The student organization P.R.I.D.E. has cemented its presence on the University’s campus in past years and, according to the group’s current members, the school only continues to support its efforts to provide a safe haven for every student seeking somewhere to belong.
Since its foundation in 2006, P.R.I.D.E. has strove not only to establish a presence for LGBTQ students on campus, but to also function as a force for equality, for tolerance, and for communication across all social distinctions.
“The organization’s goal is to provide a safe place where people of all races, religions, sexual preferences, etcetera, can come together and speak about their issues and the issues of others,” said Heather Helsel, the organization’s current treasurer.
“P.R.I.D.E.’s purpose is to create equality for all and to create awareness about the differences among us,” agreed current secretary, Bernadette Lamey. “It’s a safe haven for those who feel unaccepted to come and just speak about how they feel.”
The acronym, which makes up the organization’s name, appropriately stands for Protecting, Respecting Individuality, Diversity, and Equality. Although the organization may have a definite LGBTQ focus, its name may nevertheless provide a somewhat incomplete portrait of the full scope of its mission.
“We’re a safe haven,” explained current vice president, Nadirah Cherry. “Our name comes with the misunderstanding that we are geared towards LGBTQ students only, but we offer that to any student on campus.”
“Our mission is just for everyone to have a place where they belong,” added current president Nicole Fargardo.
And thus far, the organization has been largely successful in its pursuit of this mission.
“For me, it’s really just enlightening to help other people because I’ve been out since I was 18,” explained Fargardo. “I wish I had someone like me to help me through when I was in the position I was in. I guess it kind of inspired me to be that person.”
“When I first started at Saint Peter’s, I did not have any friends that I could speak with about personal things,” said Helsel. “P.R.I.D.E. gave me a place to speak about my issues without worrying that it would be all over campus. I hope that others feel the same way.”
“I have personally gained a sense of friendship with many who have joined P.R.I.D.E,” said Sofia De Pierola, a P.R.I.D.E. member. “I wish more people knew about it so that we could continue to grow in numbers.”
David Surrey, professor and chair of Sociology and Urban Studies, has moderated the organization since its foundation. And according to Dr. Surrey, Saint Peter’s as a whole continues to lend its support to the group’s efforts.
“I think one of the beauties of Saint Peter’s in general is that it’s a real tolerant, accepting place,” he explained. “Every Jesuit institution has a P.R.I.D.E. group or something like that. Saint Peter’s has always been a place where diversity has been accepted.”
And the organization’s members attest to a feeling of acceptance from the administration and the student body alike.
“Most of the staff of the school that I know of are very supportive,” said Bernadette Lamey. “When we do hold events, we have a high attendance.”
“The school supports our group and Campus Ministry is a big supporter of our group as well,” agreed Helsel.
Yet, P.R.I.D.E. does not ignore Saint Peter’s religious roots, and its relationship with the school is one of mutual respect, explained Nicole Fargardo. “I try to adhere to the school’s rules,” she said. “December 1st is World AIDS day. We don’t walk around handing out condoms.”
Still, opening religious dialogues both among members and with the school at large is central in the organization’s current activities.
“It is the same as any other P.R.I.D.E. or Gay-Straight Alliance,” said Helsel. “The only difference is that some people are more religious in the group and our religion sometimes comes up in our talks at meetings.”
“We have begun to open up the dialogue between religion and sexual preference,” she added.
“We’re getting more open with the school,” explained Fargardo. “We had a gay theology panel three semesters ago where an openly gay minister came and spoke and kind of gave us different views on religion and views on homosexuality. It was one of P.R.I.D.E.’s more successful events.”
Still, according to Fargardo, there will always be naysayers.
“My mom always told me that people are always going to say something about you, whether you’re doing good or bad.”
But the possibility of criticism has not discouraged the group, and it continues to retain an active presence on Saint Peter’s campus.
“We typically try to offer a diverse range of programs/events,” said Nadirah Cherry. “We do LGBTQ awareness events, like the vigil we had in light of the Tyler Clemente suicide. We try to throw at least one or two parties a semester, usually a Halloween and Mardi Gras party.”
“This year, we’re actually having more events,” said Fargardo. “We’re having a candlelight vigil in November to look forward to. There’s also movie nights about gay and lesbian issues, and everyone’s welcome. We also have a retreat coming up.”
Anyone interested in getting involved can freely take part in any of these events. You can also stop by the organization’s Wednesday meetings at 5 p.m. in the Social Justice House.
“The club is open to people of all sexual identities, all gender identities,” explained Dr. Surrey. “There are people who are very, very straight through people who are openly lesbian or openly gay. Sexual orientation is not a qualification for membership.”