Members of the Tennessee State Legislature thought they had scored a big discriminatory victory when they cut off funding for the LGBTQ Pride Center at the Univ. of Tennessee in 2016. No doubt there was a slapping of backs and handshakes after closing the doors of the center and gutting the school’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
Yet out of the ashes has risen a collection of alumni who are raising $3 million as an endowment for the Pride Center so the doors never close and the center never goes without the resources it needs to support the LGBTQ community in Knoxville.
At the head of that effort is Chad Goldman, a gay alumnus who remains a Volunteers fan to this day. He said he was “enraged” by the state legislature’s actions that shut off all Pride Center funding.
“It’s the only school in the SEC that suddenly didn’t have a funded place for LGBTQ people,” Goldman said. “It’s important for them to have a place to go where they are welcome.”
Goldman and several other organizers kicked off the fundraising campaign with a successful event earlier this year that raised $300,000 toward their goal. That has helped put the Pride Center back on track.
Goldman said that funding will jumpstart programs that offer LGBTQ people resources regarding choices about sexual health, suicide, drugs, alienation and a host of other issues.
Former Univ. of Tennessee rower Chandler Frumin said this support structure at the Pride Center helped her during her time in Knoxville, and that it is critical for many others.
“It felt like a safety net,” Frumin said. “If I needed support and someone who understood what I was going through, the Pride Center was there and available.”
Frumin said the women’s rowing team at Tennessee was her safety net on a daily basis. She found complete support from the other members of her team. Yet she knows that only a small fraction of the LGBTQ students at Tennessee are on a sports team.
“For the LGBTQ+ students at UT who don’t have that ‘team,’ I witnessed the Center serving as their safe haven and supportive environment,” Frumin said. “The South can be a very intimidating region to be yourself and come out. A large, flagship state university like Tennessee is often misconceived as unwelcoming to LGBTQ+ folks. The Pride Center serves to break that stigma while providing community, education and inclusion.”
If you’re interested in helping to keep the Pride Center at the Univ. of Tennessee open and funded forever, you can make a donation at VolMeansAll.org. They are also hosting fundraising events in Washington DC (April 18) and Atlanta (May 3). You can find more information about those fundraising events on the Web site as well.