NANTICOKE — Melissa Eipper felt strongly that her college should have a Pride Fest to show support for the LGBTQ community on campus.
So Eipper, 20, of Exeter, and a sophomore education major, spearheaded the effort to have the first Pride Fest in Luzerne County Community College’s 46-year history.
Eipper, vice president of LCCC’s Student Alliance for Equality (SAFE) — formerly known as the LGBTQ Alliance — and the sophomore class representative to the Student Government Association, said more people need to have an awareness of what’s going on not only on campus, but also in the community, state and nation.
LGBTQ is an acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender and Questioning individuals.
“More people need to be aware that there are LGBTQ kids out there,” Eipper said. “We want the LCCC campus to be a safe place for these kids to go and talk in confidence and be accepted. We don’t want anyone to feel afraid that there is no place for them to turn.”
There are about 7,000 students who attend LCCC at its main campus and satellite locations, and several hundred of them attended Thursday’s event. Eipper said there have been no reports of serious issues concerning clashes between LGBTQ students and straight students.
“This is a very accepting campus,” Eipper said. “And the faculty and administration have also been very supportive.”
Thomas Leary, LCCC president, said the college has an obligation to promote the idea that everywhere is a safe place for LGBTQ students.
“This event is an educational opportunity to share ideas and for people to learn,” Leary said.
Eipper said several issues continue to confront the LGBTQ community, such as same-sex marriage bans, workplace pressures and bullying.
“Many students are afraid to come out because of these issues,” Eipper said. “They fear discrimination just because of their sexual orientation.”
Rob Antolik, a 24-year-old sophomore majoring in business administration and a member of SAFE, said Thursday’s event brought much awareness to the LCCC campus.
“Those attending came away with a better understanding of the LGBTQ community,” Antolik said. “It’s a way for people who haven’t come out as LGBT to know there are others going through the same challenges they are as they struggle to be accepted into the community. It’s like a big support group. The problem in society is that everyone is so judgmental.”
Amanda Rodriguez-Teutonico, 19, of Shickshinny, was walking around in a pink chiffon tutu and rainbow stockings. She had “NOH8” painted on her left arm and her face. A sophomore majoring in social work, Rodriguez is president of SAFE at LCCC. She said she went to a small high school —Lake Lehman — that was “closed minded,” and she struggled with acceptance.
“I was harassed a lot for my sexuality,” she said. “There is so much homophobia that is born out of ignorance. This event and all the educational materials we have helps lessen that.”
Merissa Sims, 33, of Avoca, is president of the LCCC Student Government Association and a member of SAFE majoring in legal assisting. She said she wanted to help bring the Pride Fest to her campus.
“Many of our students are still struggling to find themselves,” she said. “We need awareness, understanding and support for them. Here they can interact with other students so they can enjoy their experience at LCCC.”
Charlotte Mead, 24, of Hazleton, is a sophomore photography major at LCCC.
“This is a great event,” she said. “Everyone passing through is so accepting of diversity. It’s good to see so many young people changing society just by the way they think.”