alone. I understand what you are going through because I am going through the same thing.”

Finding that support on campus, though, was nearly impossible at the time. "There is no organization for gay students at Bryant," the letter pointed out bluntly. 

Founding Pride 
For Chagros, the letter was a spark — and a call to build a community of support.

He and Albee joined forces and Bryant Pride, Bryant’s LGBTQ+ student organization, was born.

Initially, the group only had a handful of members — some meetings it was only Chagros and Albee — and met surreptitiously off campus at Brown University. “I remember walking around Thayer Street (in Providence), trying to find the meeting but not being able to ask anyone,” says Chagros, who told his roommates he was going to see a girlfriend when he went to Bryant Pride meetings.

Archway letter presenting off-campus resources to homosexual students
The above letter, appearing in the February 6, 1992 edition of The Archway, Bryant's student newspaper, was instrumental in the creation of the Bryant Pride student organization.

“It was a very difficult time,” he says, remembering sneaking into the Bryant copy center to make flyers announcing the club and posting them under the cover of night.

The club found some support from members of the staff who helped them find a space on campus to meet, including Roseanne Dana, who worked in Counseling Services and helped to connect the students with one another, Professor of Sociology Judith McDonnell, Ph.D., and Catholic Chaplin Father Dan Spina.

Together, they supported each other, says Chagros, and that support was invaluable in a time when the students felt isolated and afraid. “Any human can understand that we all have a need for community and fellowship and honesty,” he states. “By nature, humans want to find people like themselves —whether that be through their common interest or something as serious as sexuality.”

As is the nature of college, however, that founding group left the school to take their place in the larger world — and left Bryant Pride in the hands of the next generation.  

But the seed they planted at Bryant grew.  

Today’s Pride
This year, Bryant Pride celebrates its 31st anniversary, the result of generations of college students holding fast to its mission of supporting one another in an often-hostile world. Today, the officially recognized and sponsored organization works closely with Bryant’s Pride Center, established in 2012 as a safe space for all Bryant community members to explore lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, ally, and related issues through educational and social programming. It has also grown in both size and scope to support Bryant’s entire LGBTQ+ community.

Julia Purdue ’25 was introduced to the club by a friend as a first-year student. “It was their first meeting of the school year, and it sounded like a good idea to me, but I was a little scared as well,” she admits. “A group like Bryant Pride was something I had wanted to be a part of so badly in high school and now I finally felt like I had that freedom to finally do it, but I was also afraid because I’d never been able to make those connections in my hometown. 

“I decided to give it one shot, and I’m so glad I did,” says Purdue, who identifies as pansexual. “I met so many great people, from upperclassmen to kids my own year who were just starting out their journey in college. It was incredible to get to know all of them and to be able to meet more people like me — and it was really great to be able to be open and honest about who I was with people who were accepting of me.”

“For so many of us, college is our first taste of the outside world, and our first opportunity to learn about ourselves. In an open and accepting space, you can become the truest version of who you are."

Now, as president of Bryant Pride, Purdue works to continue, and further, the organization’s legacy. Though, in many ways, the world has changed and become more accepting since Bryant Pride’s founding, the group’s mission, she argues, is as important as ever — especially in a climate that continues to cling to the ignorance and intolerance of the past.

“For so many of us, college is our first taste of the outside world, and our first opportunity to learn about ourselves,” she reflects. “In an open and accepting space, you can become the truest version of who you are.”

Sarah Lostowski ’25, a member of the executive board for Bryant Pride, had many of the same concerns as Purdue when she joined the group, but quickly found she could be herself. "I wasn't afraid to say what I wanted to say, and everyone there wanted to listen,” she recalls.

Encouraging openness, says Lostowski, has always been one of the group’s greatest strengths. “Queer people are not a single monolith, and even within a relatively small group like Bryant Pride, there’s a wealth of experiences we can all draw from,” she says. The big tent that philosophy engenders is open to all students, including straight allies. “We invite everyone to Bryant Pride as long as you're there to be respectful, to learn, and to have a good time; that's all that matters to us,” she states.

The larger community
In addition to discussions of and presentations on sexuality, identity and related issues, Bryant Pride programming also includes movie nights, games, field trips, and other opportunities for the students to bond — and to learn about each other as complete people. It’s a reminder, says Purdue, that their gender and sexuality identity “are part of who we are, but it’s not everything about us.”

Purdue and her group also work to connect with the larger LGBTQ+ community through educational sessions on queer history such as Stonewall, the 1969 protests triggered by violent police raids on a New York gay bar, and through outreach. This March, members of the club volunteered at Youth Pride Inc., a Rhode Island nonprofit serving LGBTQ+ youth 23 and younger. “I think being able to provide support for people beyond the Bryant campus touched a lot of our hearts,” she notes.

Next year, Purdue, the recipient of this year’s Rainbow Alliance Emerging Leader award, aims to expand the club even further, adding more events, growing membership, and advocating for Bryant’s LQBTQ+ community. “Not everyone fully realizes when they get to college everything that they have access to, whether it be support networks or other things that can help them,” she says. “So, making sure people know that they have people they can turn to is really important to me.”

“We’ve been able to grow so strong from the foundation that the people before us have built, which makes you so grateful for their work — and makes you realize your responsibility to help everyone who comes after you.”

Growing the club, says Lostowski, means more than building a support network; it’s also about visibility. “We want people to know that there’s a community of queer people here who want to offer friendship and support, even if it's not immediately obvious, and even in a culture that can sometimes be very hegemonic," she says. 

The group’s advisors, Kelly Boutin, director of the Women’s Center and Pride Center, and Meghan Keneally, Pride Center and Advocacy Services coordinator — who are both members of the LGBTQ+ community, are ideal mentors for the group's aims, Lostowski says. “They’re really easy to relate to and they’re both really knowledgeable and passionate about LGBTQ+ issues.” 

“They care so much about what we’re doing, and they work so hard to make sure everyone feels welcomed, cared for, and supported,” agrees Purdue. 

As she looks to the future of Bryant Pride, Purdue is aware of everything it took to bring it this far. “I know I have some really big shoes I’m stepping into,” she acknowledges. “We’ve been able to grow so strong from the foundation that the people before us have built, which makes you so grateful for their work — and makes you realize your responsibility to help everyone who comes after you.” 

For Chagros, that responsibility has been in good hands since he left Bryant in 1992. “We stood on the shoulders of many people behind us and around us,” he notes. “And never in a million years did I think so much would come from the seeds we planted.” 

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