Flying high for the first time at the Holmes Student Center, two Progress LGBTQ+ Pride Flags symbolize more than NIU’s celebration of diversity in all its forms.
They are a visual reminder of continued work to ensure the retention and persistence of LGBTQ+ Huskies. Individuals are encouraged to take pictures with the flags—on display through Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20—using the hashtags #NIULGBTQ and #NIURaisingPride.
The initial idea to fly the Progress Pride flags came from Elizabeth Quirarte, a graduate research assistant in the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC), who saw them as a way to show solidarity and support, especially during these times.
“It seems like a really simple thing, but I think that the power those symbols have is something that is kind of hard to measure. Seeing that can really change someone’s life,” said Quirarte, who remembers first moving to DeKalb and seeing a Pride flag flying in her neighborhood.
“Immediately, I felt more comfortable,” she said. “It was such a simple thing, but it made me feel safe.”
As a first-generation student at NIU, she said becoming involved on campus made her feel connected, excited to learn and more aware of the many resources available to her at NIU. She wants others to experience these opportunities.
The flags represent just one of many examples of the diversity and inclusion work being done across the university.
“These symbols of visibility are very impactful for us, especially during these challenging times when we’re so isolated,” said Molly Holmes, director of the GSRC. “They reflect our many ongoing efforts to value and include LGBTQ+ members of the NIU community.”
Among these efforts, NIU has implemented ways for the LGBTQ+ community to identify their proper names and include sexual orientation and gender identity options in data collection. The university also ensures faculty participate in workshops designed to ensure teaching practices are inclusive and affirming of LGBTQ+ students.
Courses and a major in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies are offered, and the university provides several spaces, including the GSRC, for LGBTQ+ NIU community members to feel affirmed in all of their identities, Holmes said.
“Further, all diversity and cultural centers and undocumented student support services maintain working relationships to uplift, engage and support queer and transgender people of color,” Holmes said. “We have come a long way, and we will continue to build on this and future inclusion efforts for our LGBTQ+ Huskies.”
For GSRC student staff member Trevon Smith, president of the student organization Prism, the flying of the flags shows that his identities matter.
“It means that queer and trans people of color are welcomed here on campus. It means that NIU is willing to do the work necessary to make this campus more diverse and equitable,” he said. “Flying these flags represents the hard work that Queer people have done over the years. Flying these flags means there’s a better future head. I’m glad to see the work being done.”
Among the numerous resources, programs and events offered through the GSRC is an upcoming virtual panel hosted by the LGBTQ+ Speakers Bureau. Scheduled from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Nov. 21, Students Speak: LGBTQ+ at NIU will feature students and community members who volunteer to speak about their experiences as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and additional queer identities.
After students on the panel introduce themselves and share information about their personal experiences, audience members will have an opportunity to ask questions. Pre-registration is required.
Through events like these and so much more, diversity is valued and celebrated at NIU, with the Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion focused on helping the university’s diverse student population succeed, find support and graduate.
“Raising the flag is a way for us to affirm another part of our community and for students to feel like they can see themselves and be proud about the fact the institution sees them as well,” said Vernese Edghill-Walden, vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and chief diversity officer at NIU. “
Efforts to ensure a welcoming and supportive climate, guided by the Presidential Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (PCSOGI), have grown throughout campus.
“It is critical for student success that queer and trans students see themselves reflected not just in the classroom curriculum, but also in signs and symbols on campus,” said Katy Jaekel, Ph.D., an associate professor of Higher Education and chair of the PCSOGI. “This will serve as a reminder that LGBTQIA students matter and are reflected in our values inside and outside of the classroom.”
The flags were designed by graphic designer Daniel Quasar in 2018, adding further transgender visibility to the 2017 Philadelphia Pride flag, which added a black and brown stripe to represent and uplift Queer People of Color.
The white, pink and blue stripes next to the black and brown stripes on the Progress Pride flag represent the transgender community. The rainbow stripes have been a long-standing LGBTQ+ Pride Flag symbol since 1978.