Story by JB Clark
After a year without an official pride celebration on the University of Mississippi campus and in the larger community, the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies is bringing the annual celebration of the LGBTQ community to the center of campus – the Grove.
“Out in the Grove: A Pride Celebration” will take place June 12, starting at 4 p.m.
The move to the Grove is symbolic to Jaime Harker, UM professor of English and director of the Sarah Isom Center.
“We take pride in celebrating our LGBTQ community on campus, but it’s never been in the Grove or on the Grove stage.” Harker said. “I think it’s a great moment to reflect on (how) far we’ve come. The UM Pride Network (then known as the GLB Association) met in a secret location, and there was a guard because they were fearful of backlash. Now it’s clear that LGBTQ community members are central to our community.”
George Adam Graves hasn’t been back to campus since he was a student in 2007-10, but this weekend he’ll be returning and performing as his female impersonation character Madyson Andrews Steele.
Graves, who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, said the Gay-Straight Alliance was still organizing quietly when he was a student, and he’s excited to be welcomed back to campus to celebrate pride.
“With everything we’ve been through this past year – through the pandemic and the many active civil rights campaigns – I just want to bring a light to the stage,” Graves said. “I want people to see a person performing without being ashamed of who they are, and I want them to leave with a smile on their face.”
Though the Oxford Pride celebration has become a summer staple for the community since its inception in 2016, COVID-19 forced the organizers to cancel in 2020.
“We saw two real needs,” said Kevin Cozart, operations coordinator for the Sarah Isom Center. “First of all, Oxford’s, and really north Mississippi’s, queer community needed a way to come together and celebrate who they are. Secondly, most of Oxford’s spring events have been cancelled or limited for two years now, so we wanted to give our community a way to come together safely for a day of music, food and fun. Ally support has always been important to us, and Oxford Pride is really a ‘y’all means all’ event.”
The event not only aims to be celebratory but also to connect members of the LGBTQ community. Throughout the day, local LGBTQ and allied organizations will provide information and resources at the festival’s Issue Alley along the Walk of Champions.
“The queer community exists, but it hasn’t always been easy for new students to find it,” Harker said. “Having it in the heart of the Grove makes it clear that the queer community here is celebrated, valued and supported.”
In the event of rain, activities will be moved inside the Ole Miss Student Union. For a schedule of Out in the Grove events and more information on Oxford Pride, visit Oxfordmspride.rocks.