PRIDE Begins with a Kiss

Every year, around March 2, the Office of LGBT Life hosts the PRIDE Awards, commemorating the community protest that led to its inception.

By Elizabeth Cobb Durel
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Like many great things, the PRIDE Awards began with a kiss.

Almost three decades ago, in December 1991, two gay men, first year students, were harassed after sharing a kiss in a residence hall. The two filed a complaint under Emory’s discriminatory policy, but the community wasn’t satisfied with the administration’s response. So a few months later, on March 2, 1992, a group of Emory students and staff marched across the campus in protest.

Shortly thereafter, the Emory president at the time, James T. Laney, created a task force to access the climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual students and staff. Just a few weeks later, the task force came back with two key recommendations. First, hire a full time director and set up an office of LGBT Life. Second, expand programs and services for lesbian, gay, and bisexual faculty and staff.

Now, every year around March 2, the date of the initial protest march, the Office of LGBT Life, hosts the PRIDE Awards—and it all began with a kiss.

This year, EmoryWire stopped by the 2019 PRIDE Awards where members of the LGBT community and their allies were not only celebrating the good works of the community, but also handing out Lavender Graduation tassels, a special cord for graduating students to wear during Commencement ceremonies.

“It’s a great time to celebrate as a community, to celebrate the work that folks have done, and acknowledge where we've been, what we have yet to do,” says Megan Pendleton, the Assistant Director of the Office of LGBT Life. “It's a really joyous time.”

Holly Lewis 17PhD 19M was awarded the 2019 Chesnut LGBTQ Person of the Year. The award, named for Saralyn Chesnut 94G, the first full time director of Emory Office of LGBT Life who led the way to establishing Emory’s LGBT policies and programs, is the highest honor given at the PRIDE Awards.

Lewis, nominated for her work in transgender health and gender diversity, lectures on transgender health to the Grady inpatient psychiatry and behavioral health units, and publishes articles focusing on access to care and transgender health in pediatrics.

“It's a radical act of visibility,” says Lewis. “Just existing as a clearly trans person in healthcare, I'm honored and privileged to have this platform to teach medical providers about transgender health. I'm humbled by the ability I have to operate within the confines of medicine, and science, to be in an operating room.”

As the first openly transgender person to receive her MBA at Emory, Jamie Harrell 16MBA received the Transgender Advocate Award for her work on behalf of the transgender community on campus and in the larger community.

“I like to use this as an opportunity to say thank you but also to remind people that we could do better and that we can do better for trans students,” says Harrell, who is on the selection committee for Emory’s new Chief Diversity Office.

“We're on the verge of making some great progress. The business school talks about and teaches diversity inclusion in business so it was natural for the business school to really embrace LGBT people. But, as a school I think we still have ways to go, but I believe things are moving forward.”

Brian Tolleson 95C was named the PRIDE Awards Alumnus of the Year, honored for not only his strong support of LGBT through GALA, but also for his national leadership as both a board member as well as Interim CEO of the Center for Civil and Human Rights, putting him at the center of the broader discussion of not only LGBT issues but all civil rights.

Tolleson remembers the events that set everything in motion in 1992 when the two students were harassed for expressing affection in a common space. “The reaction caused Emory to say ‘This is not who we are,’” says Tolleson, speaking of how organized and thoughtful and purposeful the students were in seeing that the culture at Emory changed to embrace LGBT people. “I think that's a uniquely Emory trait to see. It’s an Emory thing to champion a cause, not just out of passion, but with purpose and a clear process.”

The full list of winners

Ally of the Year - Michelle Sariev 06N

Alumnus of the Year - Brian Tolleson 95C

Keeping the Faith - Rev. Kevin Crawford 14T 17T

Fierce Leadership - Victoria Alarcon 19C; Amari Sutton 19C

Excellence in LGBTQ Writing - Jane Nichols 19T

Chesnut LGBTQ Person of the Year - Holly Lewis 17 PhD 19M

Transgender Advocate - Jamie Harrell 16MBA; Joey Bahng

See photos from the event

Editor’s Note: Would you like to get involved in GALA: Emory LGBT Alumni? There’s a space for you in GALA, or another one of the Emory Alumni Association Affinity Groups.   For more information about Emory’s Office of LGBT Life, click here.

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