The LOU community will celebrate its third annual LOU Pride Weekend over the next few days. The weekend’s events are open to all and celebrate the local LGBT community.
Oxford’s pride weekend celebrations exist due to the efforts of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies and former graduate student Matt Kessler. In 2016, Kessler approached the center about hosting a pride parade and gained full support. After obtaining a permit from the city of Oxford, Kessler helped organize 2016’s inaugural LOU Pride Weekend.
Now in its third year, Oxford’s pride weekend has expanded its schedule to include seven events over a three-day period. Events began Thursday night with a screening of “Upstairs Inferno,” a documentary about the 1973 arson of a New Orleans gay bar. For 43 years, this event was the largest mass murder of members of the LGBT community in U.S. history.
Pride celebrations are usually held in June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots, or in October to celebrate LGBT History Month. Oxford, however, chooses to celebrate its pride weekend in May to give students a chance to participate at the conclusion of the school year.
Kevin Cozart, Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies operation coordinator and pride weekend planning committee co-chair for marketing and logistics, said the pride parade is consistently one of the most anticipated events of the annual weekend celebration.
“It’s the most public of the events, and it’s the one that seems to matter the most to people,” Cozart said. “Not only do members of the LGBTQ community get to be themselves, but they have people cheering them on. That means a lot to a population that often feels under attack.”
Malik Pridgeon, a senior public policy leadership and philosophy major and pride weekend grand marshal, said one of his favorite events is Code Pink, a themed drag show. He said the parade, however, is always the highlight of the weekend.
“I can’t think of any better statement that shows as much solidarity and pride as flooding the streets with numerous friends and allies,” Pridgeon said.
The primary organizers of the weekend are the Isom Center and OutOxford, a local organization that connects, provides education and advocates for the Oxford LGBT community. Both organizations want to communicate that the weekend is open and welcome to all people.
“For the LGBTQIA+ community, it is a time to celebrate who they are,” Cozart said. “For allies, it is a good opportunity to be visible and supportive. And for others, it is a way to have fun and blow off steam before finals week and commencement weekend.”
Not only is Pride Weekend a fun time, but many feel it is a vital part of making Oxford’s LGBT community feel welcome.
“Having a pride weekend in Oxford is important because it shows that not only do we matter to the community, but it shows that Oxford is a safe and welcoming place for queer folk,” Pridgeon said.
The celebration also increases public awareness of the challenges faced by those in the LGBT community.
“LGBTQ youth are three times more likely to attempt suicide than (are) heterosexual youth,” Cozart said. “If events like Saturday’s parade can make one LGBTQ Mississippian feel that they belong here and that suicide isn’t the answer, then I think it is worth the effort.”
The theme of the 2018 LOU Pride Weekend is “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” which entails heavy New Orleans influences. The parade is expected to include drag queens tossing beads, pride flags and several floats. Other events include a dinner Friday night at City Grocery and a comedy show Saturday night at The Lyric Oxford.
Other partners of LOU Pride Weekend include Oxford Film Festival, the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement, Proud Larry’s and the Oxford Police Department.
“One of our greatest partners is Oxford Police Department, who have been extremely supportive since the first year and help make our weekend a fun and safe event,” Cozart said. “We are very fortunate that we haven’t faced the same obstacles and resistance like other places in Mississippi and throughout the South.”